Finding the right pair of shoes for your workout can be a tricky enterprise — not only should they feel comfortable, but they should look good enough that you’ll actually want to wear them (although there is something to be said for comfortable ugly shoes). But the line between form and function is sometimes blurry, with many opting for marathon-grade running shoes to walk around the city and run errands. That’s totally fine if style is your main concern, but if you’re looking to do a more vigorous workout, it’s important to have a shoe designed for that specific task. In order to find the best options out there for every type of use, we reached out to 15 cool fitness pros and general exercise enthusiasts to find out what workout shoes they use for running, cross training, weightlifting, and more active pursuits.
Best workout shoes for running
For running outdoors, the only shoe name-checked twice was the Nike Vaporfly. It has a wild futuristic look, with bold bright colors and a translucent upper, but these are famous for their high-tech and lightweight construction. “These are my go-to for road running and everyday wear,” says Taka Kasuga, the creative director of fashion-forward outdoors line, Arc’teryx Veilance. He highlights their “great cushioning,” noting that, since they’re so flexible, they’re very “packable for traveling.” They’re also a favorite of Amanda Freeman, the owner and founder of SLT and SLT Tread (a new studio that combines a treadmill workout with the Megaformer machine used in standard SLT classes). Freeman told us that the “incredibly lightweight” shoes have a sole that “incorporates carbon-fiber plates that act like springs.” That sole has allowed “professional and amateur runners alike to shave time off of their personal records,” she adds.
When we reached out to fitness influencers and experts to find the next status gym sneaker for men, On Running’s Cloud line was the clear choice when it came to both style and substance. Master personal trainer Ariel Brill told us these “are my favorite for running,” adding, “I ran my marathon in this exact pair and I felt like I was truly running on a cloud, when in reality, I was on hard pavement.” While these are branded as a running sneaker, many find they also make a great all-purpose gym and training shoe. As Men’s Health fashion director Ted Stafford told us when we asked him about status gym sneakers, “guys who are looking for a training sneaker with the latest innovation for comfort and performance should try On Running training sneakers as soon as they can. They’ll be hooked.”
“I’m a stability runner, so that narrows down my shoe selection,” says Dave Spandorfer, the co-founder of running outfitter Janji. He likes that the Hoka One One Arahi is designed with support and stability in mind, which is why it’s his choice for “everyday runs.” Spandorfer adds: “It’s perfect for logging hundreds of miles on the road.”
If you’re looking for a shoe that delivers equal parts speed and stability, Matt Taylor, the founder and CEO of running-gear brand Tracksmith, recommends the classic Adidas Boston for its versatility. Taylor, who runs in “major races” as well as recreationally, has tried “hundreds of shoes, but always find myself coming back to the Adidas Boston,” he told us. “They’re light enough you feel like you can get some speed going, but supportive enough for higher mileage.”
Another pair of New Balances comes recommended to us by contributor Jason Stewart, who recently wrote about the basic (but respectable) home gym he built for roughly the price of two months of going to Equinox. Stewart, who happens to have very large feet, told us that finding a suitable running shoe was quite challenging. “Since I wear a size 17 shoe, my selection of New Balances are usually limited to their more orthopedic styles. I bought these on Amazon on a whim, and instantly fell in love,” he says. “They don’t feel heavy on the foot, but also aren’t too light, like some other shoes I’ve had a problem getting used to.” Stewart adds that, even though they don’t look “like much,” these have “clean lines and a modern sole” that don’t look overly orthopedic.
Best workout shoes for cross-training
While many opt to wear running shoes to the gym for lifting and cardio, most of the fitness pros told us that it’s worth investing in a pair of shoes better suited for all-purpose workouts. According to Sean Sewell, a personal trainer who runs the gear-review site Engearment and the online-fitness program Mountain Fitness School, running shoes often “lack lateral stability” which can be a problem if you’re doing “agility work.” Most running shoes also have “a bit of a lift in the heel which helps for comfort when running,” but can make it hard to achieve “proper alignment” when lifting weights. SLT founder Freeman thinks Nobull’s training shoe — another of our status mens’ gym sneaker contenders — is the best “all-purpose workout shoe” available. “They’ve quickly become some of the most popular cross-training sneakers on the market for men,” she adds. “The signature feature is the SuperFabric outer construction Nobull uses that makes the outer construction lightweight and rigid, thus resistant to abrasions. It’s breathable, durable and water-resistant.”
