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Most people who work out engage in some sort of cross-training protocol, utilizing a mix of strength training and conditioning exercises.
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The term cross-training has been used to define any workout that involves two or more different types of exercise systems, such as running and weightlifting, to improve health and athletic performance. A single shoe to accommodate these varied routines was first conceptualized in the ’80s, when cross-training activities began to pick up steam.
Arguably, the world’s first cross-training shoe was the Nike Air Trainer One, designed by Tinker Hatfield. The cutting-edge style showcased a revolutionary Air Sole unit, partial cupsoles, midfoot strap and lateral outrigger. In the late ’80s, tennis legend John McEnroe made Air Trainers a household name — soon followed by multisport icon Bo Jackson. Nike’s debut inspired a range of other athletic players to enter the cross-training shoe market, including Reebok with its CXT model. (At the time, Reebok designer Paul Litchfield was working on another classic in the making, the Reebok Pump, a basketball shoe made famous in the late ’80s and early ‘90s by Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkens.)
As our workouts continue to evolve, the term cross-training and the role of cross-training footwear has expanded to include a multitude of athletic modalities, from quick-shifting directional movements to training jumps, deadlifts to sled pulls, power cleans to sprints, battle ropes to box jumps and more.
And it’s all possible thanks to advances in performance technology, says Litchfield, who’s now the head of product at sporting equipment company GoRuck. “There’s much more bioscience involved in today’s training, which is increasingly intense and focuses more on explosive moves,” he says. “The shoes of yesteryear were good general fitness and training shoes, but they weren’t constructed for this type of training. And they certainly didn’t have the material availability that would make them as durable or responsive.”
For these reasons, like many of Nike’s OG sport sneakers, Air Trainer Ones are now largely used as lifestyle shoes. They’ve even earned major street cred after recently being reworked by rapper and sneaker king Travis Scott.
How to find the best cross-training shoes
There’s likely a shoe made for your needs and foot type, but not every workout shoe will be the right fit, Litchfield stresses. Finding a cross-training shoe that has the proper heel drop, sockliner, toe box and outsole can be as tricky as a 60-minute Barry’s Bootcamp HIIT class. Litchfield advises that the best way to find a shoe that’s comfortable for you is by using the old-school method of trying on pairs in-store. (While you can order online, not all companies have flexible return policies or pay for shipping, meaning being wrong about your purchase can become expensive if you go this route.)
“The right cross-training shoes shouldn’t bite the top of your foot, and the ankle height shouldn’t be too high or too low,” Litchfield says. “If you do a few jumping jacks or move around in them in the store, the shoes should move with you and not cause any irritation.”
If you have wide feet, look for styles with larger toe boxes. Options featuring a flatter toe drop may also be beneficial while you execute strength moves like deadlifts, whereas pairs featuring cushiony soles may be better suited for running-related, longer cardio moves.
No matter which types exercise you prefer, just remember your shoes should never hurt. “Your focus is on scoring a new PR, a power clean or running a faster time, so you don’t want to shift your focus toward the feel of your shoes,” he says. “You don’t have to cut an artery to realize you’re not wearing the correct shoe. It’s little subtleties like instability that accumulate over time.”
How often should you change your cross-training shoes?
Sometimes, a visual inspection (or even a smell test) is not the best gage for determining when your cross-training shoes need replacing. And if you’re not running long distances, calculating mileage may not work, either.
So, how can you tell if it’s time to invest in a new pair? Fatiguing more quickly during workouts or experiencing stress in places of the body you don’t normally can be early indicators. Is your form breaking down in the middle of a squat set or power clean attempt? Are your knees rotating inward or outward more than normal? These can all be warning signs, especially if you notice them during multiple workouts.
“Your shoes may not feel different when you put them on, but if your shoes are breaking down, more than likely they’ll be collapsing on either the lateral or medial side,” Litchfield explains. “This could be the beginning of a kind of collapse of the compression in the midsole, which over time is going to happen to every product.”
Ahead, we rounded up the 15 best cross-training shoes to suit different needs. We tested most of the cross-training shoes below, and relied on expert recommendations for the rest. Keep scrolling to shop them.
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Top Cross-Training Shoes for Men
Nike Metcon 7 Cross-Training Shoes
At this point, we take the greatness of the Metcon series for granted, as each evolution of Nike’s signature cross-trainer always becomes a must-have. This writer is a fan of the Metcon 6s, finding them to offer comfort and flexibility through any workout — from pulls to sled pushes to sprints (never did my feet feel compromised or tired in any way while wearing these). For the Metcon 7, React Foam is expanded throughout the entire shoe, which is a plus for those agility-based workouts thrown into your routine.
