The Best Women’s Shoes for CrossFit Training
What are the best shoes for CrossFit style workouts? In our quest to find the answer we put 11 pairs of the most popular and highest ranked models out there through multiple workouts and numerous side-by-side tests, including sprints, lifts, rope climbs, and more. They were then scored in a number of categories such as weightlifting, running, support, and durability to highlight their strengths and weaknesses. Keeping reading below to find out which ones rose to the top of the pile in this extensive review process and might just help you set your next PR.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Ideally, the perfect shoes for CrossFit would be similar to the perfect CrossFit athlete. When we look at the top athletic performers in this sport we expect to find someone who is not overly specialized in one area. An athlete that can deadlift 800 pounds, for instance, is probably not a great sprinter. On the other hand, a sub three-hour marathon runner is most likely lacking in strength. Excelling in one specific movement inevitably causes weaknesses in other areas. As stated in the October 2002 CrossFit Journal article, Our Specialty is Not Specializing, these workouts require athletes to be masters of diversity. In our quest to find the best shoes for CrossFit, we searched for those designed with the same mindset. The perfect running shoe with a soft and cushioned midsole is not the perfect lifting shoe. Conversely, a great lifting shoe with a 17 mm heel to toe drop is a nightmare to run in. CrossFitters want a hybridized shoe that can do it all and keep up with whatever happens to be written on the white board on any give day.
CrossFitters have certain preferences for the different styles of footwear that they like to wear during workouts. Most CrossFitters have more than one pair kicking around so that they can wear the type of footwear that works best for each different type of workout they come across in the huge variety of movements in this style of exercise. There are benefits to wearing the lightest and slimmest models, but also merits to those with more structure and a substantial sole. We separated the 11 pairs that we tested in this review into five different general types to help illustrate which workouts they are best designed for.
Ideally, we would like to find one pair that can be comfortably worn for every possible movement that this style of workout throws at us. The models in our all-around category have been designed to help you transition smoothly from heavy clean and jerks, to 100 meter sprints, to double unders and rope climbs without needing to stop and change pairs in between movements. This is a tall order to fulfill, as by nature a model that is well-suited for lifting will not be the best for sprints. However, there are many shoes for CrossFit out there that do manage to do all of the above quite nicely.
Reebok aims to corner the market for the perfect shoes for CrossFit workouts with their Nano series. Shortly after Reebok became the only official provider of licensed CrossFit apparel, they released their first model in the Nano series. Since then many more versions have been released, and though Reebok has discontinued some models in the series, older versions like the Reebok Nano 2.0 - Women's, are still quite popular and remain in production. Nike also makes shoes for CrossFit training, and has recently developed the Metcon model which is impressing a lot of CrossFitters and stealing some of the Nano's thunder. Nike first released the Metcon for men in January 2015, but they made women wait for their version until July 2015. Another popular brand in this market is Inov-8. Their F-Lite series doesn't get as much press as the Reebok or Nike kicks, but they have consistently been a favorite all-around option in CrossFit gyms for years.
During the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games, Reebok launched a pump version of the Nano 5.0, the Nano Pump Fusion - Women's. We had a chance to test these out and decided not to include them in this review as they are similar to the Nano 5.0 and frankly quite gimmicky.
Minimalist designs are a current trend in the running world thanks in part to the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Some runners prefer the slim design of these models because they supposedly help mimic what it is like to run barefoot. There is little to no cushioning built into them and the height of the heel is even with the toe (0 mm heel to toe drop). Minimalist models are designed to help a runner land on the balls of their feet rather than heel striking, which can lead to injury. The only minimalist pairs in this review are the Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 - Women's and the New Balance Minimus 20v4 - Women's. The older version of the Minimus, the 20v3, was a popular option in CrossFit gyms, but unfortunately the newer model is uncomfortable and unsupportive. The Inov-8 Bare-XF model scored higher in our testing than the Minimus, but overall we didn't find them to be as supportive or versatile as the all-around models.
If you aren't used to running in minimalist shoes, take it easy at first and be sure to follow proper running mechanics. Nobody likes to be injured, especially because of a new pair of runners.
Doing these workouts in traditional running shoes can be problematic when performing lifting movements. The soft heel of a running shoe is designed to compress under load to give your feet some cushion while you run. However, while lifting you want a firm sole that does not compress. A soft sole under your foot is hard to balance on, and it even takes away some of the power you need to be explosive in your movements. Some CrossFitters solve this problem by purchasing a pair of traditional lifting shoes for heavy lifting days and wearing their running shoes for the high repetition, lighter lifts in metcon workouts. The only shoe in this review that is strictly marketed as a running shoe is the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 - Women's. Although it is not an all-purpose model geared towards CrossFitters, we do see it rather frequently in our gyms. It is light and comfortable, and has a 0 mm heel to toe drop, which some CrossFitters prefer over a bulkier heel.
