Whether you prefer traditional strength training, functional fitness or high-intensity exercise, get the right shoes for a stable workout
The best cross-training shoes have to be able to serve multiple purposes, whether that’s providing a stable base to perform heavy deadlifts or cushioning for more explosive moves, like box jumps or burpees. It’s perhaps no surprise that this particular type of footwear has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the past few years, with sales of cross-training shoes loosely tracking with the increasing interest in hybrid training like CrossFit and HYROX.
The simple fact of the matter is that many gym-goers and home workout enthusiasts just don’t stick with one style of training, preferring to mix it up mid-session to get the best combination of strength gains, increased mobility and cardiovascular endurance.
With that in mind, a pair of thick foam-soled, road-running shoes won’t provide the stability needed for weight lifting, while bulky weight-lifting shoes will be very difficult to perform more explosive movements in. So, that’s where the best cross-training shoes come in, as they blend these styles to provide the perfect platform for hybrid training.
Best cross-training shoes: At a glance
|Best all-round cross-training shoe
|Nike Metcon 9 (~£135)
|Check price at Nike
|Best for strength training stability
|Under Armour Reign 6 (~£125)
|Check price at Under Armour
|Puma 2 (~£85)
|Check price at Puma
|Best lightweight cross-training shoe
|Vivobarefoot Motus Strength (~£136)
|Check price at Vivobaarefoot
How to choose the best cross-training shoes for you
Is your training mainly indoors or outdoors?
Most cross-training shoes are built for durability, but no two cross-training shoes are built the same. If your fitness sessions occur predominantly outdoors, you will need to look for something with a more traditional trainer-style tread on the sole, so you aren’t slipping and sliding around on the pavement. If you train on turf, you will need to select something with serious lugs that can bite into mud and other loose surfaces. The amount of choice for the turf trainer is limited, but you can find them.
Alternatively, shoes designed predominantly for indoor workouts will typically eschew deeper treads for a grippier, sometimes stickier, flat sole that gives good purchase on the rubber and wooden floor surfaces typically found in commercial gyms. These flatter designs, with a minimal heel-to-toe drop, are generally the preference of those performing more traditional weight-lifting movements, as they allow a better connection with the surface underfoot.
That said, an increased heel-to-toe drop – measured in millimetres – is often touted as a selling point for some specific weight-lifting shoes as it helps compensate for a lack of ankle flexibility when performing things like weighted squats, leg presses and Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk or the snatch. However, as we shall discuss, it is tricky to perform explosive jumping movements in weight-lifting shoes like these.
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How explosive are your workouts?
Cross-training shoes attempt to cater for multiple disciplines but it is arguably impossible to do so, simply because what makes a good power-lifting shoe won’t translate into the world of sprinting, jumping and rapid changes of direction, and vice versa.
Those looking to lift heavy weights can find themselves edging into the aforementioned power-lifting shoe territory, where the sole is usually as flat as possible – though the heel is sometimes ramped slightly to assist with ankle mobility during squats or leg presses – and the toe box is wide to allow toes to splay out. However, if your workouts or classes involve a lot of explosive plyometric moves, you should look for something that offers a good level of underfoot cushioning, as well as ankle and heel support.
It is possible to find a shoe that sits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, so if you like to mix things up during a workout then it’s probably best to stick to a solid all-rounder.
Do you need rope climbing features?
It might sound a little unhinged at first but the rise in popularity of CrossFit, and other forms of functional fitness, has seen the humble rope – yup, just like the one you had to climb in P.E. class – make a reappearance in fitness centres, and even in home gyms.
As a result, many of the world’s biggest sports shoe brands have started producing cross-training shoes with a rope guard as a key feature. This reinforced part of the sole typically wraps around the midsole, sometimes extending to the upper of the shoe, and means that the friction caused by climbing ropes won’t shred your footwear in a matter of minutes.
How important is sustainability?