Courtesy of Nordstrom
Inov-8 F-Lite G 300 Cross-Training Shoes
Best for CrossFit
Inov-8 calls itself the maker of the world’s toughest training shoes, and fans of the style including CrossFitters Dani Speegle, Scott Panchik, Kara Saunders and Jamie Greenwood give credibility to that statement. Weighing only 11 ounces, the Inov-8 F-Lite G 300 has a rubber outsole enhanced with Graphene, aka the world’s strongest compound, making the shoe stable on slick hardwood gym floors and exceptionally durable as you push or pull heavy weights. Its Boomerang footbed provides better energy return, giving you that extra boost for sprinting to the finish line.
Courtesy of Amazon
Reebok Nano X1 Cross-Training Shoes
Best for Wide Feet
Next to Nike’s Metcon series, Reebok’s Nano X1 is one of the most well-known and popular cross-training styles on the market. The X1s can be effectively worn from casual workouts to the toughest WODs out there. Nano’s Flexweave technology provide breathability and durability, while Floatride Energy foam is all the cushioning your forefoot needs for cranking out a PR on squat day. As one reviewer writes: “The fit is really comfortable. The toe box seems a little wider than many shoes, and I like that.”
Courtesy of Amazon
Under Armour Hovr Rise 3 Cross-Training Shoes
There are many things to like about one of the latest Under Armour drops. For one, its Hovr cushioning and foam are durable and comfortable for all types of workouts. These shoes are also flexible enough to slip on and off when you’re in a hurry (a small detail, until it’s 30 seconds before class begins). But what’s most impressive about these is their versatile rubber outsole, which makes anything from running, shifting and even throwing a combo at Rumble efficient without causing you to plant and stick to the floor.
“They’re super comfortable, but the style and look calls so much attention,” writes on reviewer. “They’re perfect for running or going to the gym. If you buy them, you will not be disappointed.”
Courtesy of Amazon
Brooks Levitate StealthFit 5 Cross-Training Shoes
Best for Run-Centric Workouts
If your routine is focused on hitting the pavement but incorporates some lifting as well, the Brooks’ Levitate StealthFit 5 is a great cross-training option. At under 10 ounces and with the shoe’s DNA AMP midsole technology, the Levitate is bouncy enough for running, jumping and shifting movements but feels nowhere near spongy while you execute strength-based workouts. These may not be the top choice for heavy deadlifting, but if needed, they provide a solid and comfortable grip to the floor when pulling — making these a versatile addition to your cross-training wardrobe.
Courtesy of Amazon
Puma Fuse Nike Metcon Cross-Training Shoes
Puma’s Fuse is the brand’s first strength-based shoe on the market, and at $90, it may be the most wallet-friendly on this list. Backed by F1 star Lewis Hamilton and worn by CrossFit athlete and WODapalooza winner Chandler Smith, the Fuse has already passed the CrossFit test. It has a four millimeter toe drop, and while it may not have the widest toe box, the Fuse is far from narrow, offering comfort and security during deadlifts and cleans. Meanwhile, its Pumagrip oustole makes short runs and agility movements very manageable. It even comes with a finger loop on the heel so you can more easily slip these on.
Courtesy of Amazon
APL Techloom Tracer Cross-Training Shoes
Weighing just over seven ounces, APL’s newest entry into cross-training is one of the lightest on the market, and with an eight millimeter heel drop, it’s ideal for any activity you’ll ever throw at it — from sprints and jumps to heavy lifting and HIIT routines. Its Propelium midsole also offers great comfort and endurance, according to happy customers. “I was a little apprehensive about spending so much on a pair of shoes, but the money has definitely been worth it,” writes one reviewer of the $230 style. “I’ve been wearing the shoes during my workouts the last 30 days and they’re so much more comfortable than any styles I’ve used in the past from other brands. I exercise in my garage on concrete and need good soles that can hold up. Have a feeling this is not my last pair of APLs.”
Courtesy of Nordstrom
Hoka One Kawana Cross-Training Shoes
Let’s be honest: Style counts, and Hoka’s unique color combos look damn good, which is probably a reason why these trendy treads have been a hit among the A-listers such as Tyler Cameron, Tayisha Adams and Britney Spears. For athletic quality, this latest style in the cross-training market is a must-try. Comfortwise, the light, firm Kawanas offer a feel that falls in between that of Hoka’s softer and spongier Bondi and uber-light Clifton. They also provide a perfect 10-ounce mold for feet whenever you choose to take on a heavy lift, long run or head out to an after-work HIIT class. I wore the Kawanas on a conditioning day of Assault Bike sprints, kettlebell swings and farmers walks and found they provided a strong and smooth transition from one move to the next. Bottom line: They’ve have become a fixture in my workout shoe rotation.
