Equipping your feet with quality workout shoes will make you look good in the gym and offer improved grip and support so you can work out safely and with greater effectiveness. You can't be safe enough when dangling heavy weights over your head or jumping laterally during an intense HIIT class – you need the best workout shoes to support you for these types of workouts!
Even the most seasoned of fitness fiends will attest to the fear associated with causing a catastrophic knee injury when a pair of wonky running trainers decide to give way at the heel. Rolling an ankle, or worse, is a frustrating end to a fitness push.
The fact of the matter is, many modern workouts require you to be able to run, hop, climb and lift, often within the same session. This requires the best shoes for workouts; ones that offer a stable surface as well as a flexible arch. The perfect combination gives you a platform to work out well beyond where you think your limits may be.
If you go hunting for advice through online workout boards, they’ll likely just advise you to simply kick off the shoes and tackle the squat rack barefoot. But we'd rather enlist the help of a new breed of workout trainers that neatly blend elements of a lifting shoe (flat sole, sturdy heel etc) with all of the performance trickery of a the best running shoes.
Best workout shoes, in order of preference
The Nike Metcon 8 is the latest model in the sportswear giant's impressive Metcon range. This series of shoes has been built specifically for the needs of the cross training health fanatic – Metcon is a portmanteau of METabolic CONditioning – and has quickly become synonymous with the cross-fit community. Now, more than just a hectic workout for the committed grinders, it’s a true multi-purpose series of shoes.
We haven't yet reviewed the Metcon 8, but on the fact of it, not a whole lot has changed from its predecessor model, the Metcon 7, which we have reviewed (other than some new colour options). So, if you already own that shoe, there's probably little reason to upgrade, but if you're in the market for a new pair of workout shoes to help power through your workouts, the Metcon 8 should be at the top of your list.
The Metcon 8 uses React – Nike's most resilient foam – making the shoes better suited for sprinting and general cardio. Make no mistake: the Metcon 8 is not a running shoe, though it won't have trouble tackling sprint sessions.
The thick rubber sole provides extremely stable footing, ideal for heavy and Olympic lifts, while the grooves at the front of the sole allow the Metcon 8 to bend – basically, you get the best of both worlds.
The upper has also been revamped and is said to be tougher than ever. Additionally, the tongues feature a lock tab under which you can hide the laces if you prefer them to be tucked away.
Awesome workout shoes overall.
Reebok has given its popular Nano X series of workout shoes a bit of a makeover and an upgrade for the latest X2 iteration. Quite a lot has changed compared to the X1, including a re-engineered FlexWeave Knit Upper, which Reebok says provides greater protection and breathability. The heel has also received some changes to make it more stable and we found that it does indeed provide a generous amount of support.
The Nano X2 can also now be a genuine contender for people who do a lot of cardio, as Reebok's Floatride Energy Foam is still present and correct, providing a good level of cushioning and responsiveness. They won't replace a pair of dedicated running shoes for long distances, but for the odd treadmill session they're perfectly capable.
We particularly love the fit of the Nano X2 and reckon they're some of the most comfortable workout shoes you can buy. And overall, as a multi-purpose training shoe, there is much to love: a stable midsole assists with lifts, forefoot bending is great for box jumps and arch support adds balance when performing explosive moves such as snatches.
Read our full Reebok Nano X2 review
It's all about that base, baby, with the Under Armour TriBase Reign 3 training shoes. UA has given its TriBase Reign series of workout shoes regular updates and the Reign 3 are some of the best. Under Armour has since released the TriBase Reign 4 and 4 Pro, which we've yet to review, but chatter amongst the workout community suggest they're a very worthy update.
But, back to the TriBase Reign 3. The triangular base – hence the name 'TriBase' – has a large external heel counter for added support at the rear of the shoes. The sawtooth pattern of the outsole provides all the traction you need so when you are lifting heavy weights or jumping around on hard floors doing a full-body HIIT workout, you won't have to worry about slippery feet (make sure the surface is dry first, though).
