Our picks for the best workout shoes 2021 is intended to help you pick the perfect footwear for every type of exercise you can do in a gym. All of our picks are based solely on performance, with a special consideration for versatility. No points for looks here.
Our testers agree that one of the main characteristics of a good workout shoe is that it should be able to handle everything the gym can throw at it from box jumps to deadlifts. These shoes need to feature great traction, solid support and enough cushion to keep you pain free after a hard session in the gym.
We have tested a great number of different models this past year from a number of different brands. From well known brands like Under Armour or Adidas to the more niche brands like GoRuck or Vivobarefoot.
How we test Cross Training Shoes
In this case, we are looking for a blend of performance and versatility. There are so many different exercises that can be performed in a gym, and each demands different characteristics out of your footwear. Heavy weightlifting requires a flat stable base with very little cushion, plyometric training will require support and good traction, cardio will probably require more cushion, etc. So you can either go super specific with your workouts, carry around 10 different pairs of shoes, or go with a great do-it-all model. And that’s where we come in.
We test the essential criteria as we do in our basketball and running shoe reviews: traction, materials, support, cushion, fit. Then we give the shoe an overall rating. For training shoes, however, models get extra points for universality and versatility. Essentially, will most people will like them and whether they can perform most gym activities.
So, with all this being said, check out our best cross-training shoes guide!
Last updated 01.14.2022
Best Cross Training Shoes To Buy in 2022
Reebok Nano X1
The Reebok Nano X1 is technically a CrossFit shoe, which means that it’s designed to handle a wide variety of different moves. Reebok used their split-finger outsole on the Nano X1. Consider it Reebok’s attempt at giving a traditional training shoe the mobility of a five toe shoe. The Nano X1 outsole is split in the forefoot enough to allow for each toe and toe area to grip the floor almost independently. The Nano X1 is an excellent shoe for the gym, however, if you are looking for a flat or zero drop shoe, the Nano is not for you. Read the full review. Price: $130
Reasons to buy: Ultra versatile, extra cushion and excellent traction
Reasons not to buy: Forefoot support.
The shoe’s outsole features a split outsole to allow a more natural movement of the foot. The outsole also allows for lateral flex, meaning the shoe rolls sideways as well as forward, so on lateral movements or climbs, the outsole stays in contact with the surface.
There are colorways of the Nano X1 that feature translucent rubber on the sole, which could be a traction red flag for other brands, but not for Reebok who, historically, has had great translucent rubber. The bladed pattern worked well on squats and lunges as well as box jumps, short runs, and even some court work – just not basketball.
Under foot, the Nano X1 utilizes what may be one of the best foam based cushion setups on the market: Floatride. Floatride is essentially a lighter form of adidas’ proprietary max cushion foam Boost. Floatride made its training debut in the Reebok JJ 4. The Floatride midsole was implemented by Reebok to make the Nano X1 more comfortable for running while still being able to handle the rigors of the weight room.
While most cross training or functional fitness sneakers are stiff from the mesh construction (durability and stability are key), the Nano X1 uses a new Flexweave Knit for better flex and comfort while still being tough enough for the gym. However, in a first for Reebok, the Nano X1 is also available in Flexweave Grit, a tougher, more durable and supportive material for the crazy days or bigger athletes.
The toebox of the Nano X1 is also reshaped from the bulkier, flat toebox of previous models to a sleeker, formed shape. This is mostly to make the aesthetics cross over from the gym to the street. The toebox is now wider to allow your toes to splay out in a more natural position and grip while lifting.
One concern that one might have, because of the extra cushion, is that, while lifting, it might create instability, especially in the heel. Luckily, the Nano X1 has a crazy support system in the heel, featuring raised sidewalls along the lateral and medial heel that run all the way to the midfoot. The rubber compound is stiff enough to provide enough support for any lift you would do.
