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 all-around category have been designed to help you transition smoothly from heavy clean and jerks, 100-meter sprints, double unders to rope climbs without needing to change your shoes in between movements.
Reebok aims to corner the market for the perfect CrossFit shoe with their Nano series. Shortly after Reebok became the only official provider of licensed CrossFit apparel, they released their first shoe in the nano series. In this review, we are testing the newest in the Nano series, the Nano 7. The Nike Metcon first came out in 2015 and immediately stole some of the Nanos' thunder. The new kid on the block for this review that has really impressed us is made by NOBULL Trainer.
Some runners prefer the slim design of minimalist shoes because they supposedly help mimic what it is like to run barefoot. These types of shoes will hopefully 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. Nobody likes to be injured, especially because of a new pair of shoes.
We tested one minimalist shoe in this review, the trail version of the Minimus. Older versions of the Minimus shoes used to be very popular in CrossFit gyms, but unfortunately, the newer models are uncomfortable and unsupportive. However, since our last review, New Balance claimed to have brought back the feel of the original Minimus shoe, so we just had to give it another shot.
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 none of the shoes in this review are specifically marketed as running shoes, we feel that the trainer version of the Minimus by New Balance performs more like a traditional running shoe than a trainer.
Cross-trainers are designed to be a versatile option that can be worn for, multiple different sports. Unlike strict running shoes, they aren't designed for extremely long runs. Since these shoes are designed to handle a variety of movements, they are a popular style with CrossFitters. We chose three cross-training shoes for this review, the Reebok CrossFit Speed TR, and the Asics Conviction X. The CrossFit Speed is our Best Buy Winner, in part due to its versatility.
Simply put, CrossFitters do a lot of lifting. It seems only fitting to test some lifting specific shoes in this review. Our two lifting shoes for this review are the beautiful lifters by NOBULL and the versatile lifting shoes from Inov-8. The Inov8 shoes are designed to be able to handle some other movements in addition to lifting, whereas the NOBULL Lifters are a beautifully designed traditional lifting shoe. The Inov-8's are quite good shoes for double unders which are a nice bonus in CrossFit workouts and not something you expect from lifting shoes! Since you can use the Inov8's for more than just lifting, we chose them as our Top Pick For Lifting WODs.
When evaluating these ten pairs of shoes, the three criteria that were the most important were weightlifting, running, and support. 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 your landing. Support was 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 comparisons as well as other considerations for CrossFit shoes.
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 needs (injury, inflexibility, or weakness) can help you work at higher intensity & get more benefit from your workout.
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 in the CrossFit gym.
One of the most brutal tasks your shoes 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 just as much about footwork as it is upper body strength. With the proper technique, you can basically stand up on the rope and take 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. The Asics Conviction X is an example of a shoe with super slick material on the uppers and was not suitable for climbing rope. Ultimately a model like this will make your arms work even harder as you climb.
Rope climbs in the Asics shoes were drastically different than rope climbs in the Nike Metcon. These shoes were built to climb ropes. The instep of the Metcon 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 that we normally needed.
While good rope climbing shoes can make the climb up easier on you, the trip down the rope can 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. In this review, the New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail began to lose a lug from the sole after only two rope climbs.
Shoe manufacturers are coming up with new ways to protect their shoes from the demands of rope climbs. The sticky rubber on the Metcons looks to be indestructible; they showed no wear and tear from ropes during our testing. NOBULL utilizes a material they call "Superfabric," in the Editor's Choice winning NOBULL Trainers and claim it is resistant to glass, knives, and barbed wire! While we didn't put it up to the barbed wire test, it holds up great to rope climb friction and has an excellent grip on the rope as well. Another movement to take into consideration when looking at the structure of the shoe is the double under. Jump ropes have to be moving pretty fast to spin around twice for every one jump. Anyone that has ever worked on double unders knows firsthand that missed double unders hurt! Look for some shoes that have enough protection on the uppers to take away some of the sting.
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 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 run in the snow safely. The grippy sole of the Metcon will help you stay on your feet in the snow. The minimal sole of the New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail, 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 the Best Buy winner Reebok CrossFit Speed TR. The light mesh of the uppers lets enough air in to help keep you cool.
Olympic Lifter Looking to Add Some Diversity with CrossFit Workouts?
After the general considerations that everyone should ponder 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 such as the NOBULL Lifter just don't have the versatility you need in a general shoe for CrossFit. Aside from the two lifting shoes we tested, most of the shoes in this review are on the lower end of the heel to toe drop spectrum ranging from 0 to 4mm. The ideal model to help you transition away from a traditional lifting shoe would be the Editors' Choice winner, the NOBULL Trainer. This shoe is sturdy enough that you will feel supported on your lifts. However it is also very versatile, so it will be a great shoe to take you through all your CrossFit workouts.
Running Background Looking to Get Stronger?
As compared to the Olympic lifters, if you are coming to CrossFit workouts from a running background you are probably used to much softer shoes. Most people do start out in CrossFit wearing traditional running shoes. The midsoles of these shoes are designed to compress to 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 heels, you don't want a compressive sole under your feet. Look for a shoe that will help you keep good form during your lifts, but also still give you a running shoe sort of feel. Our Best Buy winner, the Reebok CrossFit Speed TR 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 should avoid buying a minimalist shoe. The New Balance Minimus Trail falls into the minimalist 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. 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 like our Top Lick for Lifting Workouts, the Inov-8 Fastlift 325. 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.
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 these shoes was a good reminder for us that comfort can be found where you least expect it. Most of us had never been exposed to the New Balance Minimus 40 in the CrossFit world, but after spending a full day in these shoes we were pleasantly surprised at their high level of comfort.