The stability doesn't stop there: the low-ground construction of the TriBase Reign 3 puts you and your toes in control of the movement and stability of your body. You won't find a high stack here, like in modern running shoes, but for the same reason, the TriBase Reign 3 is not the best choice for treadmill sessions, the sole being flat and less cushioned. That's not to say you can't use them for running, but we wouldn't recommend you attempt long distances.
Notable upgrades over the TriBase Reign 2 include a much more comfortable, slip-in feel the shoe, aided by the knit bootie construction. It certainly feels less thick when you have them on your feet, which when coupled with the lightweight build results in an incredibly comfortable pair of workout shoes.
We did think the Reign 3 aren't the most stylish looking pair of workout shoes around, but because they're available in a variety of colour options, there should be one to suit your personal tastes.
• Read our full Under Armour TriBase Reign 3 review
I fell in love with the Inov-8 BARE-XF 210 V3 while testing them and they will be my go-to workout shoes going forward, mainly because I tend to do more resistance training and less jumpy HIIT workouts. For the latter, I would still opt in to use the Under Armour UA TriBase Reign 2 which is a great all around workout shoe, albeit geared at CrossFitters, just like the Nike Metcon 6.
Is the Inov-8 BARE-XF 210 V3 for everyone? I wouldn't think so. It's great for workouts that doesn't involve a lot of moving around (e.g. running/jogging) and/or jumping around. For box jumps, these shoes are great but for boxing workouts, maybe not so much. If you aren't used to barefoot shoes, running or even just jogging might take some time to get used to. It doesn't take long to get used to the BARE-XF 210 V3, and once you did, you won't want to take them off again.
• Read our full Inov-8 BARE-XF 210 V3 review here
And now for something a little different... where most of the other trainers on this list pile on the features, the Primus Lite III - from eco-friendly brand Vivobarefoot -does the opposite. The third iteration of the Primus Lite is very similar to its predecessor but use less material sources as well as better and more sustainable materials to reduce the impact this footwear has on the planet, without changing the workout experience of the shoes too much (or at all).
Fully vegan-friendly and fashioned from recycled PET plastic waste, they allow for the most natural-feeling workout there is, with the thin, puncture-resistant sole allowing the important nerve endings in the feet to feed back to the brain.
Admittedly, we were skeptical at first, but performing big deadlifts and squats in these is better than going barefoot, or slipping around the gym in socks. The wide shape allows the big toe to stabilise (like it should), while the sole allows the user to make micro adjustments for the perfect platform during big lifts.
Better still, they are stupidly flexible, so assist in reducing potential toe cramp and discomfort when performing split squats or lunges, where the toes curl curl with every rep or movement.
While the Metcon 8 may be the most recent version in Nike's rather excellent Metcon series of shoes, because the differences between the Metcon 7 and Metcon 8 are so miniscule, it's always worth considering the older model as prices will be more affordable.
As with the Metcon 8, the Nike Metcon 7 uses React, the brand's most resilient foam, making the shoes better suited for sprinting and general cardio.
The thick rubber sole provides extremely stable footing, ideal for heavy and Olympic lifts, while the grooves at the front of the sole allow the Metcon 7 to bend; basically, you get the best of both worlds. The upper has also been revamped and is said to be tougher than ever. Additionally, the tongues feature a lock tab under which you can hide the laces if you prefer them to be tucked away.
Read our full Nike Metcon 7 review
There is a school of thought that suggests the art of lifting eye-poppingly heavy weights deserves its very own shoe. After all, you wouldn't head onto the football pitch in a pair of tennis shoes, so why commit a similar faux pas when approaching the squat rack?
The steep decline from heel to toe and beefed-up torsion bar system at the rear of this Adidas brute allows for a much more stable platform through which to push some serious power.
A single instep strap provides additional rear-foot support and can be quickly and easily adjusted on the fly, mid-set, so there's nothing to stand in the way of a one-rep max attempt.
Alas, these beefcake-makers aren't particularly good for anything else other than heavy lifting, so if you plan to throw a little treadmill time into your workout, you'll likely have to pack a separate pair of running shoes in your gym bag... or risk looking a bit silly
The latest version of Puma's wallet-friendly workout shoe has been revised to offer greater support and stability in the forefoot, taking full advantage of Puma's very own Pwrframe technology.