The forefoot outsole/midsole combo is wider than the footbed, which gives the forefoot a solid base for planting and jumping as well as landings. There’s no midfoot support shank but the stiffness of the rubber and the flat platform work well to keep your foot bending the right way.
UA HOVR Apex 2
If you need a shoe that can go from the weights to box jumps to lateral drills to turf training, the UA HOVR Apex 2 is a solid do everything shoe. Heck, the Apex 2 can even handle an outdoor basketball game or two (lateral forefoot containment would be the weak point on court). Read the full review. Price: $120
Reasons to buy: excellent cushion for the gym, to-notch traction and fit.
Reasons why not to buy: If you intend to run in them for long stretches.
The traction on the UA HOVR Apex 2 is very turf inspired and is built using thick rubber with forefoot lugs and deep flex grooves. We tested the shoe using a squat rack, leg press, box jumps, driveway lunges, ropes and with cone drills on grass; and the Apex 2 excelled in all movements. The shoe is better suited for lifting and training versus just running. The rubber is thick and stiff under foot. For short runs, the Apex 2 is a respectable choice.
The shoe features Under Armour’s proprietary foam compound HOVR. HOVR is a bouncy foam/rubber combo that can be tuned to different levels of impact protection or hardness depending on the netting and caging.
The HOVR in the Apex 2 is almost completely caged except the two small windows at the heels. Even with the caging, you can feel the cushion doing its job. The EVA carrier is soft, softer than the Under Armour Project Rock 2. Soft enough that the shoe can be a crossover runner as needed.
The shoe features a simple mesh upper, that is soft and flexible with a tight weave, overlaid with kurim/rubber in strategic places for durability. The overlays are 3D and aren’t built for stability or support. They’re the little lines or ribs on the upper that you see in the pictures. They add extra durability on the high-wear areas of the upper.
The rest of the upper is thickly padded and bulky. The tongue is almost like a skate shoe. It’s thick, big, and densely padded using the same micromesh as the upper. The ankle area has a quilted padding that snuggly cups the joint and fits perfect.
The shoe fits true to size. The shoe might look bulky but the inner padding fills the space. The heel is really where the fit shines. The thick, dense, quilted padding forms and wraps around your foot. The heel strap works to pull the foot down into the heel.
The shoe offers a great blend of support to withstand explosive movements and cushion to protect your joints while doing them. The EVA carrier around the edges is stiff and solid with some slight give but no collapsing.
The heel is also housed inside a stiffer TPU cage where the visible HOVR windows are located. The heel works even better at keeping your foot in the up and down plane of motion and allowing side-to-side motion.
Also, the base of the shoe is wide. Although it sits higher than a shoe like the Nike Metcon 6 or Reebok Nano X, the Apex 2 never felt unstable or like it would roll or tip. The main reason for this is the TriBase plate under the midfoot. The support plate and the outsole’s flat, wide area contribute mightily to the solid stability and support. The forefoot can still flex naturally and doesn’t feel too much like a weightlifting shoe.
Nike Metcon 6
The Nike Metcon 6 continues the evolution of the Nike Metcon line. The design is not completely new and that’s a good thing. Nike took what worked on the Nike Metcon 5, added a few extras, and created something better. The Metcon 6 is a workhorse of a shoe that delivers world class support, grippy traction, and amazing breathability. It has issues with a narrow fit, but if you can make the fit work, you have a shoe ready for any workout you tackle. Read the full review. Price: $130
Reasons to buy: Excellent traction and breathability
Reasons why not to buy: Narrow last
The Nike Metcon 6 is true to size lengthwise, but as usual with the Metcon line, it’s built on a narrow last. Wide footers will need to go up a ½ size. The narrowness is most pronounced in the heel and midfoot which keeps the foot locked in tight even when the laces are looser. The laces themselves snake through flywire loops that connect to the base of the shoe.
The shoe features the most comfortable and forgiving upper yet in the Metcon series. The gusseted tongue is also well padded so it won’t slip around and you won’t feel lace pressure. Finally, there’s room in the toebox for toe splay when you’re lifting heavy or need better balance.