As we previously mentioned, cross-training shoes tend to be tough, so you shouldn’t have much of an issue with the longevity of the options we’ve suggested below. However, there are suggestions on the list that lean a little more heavily into sustainability than others. Whether that’s by using vegan-friendly materials, or by offering repair or recycle services instead of simply expecting your shoes to go to landfill once they’re past their best.
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How we test cross-training shoes
Like any piece of sports and fitness equipment, the only (and best) way to get a feel for how well the shoes handle is to test them in the environment they were designed for. With that in mind, we laced up every pair of cross-training shoes on this list and subjected them to some punishing but varied workouts, which included everything from traditional barbell-based strength training on a purpose-built lifting platform and squat rack, to pull-ups, box jumps, rope slams and bouts of high-intensity boxing.
During our testing, we made note of the general fit and feel of the shoes both straight out of the box and after having allowed them time to ‘break in’. We also considered how robust they were, taking note of any rips, tears or defects after several weeks.
Our reviewer is in the gym at least four times a week, currently embroiled in a strength-building cycle following six weeks of extremely high-rep hybrid training, which involved exercising both indoors and outside – so there was plenty of time to focus on the pros and cons of each shoe.
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The best cross-training shoes you can buy in 2024
1. Under Armour Reign 6: Best for strength training stability
Price when reviewed: £125 | Check price at Under Armour
Under Armour’s Reign 5 was a formidable shoe – blending a solid platform, upon which to perform some serious lifts, with a woven upper that promoted breathability – and was comfortable to wear for hours on end. But where the Reign 5 excelled as a stable lifting platform, it was often let down by its flexibility, or lack thereof. To improve upon this, Under Armour has slimmed things down, removing some of the bulk and making it more versatile. Thanks to an improved midsole which adds cushioning and flexibility for performing explosive moves, you can sprint, jump and lunge in them with no issue, though longer runs are still just beyond its remit.
The grip is excellent and the upper has been reworked so it now wraps around the foot, giving you a more secure feel in the shoe and ensuring they’re comfortable straight out of the box. However, all the added cushioning will certainly be noticed by those with wider feet as it feels like there isn’t quite as much room in the toebox as there was with their predecessors.
Key details – Weight: 385g; Toebox: Neutral; Heel drop: 2mm; Rope guard: Yes/mid
2. Puma Fuse 2: Best budget cross-training shoe
Price when reviewed: £85 | Check price at PumaThe cheapest shoe in this list by quite some margin, Puma’s Fuse 2 gets the cross-trainer basics right without breaking the bank, but there is some compromise to be made when compared to the rest of the best. For a start, the styling might be a little divisive – there’s not much choice of colours or graphics. Then there’s a question mark hanging over the build quality – there’s a distinct lack of protection on the upper, and it generally doesn’t feel as well stitched together as its rivals.
With the minor negatives out of the way, it’s time to focus on the positives, of which there are many. The shoe is well cushioned and the woven upper wraps nicely around the foot, locking everything down so it feels secure, no matter how intense the workout gets. Plus, despite the underfoot shock absorption, the Puma Fuse 2 doesn’t tend to warp or move around once your focus is on heavy lifting. There is some compression around the heel when you’re reaching one-rep-max territory, but it might be time to look towards specialist weight-lifting shoes if busting PBs is your goal.
The Fuse 2 offers a decent amount of cushioning that perfectly compliments hybrid workouts, providing plenty of support during more explosive training, and gripping well on indoor surfaces. They probably won’t stand up to hours of rope climbs, and the grip on the sole isn’t great for outdoor training, but it’s a solid option if budget is a consideration.
Key details – Weight: 300g; Toebox: Narrow; Heel drop: 4mm; Rope guard: Yes/mid
3. Nike Metcon 9: Best all-round cross-training shoe
Price when reviewed: £135 | Check price at Nike
Now in its ninth iteration, it is easy to see why Nike’s Metcon has proven to be a popular choice in gyms for such an impressive length of time. Its basic design includes a minimal heel-to-toe offset for added stability during strength training, as well as underfoot cushioning for explosive moves, but it was also among the first to offer a rubber wrap on the flanks for rope climbing.
