Whether you're a newbie in the gym or a seasoned veteran, the search for the perfect CrossFit shoe can be overwhelming. We are bombarded with product release after product release, flashy marketing, and new versions of existing shoes regularly. We're here to help you sort through the buzz and get down to the nitty gritty. For this review, our team of CrossFit experts and gear testers sorted through the most popular CrossFit shoes on the market before making their pick of the top thirteen to put through multiple months of vigorous testing in the gym. We put together side-by-side comparisons for each product to help you find the best for your specific needs. Our main article details the major features of each shoe and which ones rose to the top in our testing categories. We hope that through our research you can find a good fit for your next WOD.
Why Do I Need a CrossFit Specific Shoe?
Could you hit a CrossFit workout in any plain old gym shoe? Realistically, yes, but if you're reading this article the odds are that you're looking into getting a new pair. Ideally, we would like to find one shoe that can be comfortably worn for every possible movement CrossFit style workouts can throw at us. The shoes in our review have been designed to help you transition smoothly from heavy weightlifting, running, squatting, jumping, and double unders to rope climbs without feeling the need to change your shoes in between movements. Nobody wants to have a gym bag that is overflowing with specialty shoes for every occasion. Just as CrossFit style workouts have evolved, so have the shoes that are marketed for them. You might not find a shoe that meets each and every specific need that you are looking for, but we hope this will guide you to find an all-in-one option that can get you through any CrossFit workout.
Types of Shoes for CrossFit
Some runners prefer the slim design of minimalist shoes because they help mimic what it is like to run barefoot. These types of shoes help the runner land on the balls of their feet rather than heel striking which can lead to injury. If you aren't used to running in minimalist shoes, please take it easy at first and be sure to follow proper running mechanics. We want to train hard, and nobody has time to be injured, especially because of a new pair of shoes.
Doing CrossFit 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. While there is no issue with going this route, our goal is to help you find the best all-in-one shoe that you can wear for anything.
Cross-trainers are designed to be a versatile option that can be worn for many different sports. Unlike strict running shoes, they aren't designed for extremely long runs. Unlike "lifters", they don't feature a hard platform and elevated heel. These shoes are designed to handle a variety of movements, which is why they are popular style with CrossFitters. CrossFit can combine weightlifting, gymnastics, and running all in one workout. We don't want a shoe that is majorly specific to any one of the disciplines, we want one that has an equal balance and can be worn for all three.
Simply put, CrossFitters do a lot of lifting. Since we are looking an all-around CrossFit shoe, instead of a specialty shoe, we didn't test any "lifters" or lifting specific shoes in this review.
When evaluating these thirteen pairs of shoes, the three criteria that were the most important were weightlifting, running, and gymnastics. Lifting is a core component of CrossFit, so you want a shoe that will stand up to the heavy demands of snatches, cleans, and jerks. There is no doubt you will also be running and jumping in your new shoes, so it's essential to have a little cushion to soften the strike.
Support, protection and durability, and comfort were ranked highly as well since we need a model with the structure and stability to keep us grounded on our lifts and prevent injury. Continue reading for more details and considerations for CrossFit shoes.
If you are new to CrossFit, you may need to start scrutinizing shoes in a way you haven't had to in the past. The constantly varied movements of CrossFit workouts will demand a lot from your footwear. Before spending money on a new pair of shoes, first, make sure your choice of footwear is sturdy enough to last a long time through the workout demands you will see in a CrossFit gym.
One of the most brutal tasks your shoes will need to take on is rope climbs. Unless leg-less rope climbs show up in the WOD, getting to the top of a fifteen or twenty-foot rope is just as much about footwork as it is upper body strength. With the proper technique, you can pinch the rope between your feet to stand, which takes some stress off your arms. Look for shoes that have enough structure on the instep so you can pinch the rope between your feet without the rope digging into your foot. Luckily, most shoes in the CrossFit market have added technology that specifically address the abrasiveness and protection needed during climbs.
While good rope climbing shoes can make the way up easier on you, the trip down the rope can also be very hard on your shoes. 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 shoes slows your descent for a safe landing at the bottom. Friction helps you out, but it can take chunks out of your shoes. Inspect potential purchases for CrossFit closely 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. If they feature specific materials for rope climbing protection, you're in business.
Other movements to take into consideration when looking at the structure of the shoe are double unders, burpees, and handstand push ups. Look for a shoe that offers a breathable fabric on the uppers to keep your feet cool, but also offers protection and durability so that they will last through the abuse they're going to see in the gym. Specifically look for protection in the toe box where the shoe will be hit with jump ropes and will be saving your toes from the floor on burpees and push ups. Finally, take a look at the heel of the shoe. You want a comfortable heel clip that will keep your shoe in place during intense workouts. You also want to look for any specific features for wall protection during handstand push ups. A tough heel will be your best friend, helping your feet glide up and down the wall. Sticky rubber is going to make handstand push ups even harder than they already are.