The Metcon 6 locks you in tight and features heel wedges called Hyperlifts that go under the drop-in midsole for 8 extra millimeters of drop. The Hyperlifts are included to help with specific exercises like Thrusters or Wall Balls.
When the Hyperlifts are placed inside the shoe the heel lockdown isn’t quite as good and I had some heel slippage. But the Hyperlifts are for specialized lifting and can be removed, so no harm done.
The high sidewalls, which are meant for help with rope climbing, do good work in preventing side to side movement within the shoe. The sidewalls flow into a low slung thick plastic heel counter and twin heel outriggers on either side. The outriggers prevent your heel from twisting too far inward or outward. The outriggers really shine on heavy squats. Your heel stays firmly planted to the ground when pushing as hard as you can into the ground.
The last area, the forefoot, is adequately supported via a thin plastic wall around the toebox.
The shoe features a drop-in midsole of dual density polyurethane (PU). It’s denser at the heel for more stability with heavy lifts and plush at the forefoot for added cushion while running and jumping.
Despite the dual densities, the ride of the Metcon 6 feels extremely smooth. It’s just enough cushioning to do box jumps, 800s, or the mile runs that are often packed into workouts of the day.
The front two-thirds of the upper is a dual-layered mesh with fuse connecting the mesh to a synthetic heel cup. The upper also puts fuse in some high torque areas.
On the inside, the quilted engineered mesh interior of the heel features a bunch of padding so you sink in. And, thankfully for those that work out without air conditioning, the breathability is awesome.
The traction pattern is unchanged from the Nike Metcon 5. The horizontally bladed pattern works really well on slick cement, rubber mats and asphalt. The real stand-out of the outsole is the rubber compound. It’s incredibly sticky so when you plant your foot, it’s not going anywhere.
GORUCK Ballistic Trainer
GORUCK, is an upstart training gear company founded by a Special Forces veteran, that’s also pioneering a whole new sport called Rucking. The GORUCK Ballistic Trainer is the cross training shoe of the year alongside the Reebok JJ IV and On Cloud X. Read the full review. Price: $125
Reasons to buy: The best cross training shoe on the market
Reasons why not to buy: None
GORUCK uses a nice flexible knit on the toebox and tongue. Then they use a durable Ballistic nylon for the back two-thirds of the shoe. The nylon used on the Ballistic Trainer is tough and soft at the same time. Cordura nylon is used on very few shoes, mostly for cost reasons. But when it is used, it gives off a vibe that the shoe is ready for anything.
The knit toe box and tongue are one seamless piece. A single layer of breathable knit with a little bit of extra backing at the toe to maintain shape. It flexes great and feels minimal on foot.
The materials drive the fit. The materials are put on top of a good last that’s not too narrow or too wide but has a generous toebox for toe splay. A majority of foot shapes will enjoy the fit.
GORUCK explains on their size chart that the Ballistic Trainer runs “about a half size larger than other athletic trainers”. We recommend going a half size down from your normal shoe size for the best fit.
The shoe features what GORUCK calls their Gradient Density EVA. That means the shoe is more cushioned and better at rebounding in the forefoot to accommodate jumping, running, and explosive movement. The heel of the shoe is denser and stiffer to provide a stable platform while doing various lifting movements like deadlifts and squats.
To further improve the cushioning, the GORUCK team added a thick polyurethane insert (insole) that contours nicely to the foot and arch. But if that’s not your style or you don’t like the added arch support, the Ballistic Trainer comes with a flat EVA insole as well.
What looks to be an outsole made of one type of rubber is actually made of 3 different rubbers. A grippy forefoot, a harder more durable midfoot made for climbing ropes, and a denser heel to endure heel strikes while running.
But the traction never feels slick. The segmented suction cup pattern used at the tip of the toes, on the lateral forefoot, and medial heel really grabs the floor.
