Finding the right fitness shoe, whether you're a runner, an avid biker, a gym rat, or a CrossFit enthusiast is more complicated than you might think. Not all sneakers are created equal. Some activities require more support, while for others, increased flexibility is better. (No, you don't necessarily want to wear your running shoes to play tennis.) Not to mention the fact that the athleisure category just keeps growing, leaving you with dozens of fashionable—though not always functional—brands to choose from.
To help make sure you look good exercising without twisting an ankle, we spoke to several experts with robust knowledge of performance footwear. Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso (she specializes in high intensity activities), Nike Run Coach Jes Woods, and the founder of Gotham Footcare, podiatrist Miguel Cunha, all weighed in on the best types of shoes for however you like to sweat. Whether you're doing cardio in your living room or training for a marathon, you'll find a shoe that works for you, below.
For casual runners who clock three to four miles a couple times a week, choose a pair of Nike "react" sneakers. "The shoe is lightweight and cushioned, so it's supposed to make running feel fun," says Woods. The "joyride" model works well, too.
If you're looking for a sneaker that offers stability (perhaps you suffer from over-pronation, like I do), opt for a more supportive style, like this one from Brooks. I personally run in this (following the recommendation of an employee at NYC running chain Jack Rabbit), and it's saved my feet on multiple occasions. Running is high impact, and this ultra-cushioned pair absorbs some of that.
Prefer to exercise in the great outdoors? Day hikers could try Nike's trail shoes, which according to Woods, "feels like a running shoe you can wear on trails and isn't stiff to walk in." This shoe is breathable and well-cushioned, and the lugs on the outsole provide plenty of traction. If you're thinking about more than a few miles or something particularly steep, sorry, but you probably need a proper hiking boot.
When looking for a sneaker for HIIT (that's, high-intensity interval training) or CrossFit classes, make sure to choose one that is designed for multi-directional activities, especially side-to-side movements, like speed skater jumps or grapevines. This one from Asics has "a lighter weight midsole compound than traditional Asics standard EVA midsoles with enhanced cushioning and durability," says Dr. Cunha. The sneaker works for classes like Zumba or recreational (read: not too competitive) games of basketball, too.
If you're heading to the ring, look for high tops, which are considered the "traditional" choice because of all the ankle support they provide. This pair from Adidas has vented mesh for breathability. The back has reinforced support for when you twist and dip to avoid opponents.
Cycling shoes come in many styles and offer different features, depending on the type of cycling you're doing. For mountain biking, look for shoe options that have "a stiff carbon sole with a bit of flex in the toe," says Dr. Cunha. "Mountain shoes usually use heavier-duty leather or suede with armoring on the toes and heels to withstand more rugged uneven terrain." This one from Fizik ticks all those boxes.
This shoe is designed for speed and comfort. It's "semi-custom for riders who choose function over form," says Dr. Cunha. It may not be the most stylish, but it doesn't compromise comfort or functionality. Top features: "a stiff carbon sole, which can be heat molded, and an extremely efficient feel while pedaling."
Workouts such as barre, pilates, yoga, and jiu jitsu are often done barefoot, so you technically only need a sneaker to get you to and from class. For a shoe you can easily slip on and off, opt for this no-laces style from APL. It's lightweight and has a cushioned midsole for that post-workout jog home.
For an overall sneaker you can rock at your local gym on days you're mixing some cardio and some strength, try this sock-like shoe from Reebok. It features a breathable knit upper, flexible soles, and a removable silicone strap that adds with forefoot support. Go from the elliptical to weights section with ease.
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