People are coming to CrossFit from different backgrounds with different injury histories, flexibility issues, and weaknesses. Most gyms pride themselves on offering workouts that can be modified to accommodate all ability levels and fitness backgrounds by decreasing the weights, run distances, or the number of repetitions. Our shoe testers describe coaching classes with a spunky 67-year-old cleaning and jerking a sand-filled PVC pipe right next to a strapping young college student repping out 225 pound cleans. While both of these individuals are performing the same movements, they most likely have different needs in their footwear. Before deciding which shoe to buy, first, take a moment to determine how your athletic background impacts the style of shoe best for you. Choosing the right tool which addresses your own personal needs can help you work at higher intensity & get more benefit from your workout.
Local Climate Extremes
A good thing to keep in mind with a new shoe purchase is your local climate. CrossFit workouts don't stay confined in a controlled indoor environment. Why is it for instance that all "Helen" workouts seem to come up in programming during snow and rain storms? If you live in an area with a lot of wet days, consider a shoe that will give you the traction you need to run in the elements safely. Shoes with grippy soles like the Metcon will help you stay on your feet in the rain and snow. The minimal sole of the Vivo Primus Lite, on the other hand, might feel more like a sock than a shoe during a slushy wet run.
Heat extremes are another consideration with shoe design. For gym locations where heat is a factor, consider looking for a shoe with light textile of the uppers to let in enough air to help keep you cool during your WOD.
Olympic Lifter Looking to Add Some Diversity with CrossFit Workouts?
After the general considerations that everyone should consider for CrossFit shoes, think of your fitness background and how it impacts your needs in a shoe. Some people come to CrossFit from a strict lifting program and are looking to add more diversity to their workouts. Lifting shoes have a very 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 contender with a heel to toe drop measurement of 0mm your heel and the ball of your foot would be the same height off of the ground. With a heel to drop of 17mm like in some lifting shoes, your heel would be 17mm 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. The workouts of CrossFit demand wearing shoes that can comfortably and safely go from clean and jerks to box jumps, sprints and then right back to clean and jerks. Traditional lifting shoes just don't have the versatility you need in a general shoe for CrossFit. Most of the shoes in this review are on the lower end of the heel to toe drop spectrum ranging from 0 to 4mm.
Running Background Looking to Get Stronger?
As compared to Olympic lifters, if you are coming to CrossFit workouts from a running background you are probably used to shoes with much more cushion. Many people start out in CrossFit wearing traditional running shoes. The midsoles of these shoes are designed to compress and take some of the shock off joints as the foot hits the ground. However, when you are back squatting a heavy load, and you need to be able to push through your feet and heels to generate power. The last thing you want is a compressive sole under your feet taking that away. Look for a shoe that will help you keep solid form during your lifts, but also still provide comfort during running. Our Best Buy winner, the Nike Air Zoom Elevate 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.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you don't have any background in running, you might want to avoid buying a minimalist shoe. 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. The theory behind minimalist running shoes is that a higher heel to toe drop may encourage heel striking rather than landing on the forefoot. A lot of minimalist running shoes have a 0mm heel to toe drop with the hopes that it will help them to land more on their forefoot rather than their heels. Jumping right into minimalist running shoes without any experience in proper running form could result in injury, however, so take it slowly when transitioning into these shoes.
CrossFitter than has Gotten the Olympic Lifting Bug?
The CrossFit movement has opened a lot of people's eyes to a sport that was previously losing interest. Olympic lifting has increased in popularity thanks to CrossFit exposing more people to the joys of lifting. Perhaps you have already been doing CrossFit for a while and are specifically looking to up your Olympic lifting game. If this is the case, you are in for a real treat when you branch out into lifting shoes. The extra heel height will help you nail your bottom squat position, and the rock-solid stability will inevitably result in some new personal records.
We live in times where shopping is at the tip of our fingers. It takes a few minutes to scroll through a website and place an order. That being said, our one piece of advice is to try your shoes on IN PERSON. Especially if this is your first time with a new brand or style you're not used to. Granted, the internet machine is much easier, but don't underestimate the value of feeling the fit and seeing the features in person before buying. Most people have one foot that is larger than the other, so use that one to determine your shoe size. Wear socks that are most like the ones you'll wear for your WOD and don't be afraid to do a jog around and hit some lunges and air squats in them. Finally, use the return policy if the shoe you choose doesn't end up being the right one for you.
As a final consideration when looking through this article, think about what will be best for YOUR body. If you aren't a total newbie to the sport, you most likely know what imbalances your body has during specific lifts and movements. No shoe can fix those weaknesses, so spend time doing your mobility and taking care of that body. No thanks to social media, but it can be easy to get swept away by the hype of whatever the newest and greatest shoe is at the moment. Testing these shoes was a good reminder for us that comfort and performance can be found where you least expect it. Put in the work to stay healthy and get strong, but most importantly, don't forget to have fun!