best in class

The Very Best Workout Shoes for Women

Including a $30 pair of sneakers that you can wear outside of the gym too.

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

There are sneakers to go out in and then there are sneakers to wear to the gym. Workout shoes have to strike the right balance of support and versatility. Wear the wrong ones and your entire cardio routine is thrown off. And though it might seem intuitive to wear running shoes for all your workouts, you should avoid doing so as often as you can, because most running shoes are built specifically for forward motion. Good workout shoes, on the other hand, provide stability for lateral movements too, like when you’re playing tennis or volleyball. To find the best gym sneakers, we spoke to women who are fitness-minded experts and rounded up their favorite shoes for all gym activities, from hitting the weight room to cardio sessions.

What we’re looking for


We’re looking for a variety of features that lend support, some of which include flat, supportive soles to push off from; reinforcements around the forefoot to keep your foot locked in place during lateral movements; secure lacing systems; and upper constructions that provide stability during aerobic activities.


The majority of the shoes on this list have a flat, semi-cushioned sole, which is the ideal base for most workouts, but the sneakers all vary slightly. Some options that are built for weight lifting will have a thinner cushion for a more grounded feeling, while other, more aerobic sneakers will have more bounce and plushy foam in the midsole. We’ll call out the level of cushion in each shoe, from low to high, as well as the material, wherever it’s relevant.


We’re looking for shoes that have a solid grip on all types of surfaces, like rubbery gym floors, smooth wood studio spaces, and grittier roads and pavement. A shoe with good traction adds to a secure fit while keeping you focused on your workout. Below, we’ve specified what kind of grip you’ll get in each shoe.

Best overall workout shoes

Support: Thick upper construction and wide, flat heel | Cushion: Medium | Outsole: Maximum grip

For cross-training, yoga teacher and author Shona Vertue likes shoes that are “varied in flexibility and stability” to adapt to the different types of motions those workouts usually require. The Nike Metcons — which she calls her “go-to all-around shoe” for working out— fulfill both requirements, because “they’re flexible at the front of the foot, which allows for good movement through things like lunges or running,” while also having a “stiff heel, which creates stability in movements like heavy deadlifts and squats.” Melanie Miracolo, the former head of retail at yoga studio Y7, loves the Metcons because they have a “sleek design, incredible fit, perform great, and stabilize your foot when doing any cross-training workout.” Jen Romanelli, the co-founder of Trooper Fitness, agrees the Metcons create stability but says they also allow lateral movement, exactly what she needs for HIIT classes: “It’s a sturdy shoe, yet light enough to change directions and sprint.” (Vertue, Miracolo, and Romanelli initially recommended the Metcon 6 AMP, but the newer Metcon offers the same stability and versatility in a slightly different design.) The Metcon is a solid strength-training companion. “When you’re weightlifting, you want a shoe that mimics a barefoot feeling,” explains Barry’s chief instructor Kate Lemere, who’s been working out in the Metcon for more than a decade. “A shoe with a flat and hard sole and wide toe box is going to the best shoe for lifting. Nike remakes these shoes every year or two and I haven’t found a single version that I don’t love because they’re so flat.” We also included the Metcon in our roundup of the best workout shoes for men.

Best less expensive overall workout shoes

From $63

Support: Low profile and thick heel counter | Cushion: Heavy cushion | Outsole: Maximum grip

The Reebok HIIT 3 isn’t the flashiest shoe, but it does have everything you could ask for in an all-purpose workout shoe: a simple construction and breathable mesh upper that keeps your forefoot secure, plus a foam midsole for comfort. Melissa Boyd, head coach at Tempo, considers cross-training and HIIT one and the same — including weighted and cardio movements. For these exercises, a shoe “should be flexible enough for speed work, structured enough for weighted movements, and responsive enough for jumping,” she says. These cross-trainers check off all her boxes, handling intense training sessions just as well as compound lifts. (Boyd recommended the HIIT 2.0, but Reebok has since released the HIIT 3.0, the newest version of this trainer.)

Best status workout shoes

Support: Low profile | Cushion: Medium | Outsole: Medium grip

Fitness director and personal trainer Bari Lieberman loves the “versatile and durable” Nobull training shoes, which she had initially told us about when we investigated the next status gym sneakers for women. The Nobull shoes have a flatter sole, Lieberman explains, which allows you to stay more “grounded and stable during heavy lifts.” Well+Good senior beauty editor Zoë Weiner agrees: “I fell in love with these shoes before I actually put them on because of how sleek and minimalist they looked, so I was very happy to discover that they are also the most comfortable shoes my foot has ever become acquainted with.” She adds that they have great traction and support during workouts: “It feels like I’m standing on a cloud.”

Best workout shoes for light cardio

Support: Snug, knit upper construction | Cushion: Maximum | Outsole: Medium grip

Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio wears her Ultraboosts for walking and light cardio activities (she initially bought her pair ahead of a trip to Disney World). “I really love them as a general physical activity shoe — light jogs, basic neighborhood walks, casual bike rides, city hikes, stuff like that,” she says. The Ultraboost has long been one of Adidas’s most cushioned, stable shoes, and that support equates to an overall heavier weight, but the newer Ultraboost Light is a few ounces lighter than the Ultraboost.

Trolio likes the curved design of the Ultraboost’s back heel counter. “I am really prone to blisters and irritation on my heels at the top of a shoe (have had a lot of trouble with the kind of knitted style in that regard), and these just never do that.” When lacing up for runs, however, Trolio says that this sock-like upper needs a little more tightening to avoid heel slippage.

Best (less expensive) workout shoes for light cardio

Support: Snug, knit upper construction | Cushion: Medium | Outsole: Medium grip

Barry’s chief instructor Kate Lemere says that while she wouldn’t recommend Nike Frees for serious weightlifting or running, they are “great for training” and everyday gym sessions. Lemere recommends these to her clients frequently and likes that they’re “not as rigid as the Nike Metcon (our best-overall pick above) but still very supportive.”

