This article goes into greater depth of the key things to look for in a pair of shoes for CrossFit, such as protection, heel to toe drop, and materials used. Keep reading for some useful tips on how to select your next pair, or check out our full Women's Shoes for CrossFit review to see how the different models fared against each other in our side-by-side comparison tests.
If you are new to this type of activity you'll need to start scrutinizing shoes for CrossFit workouts in a way you likely haven't had to in the past. The constantly varied movements of this style of exercise demands a lot from your footwear. Before spending money on a new pair, first make sure your choice of footwear fulfills some basic criteria, such as offering good structure, durability, and breathability.
One of the most brutal tasks your shoes for CrossFit workouts will need to take on is a rope climb. Unless you have mastered leg-less rope climbs, getting to the top of a fifteen or twenty foot rope is as much about foot work as it is upper body strength. The proper technique allows you to basically stand up on the rope and take some stress off your arms. Look for models that have enough structure at the instep so you can pinch the rope between your feet without the rope digging into you.
Our Editors' Choice winner, the Nike Metcon 3 - Women's, was built to climb ropes. The instep of the Metcon 3 has a large band of sticky rubber that seamlessly transitions up from the sole. The rubber grabs onto the rope and you can trust that your feet will stay exactly where you want them. We felt like we were flying up the rope, taking fewer "bites" with our legs than we normally needed.
While you might not be able to test out your shoes on a rope climb when trying them on in a store, do inspect the material of the upper. If the upper material feels slick to the touch, then it will feel slick on the rope as well and make you have to work harder.
Another movement to take into consideration when looking at the structure of your shoes for CrossFit training is the double under. Jump ropes have to be moving pretty fast in order to spin around twice for every one jump. Anyone that has ever worked on double unders knows firsthand that missed double unders hurt! You'll want your footwear to have enough protection on the uppers to take away some of the sting. For instance, the Reebok Nano 4.0 - Women's has a protective rubber cage around the toes to soften the blow.
While good rope climbing shoes can make the climb up easier on you, the trip down the rope can be hard on them. A safe descent from the top of the rope entails a hand over hand motion with your arms as you let the rope slowly slide between your feet. The friction of the rope on your feet slows your descent for a safe landing at the bottom. Friction helps you out, but it can literally take chunks out of your soles. When checking out potential shoes for CrossFit workouts, closely inspect the area where the sole meets the upper around the instep. If the midsole has soft foam with no added protection for rope climbs, they may not fare so well. During our testing period, the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 - Women's began showing damage where the Vibram sole attaches to the softer midsole after only fifteen rope climbs.
Manufacturers are coming up with new ways to protect their shoes from the demands of rope climbs and increase their durability, which we greatly appreciate. The sticky rubber on the Metcon 3 looks to be indestructible; they showed no wear and tear from ropes during our testing. The Inov-8 F-Lite 195 - Women's has a durable rope guard at the instep to protect the sole of the shoe, and it does a good job helping your feet stay in place as well. However, we had a personal pair of these shoes blow out through the mesh at the pinky toes. Reebok added Kevlar to the Nano 7.0 to make them more durable; while the Kevlar does keep the uppers from being shredded, it makes the shoes slick and not well-suited to rope climbs. In general, CrossFit workouts are notoriously hard on you and your footwear, so choosing a durable pair is important, particularly if you are on a budget and can't afford new kicks every six months.
A good thing to keep in mind when purchasing new shoes for CrossFit workouts is your local climate. This style of workout doesn't stay confined in a controlled indoor environment. Why is it, for instance, that all "Helen" workouts (3 circuits of a 400-meter run, 21 kettlebell swings and 12 pull-ups for time) seem to come up in programming during a snowstorm? If you live in an area with lots of snowy days, consider a shoe that will give you the traction you need to safely run in the snow. The Vibram sole of the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 feels substantial enough for some light trail running and will help you stay on your feet in the snow. The minimal sole of the Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 - Women's, on the other hand, might feel more like a sock than a shoe in the midst of slushy wet run.
Heat extremes are another consideration. We completed the testing for this updated review during the summer, and on the hottest days our testers did not like wearing the Reebok Lite TR - Women's. The lack of breathability in these shoes made workouts feel even hotter in the afternoon heat. For gym locations where heat is a factor, consider the Inov-8 F-Lite. The light mesh of the uppers lets enough air in to help keep you cool.
After the general considerations that everyone should ponder before purchasing a pair of shoes for CrossFit workouts, think of your fitness background and how it impacts your footwear needs.
If you are an Olympic lifter looking to add some diversity with CrossFit workouts…
Some people come to this sport from a strict lifting program and are looking to add more diversity to their workouts. Lifting shoes have a firm sole that do not compress under even the heaviest of loads. The heel of lifters is also elevated at least a half inch to an inch and a half to aid in getting into a good squat depth, as well as dropping underneath the bar with stability and speed. You will often see a "heel to toe drop" measurement listed under the specs of athletic shoes. The heel to toe drop is a measurement showing the difference between the heel height and the forefoot height of a shoe. Put more simply, when wearing a shoe with a heel to toe drop measurement of 0 mm, your heel and the ball of your foot are the same height off of the ground. With a heel to toe drop of 17 mm, like in some lifting shoes, your heels are 17 mm higher off the ground than the ball of your foot. Olympic lifters benefit from a higher drop to help them stand up out of a deep squat while under a heavily loaded barbell.
If you are accustomed to only working out in lifting shoes, it's time to whittle down on the height of that heel rise. These workouts demand footwear that can comfortably and safely go from clean and jerks to box jumps, sprints and then right back to clean and jerks. Lifting shoes don't have the versatility you need in a pair of shoes for CrossFit workouts. The models in this review are on the lower end of the heel to toe drop spectrum, ranging from 0 to 4 mm. A good option to help you transition away from a traditional lifting model is our Best Buy winner, the Reebok Nano 2.0 - Women's. This pair is sturdy enough that you will feel supported on your lifts, but also versatile enough to take you through all your CrossFit workouts.
If you are a runner looking to get stronger…
As compared to the Olympic lifters, if you are coming to this sport from a running background you are probably used to much softer soles. Most people do start out in CrossFit wearing traditional running shoes. The midsoles of runners are designed to compress in order to take some of the shock off your joints as your foot hits the ground. However, when you are backsquating a heavy load and you need to be able to push through your heels and you don't want a compressive sole under your feet. Look for a model that will help you keep good form during your lifts, but also still give you a running shoe sort of feel. Our Top Pick for Running WODS, the Reebok Sprint 2.0 - Women's might be the perfect shoe for you. It has enough support to handle light to moderate weight lifts in the midst of a metcon workout, but still feels light and fast on runs.
If you have little experience running…
On the other end of the spectrum, if you don't have any background in running you should avoid buying minimalist footwear. The Inov-8 Bare-XF falls into this category. The heel to toe drop measurement comes up again when describing minimalist shoes versus traditional running shoes. Some runners look at this measurement because they want a shoe that encourages proper foot placement. Minimalist footwear typically has 0 mm heel to toe drop and little to no heel cushioning, with the hopes that it will encourage runners to land more on their forefoot rather than their heels. Jumping right into a minimalist pair without any experience in proper running form could result in injury, however, so take it slowly when transitioning into these shoes even if you've been running for years.
As a final consideration, don't forget about comfort. It can be easy to get swept away by the hype of whatever the newest and greatest shoe is supposed to be at the moment. Testing all these different shoes for CrossFit training was a good reminder for us that comfort can be found where you least expect it. The workouts may be brutal, but your footwear needn't be.