Cross-trainers are versatile options that can be worn for different activities. Unlike strict running models, they aren't designed for extremely long runs. Since these types are made to handle a variety of movements, they are a popular style with CrossFitters. We chose two cross-training models for this review, the Nike Lunar Cross Element and the Reebok Sprint 2.0 - Women's. Even though it is not strictly a running shoe, the Reebok Sprint is our Top Pick for Running WODs. The Lunar Cross is also a wonderful pair to run it, but it is not great for the lifting movements that we often see in combination with running in our workouts.
Simply put, CrossFitters do a lot of lifting. It seems only fitting to have at least one shoe that is primarily for lifting. The shoe that we consider lifting specific in this review is the Reebok Lite TR - Women's. The Lite TR is also the only high-top shoe in this review. Comparing a high-top pair to a group of low profile models is a little like comparing apples to oranges, but the Lite TR has quite a few aspects to it that make it useful to have in a CrossFit gym. For instance, this model is great for rope climbs; the high top gives superb protection from rope burns and they are grippy on the rope. If you are looking for more lifting specific models, check out our Weightlifting Shoe review.
Criteria for Evaluation
When evaluating these different types of shoes for CrossFit workouts, the three criteria that were most important were weightlifting, running and support. Lifting is a core component of these workouts, so you want a shoe that will stand up to the heavy demands of snatches, cleans, and jerks. There is no doubt you'll also be running and jumping in your workouts so it's important to have a little cushion to soften your landing. Support was ranked highly as well since we need structure and stability to keep us grounded on our lifts and prevent injury. Continue reading to see how the different models fared in our side-by-side comparison tests, our check out our Award Winners to see which models came out on top.
Weightlifting is a key component in in this type of conditioning program. Therefore, this category comprises 20% of the overall score for each model in this review. The broad category of weightlifting gets broken down into Olympic lifting and powerlifting. When training the Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, athletes wear shoes with a high heel rise and supportive sole that won't compress under heavy loads. The raised heel helps athletes stand up out of the bottom of a deep squat. Footwear without a heel rise requires more hamstring and ankle flexibility from the athlete.
The only pair in this review to receive a perfect score for weightlifting was the Nike Metcon 1 - Women's. The sole of the Metcon has a little less squish than most of the other models we tested, and although slight, the 4 mm rise is helpful when dropping into a solid squat quickly underneath a heavy load. Powerlifters, on the other hand, prefer the thinnest sole possible for deadlifts. Who can blame them really; when lifting over 500 pounds from the floor why not start as close to the floor as possible? The Reebok Lite TR - Women's is the best model in this review for deadlifting by far, as the lack of sole compression and the extra width helped our testers feel stable and supported as they pulled heavy loads up from the ground.
Overall though, we aren't looking for the perfect Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting model when choosing the best shoes for CrossFit. We need options that can handle light to moderate weights at high repetitions in combination with running and gymnastics movements. High intensity workouts like these are commonly referred to as metcon workouts, short for metabolic conditioning. The Nike Metcon 1 provides a great platform for all of the above, and is the new recipient of our Editors' Choice award. The worst pair for lifting that we reviewed was the one with the most cushioned sole. The Nike Lunar Cross Element, for instance, has compressive foam in the midsole which is glorious for running and jumping, but made us feel like we were trying to balance on pillows during lifts.
We set the bar high in this review. When picking out shoes for CrossFit workouts, we want ones that are great for running but also great at everything else! To find the best option strictly for running, head over to our Running Shoes for Women review and our Trail Running Shoe for Women review.
The recent barefoot running trend has caused an increase in the number of minimalist running models on the market. Some runners are seeking out pairs that mimic what it is like to run with bare feet while still providing protection from hazards. The two minimalist models that we frequently see in our gyms are the Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 and the New Balance Minimus 20v4. CrossFitters are sometimes attracted to minimalist options because they are lightweight, which is nice with gymnastics movements, as well as have a low heel to toe drop, which makes it a little easier to get into a good starting position for deadlifts. When it came to running in the two minimalist options, our testers did not like the Minimus 20v4. They have a distinct lack of arch support and hit really high on the heel. The Inov-8 Bare-XF have more arch support and felt more comfortable during our side-by-side sprint test, however, they still didn't offer the support we needed on our runs.
The best models for running workouts were the Nike Lunar Cross Element and the Reebok Sprint 2.0, both of which are marketed as cross-trainers. The foam in the midsole and great arch support of the Lunar Cross feels remarkably comfortable during sprints and even longer runs. These were also a favorite for double unders and box jumps thanks to the extra cushion on the landing. A close second to the Lunar Cross was the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4. The Merrells are the only models marketed as strictly for running in this review, but CrossFitters like them due to their comfort and 0 mm heel to toe drop. Overall, we preferred the Reebok Sprints and gave them our Top Pick for Running WODs award. They are comfortable and breathable on runs while still being solid options for the lifting portion of your metcon workout.
When we refer to sensitivity we are primarily referring to how easy it is to feel where your bodyweight is positioned on your feet. You need to be able to tell if you are primarily moving your bodyweight onto the balls of your feet or if you are balanced with your weight firmly in your heels. The subtle differences in bodyweight shift are key to effective Olympic lifting, and this is why we've included this category in our search for the best shoes for CrossFit workouts.