Hylete Circuit II Cross-Training Shoes
Also Consider Versatile Cross-Training Shoes
Hylete thought of everything when developing its cross-trainer, including the addition of three interchangeable insoles — 0, four and six millimeters thick — allowing you to go from setting a deadlift PR to a three-mile finisher (make sure to test and adjust the insoles, as the six millimeter drop makes it difficult to keep the shoes on during moves like sled pushing). Additionally, Hylete’s Vibram outsole offers perfect traction for any training surface, and the knit fabric makes the Circuit IIs quite comfortable.
“They fit about perfectly and provide the support I need for lifting and running,” commented one shopper. “They took a minute to break in but now fit like a glove.”
Under Armour Project Rock 4 Cross-Training Shoes
The Rock seems to have his hand in everything these days, and his venture into footwear doesn’t disappoint, especially as it’s made in partnership with fitness gear expert Under Armour. According to the brand, its Hovr technology provides a “zero gravity feel” to eliminate impact on sprints, jumps and burpees. The style also has a TPU midfoot strap that keeps feet secure and prevents excess movement. And these look good too, as one satisfied customer pointed out: “The shoe is lightweight and very comfortable. It has a great cushion to the sole. The color selection was what I liked the most about the shoe, and I am going to buy another pair soon.”
Adidas Mahomes Impact FLX Cross-Training Shoes
Debiting just last month, Adidas’ collab with NFL All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a cool waved sole and is done in vibrant colorways. For comfort, it boasts a Boost midsole that provides even energy distribution when you’re doing sprints on the turf, running a deep incline on the gym treadmill or going from box jumps to burpees. Early reviews have been positive, although some shoppers said they wished the shoe wasn’t so narrow.
Courtesy of Adidas
On Cloud X Cross-Training Shoes
Best for Middle-Distance Comfort
Burgeoning brand On has quickly become a major player in the running market, namely because the brand’s reputation for comfort is second to none. The Cloud X represents a shift into the multipurpose training shoe category, and although not ideal for attempting deadlift PRs, it offers great comfort, durability and versatility for HIIT class, gym workouts or running a 5K. Reviews appreciate the shoe’s arch support and ability to fit wide feet.
“I have very high arches, and this is the only shoe I have found that fits and supports like a shoe is supposed to,” writes one reviewer. “I will be purchasing my 5th pair. Love this shoe for running and cross training.”
Courtesy of Backcountry
Hitting a WOD today? Nobull’s Trainer+ will help elevate your CrossFit goals. From its extended toe bumper, which provides extra traction for explosive takeoffs and secure landings, to its four millimeter toe drop that makes transitions from one event to another smooth and easy, these trainers do it all. And if durability is what you’re looking when shelling out dollars, note that NoBull shoes are built to last. One customer boasts: “These shoes have been going strong for nearly five years. They’ve seen thousands of hours and still fit and perform like day one. Of course, they have some wear and tear — but nothing that has compromised the shoe’s fit and performance. Only training shoe I will buy, and the only brand I recommend!”
Courtesy of Nobull
GoRuck Ballistic Cross-Training Shoes
GoRuck specializes in gear for rucking, or the activity of walking with a heavy object strapped to your back, like a backpack. The brand’s Ballistic Trainer is one of the newer entries into the cross-training shoe market and is built to not only provide foot comfort for long rucks, but while running distances, jumping and lift heavy weights at the gym. It has a flexible and breathable forefoot as well as an eight millimeter heel lift, making the shoe versatile for all types of exercises. (It also comes with insertable sockliners so you can choose your top drop that suits you best). The Ballistics are made with three-material rubber soling that gives you proper traction on nearly any surface you choose to train on. So far, I have yet to find a cross- training shoe like the Ballistic that acts as a powerlifting shoe on deadlift day and transitions to a running shoe when a quick mile finisher is on the workout docket.
Meet the Author
Jeff Tomko is a fitness journalist and enthusiast. He is currently the senior editor at Muscle & Fitness magazine whose work has also appeared in Men’s Health, Esquire, Runner’s World, GQ and Metro, among other publications. When he’s not writing, he loves to hit the gym while wearing the best cross-training shoes for men.
Meet the Expert
Paul Litchfield is the head of product at GoRuck, a fitness brand focused on creating sports equipment for rucking. He previously served as the vice president of Reebok Advanced Concepts for nearly three decades and served as the chief engineer of footwear and apparel innovation and product creation for global manufacturing services company Jabil.
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