The support starts at the base of the shoe with the 8mm drop. It’s a traditional drop and not the trendier zero drop approach to workout shoes. The drop puts less strain on your achilles during lifts and feels better when rucking, hiking, or running.
The heel is sculpted so your foot easily falls into place. There’s also a lengthy, sturdy heel counter that extends to the midfoot. The Ballistic Nylon on the outside of the heel is also strong enough to add further structure and stability.
On Cloud X
The On Cloud X is a hybrid cross training and running shoe from upstart running brand On. It’s versatility lets the wearer bounce between various athletic activities. The On Cloud X’s high build quality handles any typical movements you’d make while working out or running. To top it off, the shoe looks great casually. Is it worth $140? Only if you’re going to use them casually as much as you will for working out. Read the full review. Price: $140
Reasons to buy: Can handle the gym and short runs seamlessly
Reasons why not to buy: The price
The On Cloud X has Helion Cloudtec cushioning alongside a plush insole. The plush insole sits atop a TPU Speedboard that helps to evenly distribute your weight to all the cloud cushioning elements. It’s a nice consistent feel throughout the foot.
The cushion level isin the perfect range to handle various workouts and some running. It handles deadlifts, squats, jumping, and sprints without feeling like too much or too little cushion.
On uses rubber with a very simple slanted line pattern on the clouds at the toe and heel. The rubber’s hardness is appropriate for both working out and light running. The outsole should last the life of the shoe despite not looking all that aggressive. Testing in wet conditions didn’t come with any slippage or issues. It’s a simple outsole but it works as intended.
The midsole’s sidewalls come up high enough at the heel and midfoot to provide solid lateral support. And the forefoot features internally-reinforced sidewalls and a toe cap to keep the balls of your feet on top of the midsole. The shoe feels secure while doing various weight bearing exercises, sideways lunges, taking corners while running, and quick shifts of direction.
The Cloud X’s engineered mesh upper features various weave patterns. The tongue is seamless and integrated as one piece with the toebox. All the materials are basic but, On has a way of making them look high class. Despite just using mesh, On manages to make one of the best looking cross trainers on the market.
The Cloud X fits true to size with plenty of room for wide footers and toe splay. Narrow footers that cinch the shoes up tight don’t have to worry about weird toebox creasing because On manages to mitigate that with the toebox/tongue combo structure. The mesh interior of the shoe is very soft and avoids any potential hotspots in the forefoot with a dual-layered mesh setup. Finally, On tops the fit off with some skinny but surprisingly nice feeling achilles and collar pads. The pads are broken up in an intuitive way that lets them hug the heel without feeling puffy.
Reebok JJ IV
Reebok may have left the performance basketball world behind, but they’ve never stopped creating performance footwear. Recent examples of Reebok’s performance prowess include the Nano X and Floatride Forever Energy 2. In addition to those two, JJ Watt’s cross trainer line consistently produces some of the best performers. And now, whew, Reebok is taking it to a new level with the JJ IV. Read the full review. Price: $100
Reasons to buy: Floatride cushion, comfort, traction, price
Reasons why not to buy: Shoe length
The JJ IV features a radial traction pattern that works amazingly well. The shoe provides coverage in all directions and grips from any angle. It worked very well during all types of movements from box jumps, leg presses, squats, seated toe raises, sled work, or even short periods of 3-on-3 basketball.
The JJ VI features Reebok’s Floatride foam which is an amazing cushion set-up. The Floatride foam is caged in the shoe’s heel, so the shoe doesn’t bounce and spring like the running line, but this setup works better for heavy lifting. It stabilizes the heel while still compressing under foot for running, cardio, and basketball.
The forefoot is EVA but also has nice compression. Even with just EVA under the forefoot, I didn’t have any issues with impact to the knees or back from landing on concrete or gym floors.