Best workout shoes for everyday wear

Support: Plush tongue and heel counter | Cushion: Maximum | Outsole: Medium grip

Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst recommends the 990s for their “incredible support” at the gym. “I wear a gray pair, which goes nicely with everything and transitions easily from the treadmill to the squat rack. I like that it comes in a bunch of different widths (from X-Narrow to XX-Wide). I have a wide foot, and the wide width fits me like a glove,” she writes. Denton-Hurst also picked the 990s as one of the most comfortable shoes to wear all day. “They make everything more pleasant and are the one shoe I absolutely have to have with me no matter where I go.”

Best less expensive workout shoes for everyday wear

Support: Low profile | Cushion: Medium | Outsole: Medium grip

Strategist UK contributor Anna Fielding spotted these sleek and (very) affordable sneakers from Feiyue and decided to do some digging. “The trainers originated in 1920s Shanghai, where they were adopted by martial arts practitioners,” she wrote. “These days parkour enthusiasts use them too, as do Chinese schoolchildren during PE lessons and Shaolin monks. They are lightweight plimsolls, with a canvas body and a cushioned sole. They have bounce. They have grip. And unlike other plimsolls, they’re actually supportive.”

As we mentioned in our roundup of the best men’s workout shoes, the Fe Lo sneakers have the features of a solid weight-lifting shoe: a flat, cushioned sole and a supportive canvas upper construction. “You can easily wear them without socks, and — good for the sockless to know — I’ve also found they stand up to repeat washing machine cycles,” Fielding continues. “They stay looking fresh, whites stay white, and colors sharp, longer than any pair of Converse. They don’t fall to pieces, as Keds can, even if you treat them badly and kick them off without bothering to undo the laces.”

Best workout shoes for tennis

From $114

Support: Low profile | Cushion: Medium | Grip: Maximum

Tennis shoes make great workout sneakers because the sport requires lots of lateral movement and quick bursts of speed. Plus, sliding around on a court calls for durability under your feet. Former Strategist junior writer Sanibel Chai picked the Asics Gel Resolution as the best women’s overall tennis shoe. “The Asics Gel Resolution came highly recommended by four of our experts and is a safe bet if you’re not sure where to get started,” she wrote. Claire Ann Pollard, head coach of Northwestern University’s women’s tennis team, calls the Asics Gel Resolution her favorite, and Karen Moriarty, co-owner of the Tennis Professionals — Sportech in Rye Brook, New York, says they are consistently a top pick for her customers.

Best workout shoes for spin

Support: Narrower fit with velcro strap | Cushion: Medium | Outsole: Medium grip, SPD-compatible

“Despite the fact that I spin multiple times a week, investing in spin shoes always felt like a huge waste of money, because you can’t actually wear them on the street,” says Weiner from Well+Good. She loves these Tiem sneakers because you can “hop straight from the street onto the spin bike without having to change your shoes.” If you prefer your workout sneakers to pop, the shoes also come in nine other colors, including bright pink, red, and blue.

Best workout shoes for plantar fasciitis


Support: Foam sole to help prevent over-pronation | Cushion: Maximum | Outsole: Maximum grip

If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, consider working out in a stability shoe with lots of cushioning, like the Arahi 6. Strategist junior writer Brenley Goertzen has worn Hokas for the past six years ever since she got bad plantar fasciitis that caused her to sit out for weeks of her junior college cross country season. “Every gait analysis I’ve ever done says I have terrible pronation, which is likely why I got plantar in the first place,” she says. “These have a nice wide toe box, which lets my mid-foot flex properly and prevents my fascia from tightening.” Goertzen says she’s worn the Arahi 5 before, but likes the lighter feeling of the Arahi 6.

Best workout shoes for running

Support: High, cushioned heel counter | Cushion: Medium | Outsole: Medium grip

Like we mentioned, above, you shouldn’t use your running shoes for workouts that require lateral activities, but if you’re looking for a basic gym trainer with running in mind, look to the Pegasus. In her guide to picking the best running shoes, former Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson recommended the Air Zoom Pegasus if “you’d rather not think too much about your running shoes,” she wrote. “The Pegasus has been a dependable part of Nike’s running lineup ever since it was introduced nearly four decades ago. Its cushioning comes from a generous layer of Nike’s proprietary React foam in the midsole.”

Other workout shoes we’ve written about

Our experts

• Karen Iorio Adelson, former Strategist senior writer
Melissa Boyd, head of fitness at Tempo
• Sanibel Chai, former Strategist junior writer
• Tembe Denton-Hurst, Strategist writer
• Kristen Dold, Strategist contributor
• Anna Fielding, Strategist UK contributor
Brenley Goertzen, Strategist junior writer
Kate Lemere, Barry’s chief instructor
Bari Lieberman, fitness director and personal trainer
• Jenna Milliner-Waddell, Strategist associate editor
• Melanie Miracolo, former head of retail at yoga studio Y7
• Karen Moriarty, co-owner of the Tennis Professionals — Sportech
• Ambar Pardilla, Strategist writer
• Dominique Pariso, Strategist writer
• Denajha Phillips, NASM-certified personal trainer
• Claire Ann Pollard, head coach of Northwestern University’s women’s tennis team
• Jen Romanelli, co-founder of Trooper Fitness
• Jen Trolio, Strategist senior editor
• Shona Vertue, yoga teacher and author
• Zoë Weiner, Well+Good senior beauty editor

Additional reporting by Ambar Pardilla, Kristen Dold, Dominique Pariso, and Jenna Milliner-Waddell.

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The Very Best Workout Shoes for Women