Comfort and cushioning is served up by ProFoam, while PumaGrip on the sole of the shoes gives you extra traction, useful for treadmill sessions or lifts where you're balancing heavy weights above your head.
We also love the way these Puma workout shoes look. Puma has often incorporated good style into its training footwear, and the Pwrframe TR 2 are certainly no different. You may think they're a little simple in their approach design, but for us there's something about them that just screams sleek and premium. We've yet to officially put the Puma Pwrframe TR 2 under our intense review program, but that's something we plan to rectify very soon.
New Balance has opted to hook up with Vibram, purveyors of brilliantly cushioning soles, to create an all-purpose training shoe that's as good smashing the heavy lifts (where a stable footing is required) as it is for soaking up the impact from explosive moves.
If you can get over the slightly bulky look and tight fit (definitely go for a half size up on your regular shoe), they prove really grippy on smooth surfaces and nicely stable for the classic Olympic lifts.
We sometimes train in a small, CrossFit Box-esque gym and its painted concrete floor can get slippery. The soles on these were fantastic for locking into place underneath a barbell when prepping for a deadlift or squat.
Although the Metcons may be Nike’s best-known all-rounder, if you’re sweating it out in HIIT or circuit classes every other morning, Nike has gone one better and designed the perfect workhorse shoe for you.
The Air Zoom SuperRep has been engineered specifically for HIIT training sessions, with features designed to give you a vital boost during intense circuits. The key feature here is the “burpee break” separating the heel from the toe sole, which provides flexibility in the shoe when distributing your weight to different parts of the foot, and the big arcs are supposed to act as “brake pads” when leaping from side to side.
We were surprised to find the shoe holds up when flat (driving upwards during squat thrusters and kettlebell swings), on our toes (for press-ups and burpees) and on regular impact with its Zoom Air cushioning, handling everything we could throw at it with ease. In terms of lateral movements, we weren’t sliding anywhere soon, and we flew into the next move with a spring in our step.
Another TPU mesh upper promotes breathability so the shoe can go from class to class without stinking up your gym bag, and we found the higher ankle a welcome support, especially when performing “locked-in” exercises like squat thrusters. It’s a very sci-fi-looking shoe with the bulbous arc over the Zoom Air bubble, but it holds up extremely well under pressure. Great for ClassPass subscribers.
• Read our hands on Nike Air Zoom SuperRep review
How we picked the best workout shoes
I like to suffer for my art and if I'm not in the gym sampling the latest workout app, I enjoy being shouted at by a personal trainer in my so-far only partially successful quest for a Chris Hemsworth body. Using Centr, the workout app backed by the actor, can help you get there earlier. The Trion app might help too.
I laced up a variety of workout shoes that are specifically designed for bossing the gym, or nailing an intense bout of high intensity interval training, and hand-picked the kicks that best blended performance, comfort, price and, at least to a certain extent, style.
Overall, the Under Armour TriBase Reign 3 offers the most enticing package, with a super stable heel for better balance during squats and big lifting movements, as well as a flexible sole for greater confidence during split squats or more explosive exercises. They also proved light and breathable while the bootie inner and supportive ankle bar proved excellent for support during sprints and interval training.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the list above is roughly in an order of preference, although the look and fit of certain models will very much be down to personal tastes. Please note that while these gym shoes were tested by a man, they are largely also suitable for women's workouts.
How to buy the best workout trainer
In general, a good workout trainer will have a relatively flat sole, especially at the heel (where it should also be wide). Unlike running shoes, which tend to feature a curve from heel to tip to mitigate heel strike, a workout shoe offers a stable platform for lifting weights.
Some models even have a wider and reinforced heel area, which copes with the excess pressure when tackling a really heavy deadlift or squat and avoids any ankle rolling, while others will be more geared towards explosive movements and high intensity workouts.
Keep in mind what you plan to do, as a shoe that's designed purely for heavy weights probably isn't the most suited to those thinking of incorporating plenty of jumping jacks, box jumps and sprints into their workouts.
Most important of all is fit, and I found that most brands differ in terms of the width and snugness of their offerings. So here's some obvious advice: try them on before you buy. Or buy online and return them within 20 days if the fit doesn't agree with you.