According to Nate Checketts, the co-founder and CEO of athletic-wear company, Rhone, “shoes can be a real expression of style,” but the priority should always be performance. “I want shoes that can hold up to the rigor of a run, workout, and everyday life, but still look sharp.” His nomination for an athletic shoe that does it all is the Adidas Ultraboost, which he describes as “the most athletic looking shoe guys can still wear in a lot of settings.” Checketts says these are “incredibly durable for all forms of working out, but also really sharp looking and often come in unique colors,” adding that, “if you want a tried and true, you can’t go wrong here.”
While Sewell generally does not recommend running shoes for cross-training workouts, he told us that this shoe from Hoka One One is an exception to that rule, and it’s quickly become one of his favorites. “My fitness clients like them as they are better for ‘gym’ workouts than traditional running shoes,” he says. “They work well for training modalities that involve TRX, BOSU, kettlebells and tools like that.” He also likes that they’re “comfortable right out of the box” and “look good enough for meetings and events.”
“These are my personal favorite” for cross-training, says master personal trainer Joey Levy of Corefit 101. “They’re great for running and any exercises that involve jumping, plyometrics, core training or HIIT training.” He adds that “Nike Air Max sneakers” in general — the ones with the the signature encapsulated “bubble” of air in the sole — are an especially good option for providing proper “support” to anyone with “flat feet.”
While they might appear to be on the casual side for a workout shoe, product designer Amardeep Singh says that if you’re not doing any intense footwork, these will fit the bill for lighter workouts involving stretching and weight machines. While he admits that “pretty much any shoe would suffice” for such lighter workouts, the 990s are his “favorite for them, as they are a great ‘walking’ shoe, breathable enough to keep your feet dry, flexible enough to handle most floor exercises, and most importantly, look great.”
“If you want a cross-trainer that works for running and lifting, nothing beats York Athletic MFG’s Henry,” says Spandorfer. It’s constructed with a lightweight and “breathable mesh” upper and a “custom PU foam sock liner” for comfort and support. According to Spandorfer, “these are stylish, versatile, and fun to kick around in. You’ll look great from gym to work.”
Best workout shoes for weightlifting
Another sneaker that also appeared in our status gym-shoe roundup, the high-top Converse All Star has a cult-following among weightlifters due to its completely flat sole. Singh is among those who like the flat-soled All Star high-tops for weightlifting — he prefers the ’70 model featured here, which has thicker sole — telling us you’ve “got to keep it flat if you’re lifting. You can try to get all new age and focus on foam specs, or just get these that have lasted the test of time.” Sewell seconds the Converse recommendation, adding that they’re the next best thing to going barefoot. “If you really want to train hard, with heavier weights and the best possible form, I recommend going barefoot. This allows for the most beneficial alignment of the body.” But of course, most gyms aren’t cool with people working out barefoot, so these are a useful — and affordable — alternative.
Brill agrees that a “barefoot feel” is something to look for in a workout shoe geared towards weightlifting. He recommends this model from New Balance, which, with a knit upper “infused with TPU fibers” and a durable Vibram sole, is more engineered than the Converse but still quite minimal. “These shoes have a very barefoot feel to them, which is great for weightlifting and performing deep squats,” he says.
Best workout shoes for HIIT
Another “great shoe for strength training” is the Nike Metcon, says Brill. “It has great support, it’s well balanced and it’s very durable.” The Metcon is also very popular in the CrossFit community, according to Sewell, because it is known to handle a wide range of workouts. “They are lightly cushioned and have little to no heel lift, making them good for proper biomechanics when performing deadlifts, squats, swings and snatches. They have good tactile feedback too.”
“My go-to shoe for HILIT workouts is the Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit, which provides stability when I’m moving through athletic sequences or giving it my all on the rower,” says Dominick Mangine, a founding coach at rowing fitness studio, Rowgatta. (HILIT workouts are slightly gentler than their higher-intensity HIIT counterparts.) He loves the Flyknit fabric because it’s “comfortable” and stylish, while also “providing flexibility and plenty of width for wide feet.” But after trying “at least 6 varieties of Flyknits,” Mangine found that “the arch support in the React Flyknit is far superior” to the others he’s worn.
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