The JJ IV utilizes Flexweave in the upper, a nylon-coated woven thread material. It uses tighter patterns in all the areas that need more support (lateral forefoot, heel, and ankle). The Flexweave is looser in areas that benefit from more flex (like the toebox). The shoe features some fuse areas like around the toebox and around the laces,
Lengthwise, at true to size, the toebox feels slightly long. However, the midfoot and heel are locked in. The extra length doesn’t affect performance, however. The midfoot is completely locked in through the panels and lacing system. And the heel is nicely padded and locked in as well with the last lace strap pulling the shoe in and around the foot.
The JJ IV keeps the design sleek and slimmed down by having no extra structure for support, and it does that while keeping a wide-ish base without feeling clunky or slow. The caged heel and the lacing system lock the foot into the shoe and stop any slips or slides. The shoe doesn’t feel particularly supportive but it gets the job done.
Vivobarefoot Magna FG
If you’re interested in reaching for a zero drop cross training shoe, this is the best and most versatile option on the market. The shoe features excellent materials and some grippy traction. Zero drop shoes do take some getting used to though. Read the full review. Price: $190
Reasons to buy: The zero drop set up
Reasons why not to buy: The zero drop set up
The traction on these shoes is aggressive. The shoe features Vivobarefoot’s “Firm Ground Sole”, which includes an effective and durable t-shaped traction pattern meant for a variety of different surfaces.
The sole is primarily a semi-translucent gum rubber that sits on a 2.5mm base with a 4mm lug height. It’s designed to maximize ground feel and grip on everything from wet, dry, to rocky and firm terrain. The textured arch also provides zonal grip for technical trail movement.
This answer is simple. The shoe does not provide cushion and that’s the point. The little cushion you do get comes from the Outlast Thermal Insole inside. The temperature regulating insole helps keep your feet cool as you train by absorbing, storing and releasing heat.
The shoe is made from naturally scarred leather from free-roaming cattle sourced from small-scale farmers (so not vegan friendly) with a water-resistant treatment so you can use them cross country without getting your feet wet. The shoe’s body is made with Woolmark certified Merino wool. Wool is naturally breathable, temperature-regulating and sweat-wicking. The laces are terrible though so make sure to switch them out.
The shoe fits true to size, but the shoe is purposely roomy. The forefoot area is wider than normal to allow your toes to spread out naturally, instead of being pushed together by a more traditional pointy shoe shape. So, they feel loose in the forefoot. In this case, that’s a good thing.
The shoe features a rubber cup in the heel and two wings on either side that pull your foot into the shoe bed and hold it in place. Aside from that, you are depending on the lacing system to keep your foot stable.
UA Project Rock 3
The Project Rock 3 features an excellent version of HOVR combined with Under Armour’s TriBase weight lifting set-up which is stable and solid. If you are looking for a shoe built for the weight room, some light running, and cardio, look no further. The Project Rock 3 checks every box. Read the full review. Price: $140
Reasons to buy: Tribase geometry, plush cushion, knit upper
Reasons why not to buy: The sub-par support, tight fit
The shoe features a TriBase panel in the midfoot for stability, large flex grooves cut across the forefoot, through the diamond patterns, and a large lug of sticky, durable rubber across the heel. The traction held up great under every task thrown at it.
The forefoot of the Project Rock 3 is soft but responsive and at the same time stable on the edges, and flexible underfoot. It’s almost a runner feel in the forefoot. The shoe felt good up to three miles. The heel is caged and stiffer. The added rigidity keeps the shoe from twisting or compressing when you’re doing heavy lifts.
The UA Project Rock 3 uses a knit that is stretchy, compressive, comfortable, breathable, etc. The midfoot cage is a thicker, padded textile is 3D-molded with a ripstop material overlay for support. The ankle features more knitted materials while the heel cup is a harder rubber material. The last part to mention is the heel collar. The Rock 3 utilizes a large Achilles pillow for comfort and help with lockdown.
The UA Project Rock 3 fits a half-size small. The toebox is extremely snug, but at least the knit is very accommodating and stretches well around your foot without being too constrictive and uncomfortable. It’s wearable in your true size but will be too tight for many people.