The models with the best sensitivity for lifting are the Nike Metcon 1 and our Best Buy winner, the Reebok Nano 2.0. Both of these helped us maintain good body awareness during our side-by-side lifting tests. However, we felt that the Metcons handled heavier loads better than the Nano 2.0, which is one of the reasons the Metcon 1 was given our Editors' Choice award. The models that had the worst sensitivity were the New Balance Minimus 20v4 and the Reebok Lite TR. With the Minimus, we felt like there was a huge crater under our big toe and the arch of our foot so it was impossible to move our weight around where we needed it. The Reebok Lite TR, on the other hand, was great for deadlifting with its wide firm sole, but the high-top severely limited out ability to make subtle bodyweight shifts or determine where to make corrections during Olympic lifts.
The demands of our workouts require something that not only supports the weight of the athlete, but also the hundreds of additional pounds the athlete might be lifting. Therefore, how a model scores in the category of support comprises 20% of its overall rank in this review.
During heavy lifts, how compressive the sole is might be one of the first things you notice about your footwear. A soft, squishy sole is hard to balance on when trying to remain stable with a heavily loaded barbell. For instance, the spring in our step while running from the compression of the sole in the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 was not welcome on the lifting platform. Another aspect to consider when searching for a supportive shoe is the width of the sole. Traditional lifting shoes have a wide sole that does not taper down much around the arch. The sole of the Reebok Lite TR is broad throughout, similar to a lifting specific model, giving it a solid and supportive feel. The Reebok Sprint 2.0, on the other hand, has a sole that tapers down at the instep. The narrow width makes it feel unsupportive and "tippy" during heavier lifts, resulting in a lower score for this category.
Once again, the Nike Metcon 1 and the Reebok Nano 2.0s were at the top of our list in this category. They both had similar levels of support for light to moderate lifts. When the weights started getting heavier however, the Nano 2.0s lacked some of the support that the Metcons gave us.
Protection / Durability
CrossFitters like to push both their bodies and their equipment to the limits, so we need footwear that protects the athlete and does not wear out quickly. The learning curve for double unders is a painful curve indeed. Especially with the growing popularity of super fast metal cable jump ropes, you'll have bright red lashes to remind you of your misses. As tempting as it might be, a full body armor of chain mail is a little impractical. Luckily, we can at least protect our feet from those painful double under misses. The Reebok Nano 4.0 - Women's scored well in this category with its protective rubber toe cage.
Before you shell out your hard earned money on a pair of new shoes for CrossFit, be sure to inspect the durability of the sole and uppers near the instep. The friction from rope climbs will literally tear chunks out of soft midsoles. Ten years ago had you ever seen footwear with added protection on the instep for rope climbs? The popularity of this sport is literally changing what's on your feet. Manufacturers are trying new and creative tactics to keep their shoes for CrossFit from shredding to pieces on rope climbs. Reebok has even gone as far as adding Kevlar to their newest version of the Nano, the Reebok Nano 5.0 - Women's. Granted it is a sturdy material, but the Kevlar addition is "slick as snot" on the rope, as one tester put it. Our arms had to work even harder to make up for our feet sliding on the rope. We much prefer Nike's tactic on the new Metcon 1. There is a huge swath of extra sticky rubber on the instep, which helped our feet stick to the rope and showed no signs of damage even after dozens of climbs. As CrossFitters we greatly appreciate these adaptations as it's frustrating to see your favorite kicks torn to bits.
Inevitably you are going to get hot in the midst of high intensity workouts. Models with good breathability keep you a little more comfortable and hopefully help you push through those sweltering moments when you think you can't keep going. The Inov-8 F-Lite 195 - Women's were among the best shoes for CrossFit that we tested in the category of breathability. While all of the pairs we reviewed have a mesh upper, there is something about the mesh on the Inov-8s that lets in more air flow. The protective rubber cage on the Reebok Nano 4.0 that takes away the sting of missed double unders unfortunately limits its breathability. However, the stuffiest one of all is the Reebok Lite TR. To be fair, though, we are comparing a high top to low profile models, so naturally we expect the Reebok Lite to be hotter.
If your shoes for CrossFit workouts aren't comfortable it might be one more reason to avoid going to the gym. We want gear that makes us want to use it! The tricky part in rating comfort of course is that everyone has different feet and different preferences on how their footwear fits, though opinions about comfort were actually pretty consistent among all of our testers. For instance, the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 were a common favorite for all day wear around the gym. They are the kind that you put on your feet in the store and instantly like the way they feel. However, the king of comfort in this review was the Nike Metcon 1. Our reviewers were impressed with how well they fit for all of the movements we put the Metcon through. On the other end of the spectrum, we all agreed that the New Balance Minimus were really uncomfortable. Their lack of support made us feel like our foot was falling into a hole where the arch support should have been.
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— Audrey Hammond
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