Every generation has come with some minor tweaks, and it feels like the Metcon 9 has swung back to catering to those who are serious about lifting. The ‘Hyperlift’ plate at the heel is now wider and tougher than it was before, adding support when forcing weight through the heels, and the toebox (the front section that houses your toes) is also wider, addressing concerns that the previous versions ran too narrow and were uncomfortable to splay the toes during heavy lifts.
The rope wrap now extends further too, adding more durability along the flanks. The forefoot remains nice and flexible, which allows the Metcon 9 to be used for more than just traditional weight-lifting workouts. However, the heel in this latest version is almost solid, making running particularly uncomfortable for heel-strikers.
Nike offers several different versions of the Metcon 9, from this ultra-colourful AMP iteration to the Easy-On model – which has a collapsible heel that allows for fuss-free entry and exit – as well as the option to customise your shoe in the colours you choose.
Key details – Weight: 378g; Toebox: Wide; Heel drop: 4mm; Rope guard: Yes/full
4. Vivobarefoot Motus Strength: Best lightweight cross-training shoe
Price when reviewed: £170 | Check price at Vivobarefoot
Vivobarefoot tore up the training shoe rulebook, back in 2004, when it first introduced the world to an ultra-thin, but puncture-resistant, barefoot sole. The idea is simple: create shoes that follow the outline of your feet, rather than cram them into the silhouette of a shoemaker’s choosing.
Since its inception, Vivobarefoot has adapted its products to meet market demands and now boasts a line-up of footwear that can tackle everything, from treacherous mountain ascents to fell-running and beyond. Its Primus Lite was often the go-to for gym-goers, as its lightweight construction and grippy flat sole proved perfect for those CrossFitters used to lifting big weights in just their socks.
However, the Motus Strength is the first shoe in the Vivo catalogue to be made purely with strength training in mind, and it is all the better for it. Their zero-drop sole still offers unparalleled connection to the ground beneath, but the company has beefed up the sole and insole for greater shock absorption, without compromising that ‘barefoot’ feel.
It’s the lightest shoe on this list, yet it offers more support than you might originally imagine. It’s perfect for plyometric workouts, sprints, weight lifting and exercises that require flexibility and traction. The extra-wide toebox takes a bit of getting used to, but it soon becomes second nature, and you might find it difficult to squeeze back into more traditional trainers.
Key details – Weight: 282g; Toebox: Wide; Heel drop: 0mm; Rope guard: Yes/Mid
5. Reebok Nano X4: Best shoe for cushioning
Price when reviewed: £126 | Check price at Reebok
While others on this list have attempted to add cushioning without compromising grip and underfoot feel, they still don’t quite nail it when it comes to comfort during the most physically demanding workouts. Reebok’s Nano X4 manages to accomplish both with its unique ‘Lift and Run Chassis’ system, which features a TPU dome that sits under the heel. This remains comfortable and supportive when running, or performing other explosive activities, but flattens to create a stable surface that allows the user to push more weight through the heel – a biomechanically favoured way of shifting serious mass – during heavy exercises like squats, deadlifts and so on.
The Nano X4 is an evolution of Reebok’s favoured series that introduces a softer, more comfortable and more cosseting ‘FlexWeave’ upper, while their ‘Floatride Energy Foam’ makes it possible to sprint, jog and leap without your joints having to soak up all of the associated shocks.
It might not be the best for all-out lifting, the Reebok Nano X4 is a superb choice for those who genuinely like to mix things up mid-workout and it’s especially comfortable for those incorporating plenty of cardio into their regime.
Key details – Weight: 343g; Toebox: Neutral; Heel drop: 7mm; Rope guard: Yes/mid