The base is wide, solid under the arch, and connects the heel and forefoot for added torsional restriction. The last thing you want coming down from a box jump or while under a squat bar is an unstable platform. The TriBase takes care of it.
The fit does lock in and keep your foot from sliding on lateral movements, but the knit forefoot doesn’t do so well trying to hold your foot on the footbed.
Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2
The Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2 feels like an extension of your foot. Few training shoes feel this good on foot. For how the Nike SuperRep 2 performs, the retail price of $120 is a bargain. You might be skeptical at first as it’s an odd-looking shoe, but once you put the shoe through its paces, it will not disappoint and you’ll be able to focus on setting personal records. Price: $120
Reasons to buy: All around comfort.
Reasons why not to buy: Outlandish design.
The Cushlon foam in the heel is very bouncy and provides great rebound which you can feel most during movements like squat jumps, box jumps, and lunges. It’s a great material and provides fantastic cushion on explosive movements in which your heel is the first point of contact.
The forefoot features 2 large Zoom Air units. The forefoot cushion is protective but still enables the responsiveness you will need need for movements like burpees, double unders, and sprints. No matter the surface, the shoe remains soft and responsive.
The traction performed great on all surfaces whether it was wood, cement, grass, or asphalt. The shoe has a surprising to stop on a dime. Regardless of surface or exercise movement, you can always move and cut with confidence.
The Nike SuperRep 2 utilizes a TPU Flyplate that runs the length of the shoe and helps distribute your weight evenly to take advantage of the superior cushion setup.
The Nike Zoom Air SuperRep 2 features neoprene and mesh for the upper. The materials allow you to slip the shoe on easily. The shoes collar might irritated the skin on your heel if you usually use low cut socks.
You should be good to go going true to size. The shoe wraps the foot like a glove. You foot will feel securely locked down and the shoe allows full multi-directional movement without restriction.
Reebok Nano X
If you want a versatile shoe that can handle everything from weights, to cardio machines, plyometrics, and short runs, the Nano X is one of the best options out there. The combination of lightweight support, low profile cushioning, and good fit make the Nano X a shoe that does anything. Read the full review. Price: $130
Reasons to buy: Great versatility and comfort.
Reasons why not to buy: Not much cushion.
The Nano X features an alternating diamond grid pattern mimics herringbone in basketball and completely covers the sole of the shoe. The shoe also features Reebok’s Metasplit technology: strategically-placed flex zones to allow the shoe to roll and splay with the foot while still providing grip in all activities and they work great.
The cushioning in the Reebok Nano X is stiff and solid with very little compression. This makes for a great base for heavy lifts and landings from jumps but impact protection might suffer. Reebok used standard EVA caged in the rubber midsole.
The Reebok Nano X features Flexweave on the upper. This material is not as soft as Flyknit, Primeknit, or Ultraknit, but is much more durable. Nylon threads run through the textile upper from lateral to medial side, keeping the shoe laterally contained, while the sideways weave lets the forefoot flex more naturally. The inner bootie isn’t stretchy at all, adding to the containment factor, and the tongue is thin except for the upper part, where it turns into a thick padded treat.
The Nano series has utilized a wide, sort of squared toebox for a few models now and it’s nice for toe splay but leaves some serious dead space around the foot, especially over the top. This makes the shoe more flexible as you are lifting but also feels a little larger than needed. However, the length of the shoe is true to size.
Support is a high point of the Reebok Nano X. The sole provides a solid, stable, WIDE base, and cages in the unstable foam without feeling too hard or rigid. The rubber caging raises up the sidewalls keeping the heel upright and also acts as the heel counter. The rubber cage also ties into the midfoot, making the rear of the shoe one supportive piece.
If a model isn’t featured, it’s either because the model has yet to be tested/reviewed or because we feel it does not belong among the current top cross training shoes. If you’d like to suggest we test a certain model, comment below or reach out via Twitter.