The gym used to be an intimidating place for a lot of people.
Bodybuilder types throwing around seemingly impossible amounts of weight, gym bros, and absurd amounts of powdery chalk in the air all added to the otherworldly feeling.
But these days athletes of all disciplines are hitting the gym and discovering the benefits of strength and conditioning. As a runner/walker (or tennis or pickleball player) you already have a pair of athletic shoes (or two), but do you need a gym-specific shoe for your gym workouts? And if so, how do you find the right one?
The Myth of the “Gym Shoe”
The tricky truth about the gym is that it means something different to everyone.
Some people may go to a gym to attend a step or a Zumba class, some go to a Crossfit-type gym, and others are going to the gym to lift weights and do cardio. Therefore, there’s no one category of shoe called “gym shoes.”
However, there are some universal truths about shoes for gym activities.
Whether you’re in a HIIT class or lifting heavy, stability in the heel is a must. You want to feel locked down in the shoe, and not like you’re at risk of wobbling to and fro as you try to go about your workout. A strong platform begins in the heel of the shoe.
Most people prefer their gym shoes to have a lightweight, breathable upper since gyms can be pretty warm and things get sweaty real quick. However, you don’t want a stretchy upper for the same reason you don’t want a squishy heel—it’s all about stability, especially because many gym movements will have you moving in various directions. Think about a ladder drill in a fitness class- you don’t want the upper to give way while you’re trying to move laterally, putting excess pressure on the outside of your foot and risking a roll.
Other than these two, generally universal truths, what you’re looking for depends somewhat on what you’re doing. The type of footwear that works best depends on your goals at the gym.
If you are going to mostly do low-impact exercises in the gym, such as weightlifting or low-impact cardio such as the elliptical or rowing, a lightweight shoe is your best bet.
Since these activities won’t constantly shock your joints with heavy impact, stability is key and cushioning is not as vital. The ON Cloud X 3 is a prime example of one such shoe, and a best-seller for gym goers at R&R. The Cloud X is designed for cross-training and features a lightweight yet firm and stable cushion with a flexible but solid upper. The ventilation of the shoe is also excellent, making it a homerun in the gym.
The New Balance Minimus TR is another great choice. Built for the gym, it has a more traditional, minimal foam cushion that won’t get in your way. It features a rubber sole designed to provide extra traction in the gym, and a breathable mesh upper.
If your workouts feature lots of high-impact moments such as jumping, or if your plan to run in addition to your gym work (on the treadmill or otherwise), I suggest getting something with more cushioning. Often, these are shoes designed for running.
Some customers express concern about the softness of running shoes or the bulk of foam getting in the way of their workouts. Never fear: there are plenty of runners that keep the cushioning light, and are firm enough to provide the necessary stability.
Personally, I weight-lift and do plyometrics in my runners and have never had an issue. Your joints will thank you for choosing a little bit more cushion, especially if you run. My personal go-to would be the Brooks Ghost. It’s definitely much heavier on cushion than the lighter shoes mentioned prior, but the cushion is firm and the sole is wide, providing good stability.
Another option is the Hoka Kawana, and if you’re picturing a huge shoe like the Hoka Bondi, it is very much not that. The Kawana is Hoka’s training shoe, and while it packs the Hoka cushion we know and love, it’s lightweight and flexible, unlike their rocker-bottom shoes. It also has a wide base to increase stability. Both of these shoes make excellent treadmill or HIIT companions.
Crossfit falls into an interesting category as it’s often a combination of more static weight exercises and more high-impact workouts. Some Crossfitters prefer a more minimal option, while others want a bit more cushion and a bit more of a running-shoe feel. Any shoe mentioned above could be a potential option.
Another option is something at the intersection of the two, such as the ON Cloudgo. Personally, the Cloudgo is one of, if not my favourite, shoes from ON. It’s lightweight and close to the ground, so it won’t feel too bulky, but the soft cushion feel normally only achieved by a decent amount of foam is magically present. The upper provides a pretty solid lockdown too, so no worries there. This is certainly not a low-drop shoe though, so more minimal Crossfitters beware.
All in all, the best gym shoe depends on what the gym means to you.
Certain shoes pack more stability, agility, and breathability, making them more likely to suit your needs in the gym.
That being said, I’ve lifted, ran, and done plyometric exercises in every kind of shoe from a maximalist Hoka Clifton to a more “minimal” Brooks Ghost. I’m not saying I necessarily recommend trying to power clean in a Clifton (the floor was suddenly very far away… ), but while you should be looking for certain stability factors, ultimately the shoe that fits the best and provides the most comfort can go a long way.
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