Finding a good, do-it-all sneaker is a harder task than it seems. That’s because most workout shoes are built for specific activities, like running, weight lifting, basketball, tennis, or hiking, among others. And though wearing your running shoes for all your workouts might not be the worst crime in the world, it should be avoided as much as possible, because the vast majority of running shoes are built specifically for forward movement, and their constructions don’t provide the stability needed for lateral movement that a basketball or tennis shoe would lend.
A good workout shoe will give that extra support, not just propel you forward, and even though there are differences between the type of support you need depending on the activity you’re doing most often, most of these sports share similar movements that require the same thing: a stable, comfortable base for a variety of forward and lateral movements. That’s why a lot of the shoes in this list could be categorized as cross-trainers; they lend stability and are made to move, push, jump, and jog in.
The experts we spoke to recommended these shoes as the best pairs to do so. We’ve noted where each of these shoes excel best: be it for jogging with a mix of HIIT, lots of heavy weight training, or hitting the trails for a sweaty, uphill hike. And when it comes to style, don’t fret — a few of the pairs we featured below can double as the pair you lift in but also wear to a weekday-night bar hang with friends. (And if you’re looking for something to run in, check out our guide to the best running shoes.)
What we’re looking for
Support: A supportive build is crucial for running, moving side to side, and for any workout involving weights. We’re looking for features like flat soles, secure, non-flimsy upper constructions around the forefoot, and reinforcements around the shoe’s tongue, the toe box, and your ankle — all of which will help to give you a stable base to push off from, and thus help prevent foot or leg injuries. (“Rule No. 1 in fitness is don’t get hurt and rule No. 2 is reread rule No. 1,” says trainer and entrepreneur Percell Dugger, who says the right shoes are critical to following these rules.)
Cushion: Shoes more geared toward weight lifting will have a flatter, denser midsole with less cushion, while some of the running-focused shoes on this list will have a thicker midsole with a plusher feel. At the end of the day, it comes down to what’s most comfortable for you, and we’ve tried to make it clear how much cushion you can expect in each shoe by rating it from high to light.
Outsole: Good workout shoes will provide solid traction to keep you on your feet, whether you’re doing box jumps, lunges, or jogging on pavement. We’re looking for shoes with good “tires” that are suited to their activity: Some outsoles have balder rubber bottoms, built for flatter gym surfaces, while others in this list have deeper lugs that can handle surfaces like asphalt and dirt trails.
Best overall workout shoe
Flat sole | High cushion | Maximum grip
While some folks opt to wear running shoes for lifting and cardio, most of the fitness pros we spoke to say that it’s worth investing in a pair of shoes better suited for all-purpose workouts — like Nike’s Metcon. Sean Sewell, a personal trainer who runs the gear-review site Engearment, says that while running shoes have “a bit of a lift in the heel that helps for comfort when running,” that can make it hard to achieve “proper alignment” in other kinds of workouts. Todd Brandon-Morris, the founder of inclusive fitness brand Out-Fit, says the Metcon should be “the standard for any versatile athlete” because they’re “firm enough for heavy weight lifting” but also great for jumping and running. Sewell tells us they’re also very popular in the CrossFit community: “They are lightly cushioned and have little to no heel lift, making them good for proper biomechanics when performing deadlifts, squats, swings, and snatches,” he says, adding that they have “good tactile feedback too.” Because of their versatility, the Metcon is our top recommendation for any sweat session — minus training for a marathon.