With fitness — and its ambiguous catchall of a cousin, wellness — becoming more and more entrenched in our modern vocabularies and lives, what you wear to work out matters almost as much as how you work out (and to some — looking at you, Lululemon acolytes — it definitely matters more). Telling someone you went to Pure Barre or Barry’s doesn’t quite connote your place in the fitness-wellness food chain as much as saying you prefer to clothe your body in Outdoor Voices rather than Girlfriend Collective whenever you want to work up a sweat. And although throwing on some OV and swilling from a S’well are two ways to flex your status at the gym, there is perhaps no clearer indicator of that status than the sneakers you show up in. They instantly communicate everything — from what kind of workout you favor to how much disposable income you have to drop on the latest limited-edition collaboration.
Pinning down the status gym sneaker of this moment, though, was not as easy as it might seem. The ten fitness fanatics we spoke to — including trainers, fitness editors, and fit-fluencers — nodded to styles from heritage brands (Nike Metcons, Adidas Ultraboosts) while pointing out newer companies and styles poised to dethrone the classics. Generally, though, the current status gym sneaker combines function and fashion, according to Women’s Health fitness director Jordan Galloway, who says “people no longer want to wear performance pairs to the gym that they wouldn’t be caught wearing in public, [nor do they want to wear] cool sneakers that they can’t actually exercise in.” Read on for the pair our panelists say to wear now to show your status as you sweat, a couple of styles poised to become the next status gym sneaker, and a couple more hyperspecific picks.
The status gym sneaker
“I would say that, these days, there are three letters on a growing number of sneaker tongues: APL,” says Galloway — one of nine panelists who named APL as the current status sneaker brand. Promising “the ultimate intersection of design and performance,” Los Angeles–based APL, or Athletic Propulsion Labs, was founded in 2009 by twin brothers Adam and Ryan Goldston, both of whom played football and basketball for the University of Southern California. The brand gained notoriety early on, when its first shoe, the Concept 1 basketball sneaker, famously became the first ever banned by the NBA for “providing an undue competitive advantage.” But not until the more recent launch of its knitted TechLoom line did APL gain traction as a brand that people in the fitness world actually wore. “Their minimalist knit sneakers in pastels and neutral tones have steadily gained favor with cool girls in group classes from New York City to Los Angeles,” explains Galloway. Well + Good style and fitness editor Zoë Weiner adds, “They look cute with actual clothes, which helps make the investment worth it because you can wear them from the gym to run errands and not feel like a total slouch.”
The technical-knit kicks are similar to those from other direct-to-consumer sneaker companies, such as Allbirds, but have a stronger sense of style and are favored more by celebrities (including most of the Kardashian clan) and influencers (like Hannah Bronfman). Coupled with APL’s recent announcement that the brand plans to open its first ever retail location at The Grove in Los Angeles, this suggests the brand is poised to further grow its presence in the status-fitness world (and to stick around, too). Of course, aesthetics alone do not determine the status of a workout sneaker, even if they are a big factor. Shaun Jenkins, the director of training at group-fitness studio Tone House, says the TechLoom Pro’s patented woven upper makes it both lightweight and flexible, confirming that it performs as well as it looks. Jenkins says these are particularly ideal for HITT and weight-lifting-style workouts, with Weiner praising them for their all-around ability. “They’re great for whatever workout you want to do them in,” she says.
The next status gym sneaker
Personal trainer Lauren Seib also loves APL TechLooms (though she prefers the lighter Phantom over the Pro). But when she isn’t wearing those, she turns to a pair from Nobull, a brand she says is “on the up-and-up.” Trainer and fit-fluencer Tara Laferrara also cited Nobull as an under-the-radar brand that she loves and uses often. Seib and fellow personal trainer Bari Lieberman trace Nobull sneakers’ origins to the CrossFit community, where the brand’s no-frills direct marketing and “train hard, no excuses” philosophy quickly became popular after it launched in 2015. Now “they’re trickling into the mainstream gym style, too,” according to Lieberman, who attributes that shift to these being “pretty versatile and durable kicks that deliver on performance and offer a sleek style.” Mile High Run Club coach Karli Alvino notes that the Nobull trainers are a flatter shoe with a minimal arch, making them great for gym workouts because their design “provides ample stability,” or “spread,” to help transfer force when doing things like squats. Plus, “a strong outsole ensures feet don’t slide outward during lifts,” she adds.
The (next) next status gym sneaker
If you’re looking for an even lesser-known shoe that connotes status, Laferrara suggests Lane Eight’s Trainer Ad 1, which she likes largely because it’s “not an as well-known brand.” These also sit at the intersection of fashion and function, according to Laferrara, who told us she wears hers while “walking around town, teaching, or doing more strength-training workouts.” Lauren Roxborough, the head of marketing at popular yoga studio Y7, agrees, declaring she’s “obsessed with my Lane Eight sneakers.” Aside from being a status-sneaker-maker, Lane Eight shares another quality with APL — it was also launched by two brothers with serious pedigrees. Josh and James Shorrock began by working at Adidas and Hypebeast, respectively, before founding their company. The Trainer Ad 1 is currently Lane Eight’s only sneaker, but it comes in a variety of on-trend colors like dusty rose and burnt orange.
The eco-friendly status gym sneaker
“Given our awareness of and overall shift toward sustainability in the wellness space, I foresee more of a push toward upcycled fit apparel and gear,” Seib says. Girlfriend Collective’s co-founder and creative director Ellie Dinh agrees: “I’m personally excited to see shoes made from recycled materials really pick up steam.” Both women cited Adidas as a brand making major strides in that regard, particularly through the collection it created in collaboration with Parley. All the sneakers in that line are constructed with trash collected from coastal communities and beaches, according to Adidas. “So many people don’t realize that most synthetic materials are made from plastic and that it’s entirely possible to create the same great functional and stylish products from recycled materials instead,” says Dinh.
The fugly status gym sneaker
Chunky-soled sneakers are becoming more popular among the fit set, with last year’s dad-sneaker trend in the fashion world seeping into the realm of gym sneakers, too. Well + Good beauty and fitness editor Rachel Lapidos dubs this look “grandpa style,” saying OV Cliftons offer orthopedic-inspired fashion in a gym shoe that performs well, too. “The cloudlike style of the Hoka is becoming a thing in the sneaker world,” she says. Outdoor Voices created this shoe in collaboration with heritage running brand Hoka, a favorite of columnist Chris Black, who told us he “was always weary of the chunky cushioned soles” until he got a pair of Hoka One One Clifton 6’s, which he says “are working for me.” OV founder and CEO Ty Haney agrees that there’s an appetite for shoes that bring the orthopedic look from strictly fashion to fitness, like this pair. “I’ve been seeing a lot of chunky sneakers lately, technical and nontechnical,” she says.
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