The best workout shoes – or gym shoes – offer improved grip and support so you can work out more safely and with greater effectiveness, making a very handy bit of the best home gym equipment (so to speak). 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.
Even this humble health and fitness writer can attest to almost causing a catastrophic knee injury when a pair of roly-poly running trainers decided to give way at the heel during a particularly – by which I mean excessively – weighty squat routine.
The fact of the matter is, many modern workouts now incorporate much of the old school Olympic lifting theory and therefore require the best shoes for workouts; ones that offer a stable surface through which to push maximum pooooowwwweeer.
Some will 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.
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 Nike Free X Metcon 2 trainer offered the most enticing package, with a super stable heel for better balance during squats and big lifting movements, as well as an exceptionally flexible sole for greater confidence during split squats or more explosive exercises. They also proved light and breathable – perfect for a chap with particularly sweaty feet – 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 that follows 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.
Best workout shoes, in order of preference
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Support, flexibility, a stable platform and good connection with the ground below: these are all attributes that make a great workout trainer and the Nike Free X Metcon 2 features all of these in droves.
Nike's Metcon range is also relatively diverse, spanning those shoes aimed at pure power lifting (see the Adidas model below) to these, slightly more versatile kicks. We prefer these, simply because you'll be able to perform a greater spread of exercises without changes shoes.
A TPU mesh upper encourages plenty of airflow around the foot, which will appeal to those thinking of adding some high intensity efforts to their workouts, while the bootie construction offers lots of support around the ankle, which is great for rapid direction changes, side steps and sprint training.
Arguably not the most handsome shoe on the market, the Metcon range seems to favour function over form. But that's OK, because everything in the Free X 2 , from the grippy flat sole to the locking mid-foot cage structure, is geared towards offering maximum support for explosive workouts and gets our seal of approval after a series of mixed workouts in the gym. A solid all-round option.
• Read our full Nike Free X Metcon 2 review
It's all about that base, baby, with the Under Armour TriBase Reign 2 training shoes. UA took all the feedback it's received about the first iteration of this shoe seriously and created a workout shoe that has more traction, more durability and even more comfort than its predecessor.
The triangular base – hence the name, TriBase – has a larger 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 lift heavy weights or jump 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 2 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 2 is not the best choice for treadmill sessions, the sole being flat and less cushioned.
This doesn't mean this workout shoe is not responsive, though: the full-length Micro G foam midsole does have a slight bounce and will take the weight off your feet when you jump around.
Weirdly, the latest Metcon shoe has lost the neoprene-esque ankle support of the model we previously adored, but it still retains the broad flat sole, which makes it great for powerful lifting moves.
Updates include firmer foam under the heel for a more supportive platform, as well as additional cushioning for high impact moves. According to its makers, this shoes is 18% more breathable than the Metcon 5 it supersedes, using an improved lightweight mesh for most of the upper.
There's even a removable Hyperlift insert that lets you adjust the height under your heel from one set to the next, transforming these versatile shoes from a proper lifting platform to a more energetic workout trainer in an instant.
• Read our full Nike Metcon 6 review
CrossFit incorporates numerous athletic disciplines into its foundations, meaning it requires a fairly versatile shoe to ensure the fitness movement's followers don't end up with battered and blistered feet.
Reebok has long supported the sport (yeah, CrossFitters claims it is a sport) and its latest Nano shoe packs plenty of technology into its slim, lightweight frame, including new heel bootie construction that works alongside a moulded midsole and sockliner for greater ankle support during heavy lifting.
Reebok's "Toe-Tection" adds extra durability at the front of the shoe, where some participants find digits end up popping through the outer after a few months of flipping tyres etc. Plus, a high abrasion rubber sole grips the floor as you lift and forefoot flex grooves give greater flexibility and enhance balance during split squats and lunges.
And now for something a little different... where most of the other trainers on this list pile on the features, the Primus Lite II - from eco-friendly brand Vivobarefoot -does the opposite.
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.
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 Nike Varsity Compete TR3 is designed for those who carry out fast-paced and intense workouts, featuring extra padded ankle supports and a sole designed to grip on a multitude of surfaces.
Again, the soles are flat and cushioned so they provide a stable surface for carrying out traditional lifts. But these shoes pack rubber edges at the toe, forefoot and heel for durability in high-wear areas. They are a little chunkier for it, but it means your toes won't end up poking through the upper if you are the type to carry out explosive leaps and strides during complex, multi-faceted sessions.
Inspired by boxing boots, these slightly whacky looking Pumas feature of a sort of slip-on bootie construction that feels a lot like wearing a slipper, but offers a lot of stability and support for rapid, multi-directional movement.
We have to say, these don't feel as solid as a lot of the other trainers on this list, while the flimsy elastic laces feel like they could give way with a little punishment. Still, they great and sport a chunky, flat heel, which is great for lifting weights.
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