CrossFit gyms aim to prepare their athletes for the unknown and unknowable. Every time you walk into the gym to workout, the whiteboard has a different workout. There are tons of gym shoes on the market, so our first stop was to ask the CrossFit community about their favorites and why. We researched each recommendation, then some of our own, to come up with the top 11 contending shoes that you see here in this review.
Over the course of two months, our shoes were tested in the high-altitude mountains of Colorado. We wore these shoes for the daily WODs, a weekly test WOD, performed weightlifting testing, gymnastics testing, and mono structural testing. With this combination of testing, we were able to incorporate all of the movements that typically show up in workouts. The list is extensive, but squats, rope climbs, handstand pushups, jumping, lifting, and running were all covered.
During the two months of seeing how the shoes handled daily WOD variety, we also ran each pair of shoes through three side-by-side control tests. Our weightlifting testing included back squats, walking lunges, and clean & jerk. Our gymnastics testing compared rope climbs, burpees, and handstand push-ups. Finally, we took to the road to see how the shoes could handle running, biking, and double unders. Beyond wearing each pair of shoes for daily workouts, we also planned a control WOD once a week consisting of 2 rounds: 400m run, 20 handstand push-ups, and ten hang power cleans at 95#. We wanted to dig in to find you a shoe that can handle heavy weights, running, and provide comfort during your CrossFit WOD.
The shoes were then scored and ranked on our matrix according to data gathered during testing to find the best all in one CrossFit shoe on the market. Each metric is weighted according to their significance; the metrics are from highest weighted score to lowest: Weightlifting 20%, Running 20%, Gymnastics 20%, Support 10%, Protection, and Durability 10%, Comfort 10%, Sensitivity 5%, Breathability 5%. The final breakdown in the review is comparative on how the shoes stack up against each other.
Although lifting is most commonly seen every day in CrossFit workouts, we wanted to plan some specific tests to hone in on the performance of each shoe at a slower pace with more focus. Our first test was a staple three rep back squat. Back squats are the all telling lift because it transfers into other lifts like the snatch and clean & jerk. We were specifically looking for support and balance through the midfoot and platform of the shoe. The heel drop was noted on each pair as well as the dorsiflexion in the ankle and sagittal plane while wearing the shoe. Next we tested a less stable, and dynamic weightlifting movement, 30 weighted walking lunges. This movement put each pair of shoes to the test through flexion and extension in the sagittal plane and showed points of performance and flaws in construction and flexibility. Finally, we tested weight and high movement though five reps of hang power clean & jerk. The best shoes were able to handle the pressure of a heavy load in combination with the two other modalities.
We didn't simply test the shoes under perfect conditions either, we wore them for our running tests indoors, outdoors on concrete, and outdoors on dirt and gravel. We also caught quite a few runs in the rain. We ran the same one mile course in each pair and wrote down how our feet responded during and after. The course featured uneven surfaces and gravel with small rocks. Although this isn't considered long distance by any means, it is a decent distance for a CrossFit workout and most typical around Memorial Day when we all do "Murph". We focused on overall comfort, stability, lateral movement in the ankles, support, and cushion. We also wanted to test the shoe's ability to switch gears from in the gym lifting to quick runs during the workout. We tested numerous 400m runs during the course of the two months. The weight of each shoe was also measured straight out of the box and onto our scale. From each pair, we weighed the left shoe with laces and insoles intact on a women's size 5.5. Size and weight matter, especially during running.
This might not be everyone's favorite part of CrossFit, but it's here to stay and it's only getting more skill-intensive. No good test for CrossFit shoes would be complete without a focus on rope climbs. In the early days of the sport shoes were pretty minimalist and didn't have the bells and whistles that the shoes on the market now do. With increased technology, our shoes and feet don't have to cringe every time rope climbs show up in the WOD. Beyond wearing each pair during standard workouts, we tested each pair on five consecutive rope climbs at 15 feet.
We immediately checked for any issues with the shoe falling apart or showing signs of wear and took note of the amount of bite the shoes provided on the rope. We also took each pair of shoes for a ride through 20 burpees as fast as possible. We noted flexion, extension, dorsiflexion, and plantarflexion all through this one movement. This is a good test for the flexibility and comfort of the shoes. Finally, we tested handstand pushups in each pair of shoes weekly during our control WOD. A shoe can make or break this movement by how it runs up and down the wall and if it creates resistance. Too many times, we have ditched our shoes and gone in only socks. Sticky heels are a no go!
The lacing system and insole of the shoes were our main focus when examining the support of each pair. The width between each eyelet was noted, how far up the foot they laced, as well as how much bunching of the toe box occurred when pulled tightly. We were looking for not only a tight fit, but enough give for our feet to flex and move through the demands of various movements in our workouts. The heel clip was noted on each pair, including heel slippage, movement, blistering, and noise in some cases. We tested the rebound and feedback from each shoe on rebounding movements, especially during our 50 DU test and box jump workouts. Flexible uppers are a plus since we need to be able to change directions quickly during a workout, but too much flex and our feet were missing the support they need to stay in unison with the shoe. We were also looking for an insole that offered support without cushion. The main test for this was during our three rep back squat. We took note of compression under load. Arch support, especially during these rebounding movements and running, played a major role in the scoring of this section as well.
Protection & Durability
A great CrossFit shoe needs to offer protection in the sole, toes, instep, and heels. These shoes take a beating not only during the workout itself but in the gym at all times. We see movements like burpees, toes to bar, and double unders. If a shoe is lacking any toe protection, you are going to feel it on these movements, and it will wear them down quick. We train inside, outside, on platforms, on mats, on gravel, in dirt, and in inclement weather. Most CrossFit athletes will agree, they aren't going to buy a shoe for training unless it has instep protection for rope climbs. The good news is, all of the CrossFit shoes on the market feature their own technology to protect not only the shoe during high abrasion moves like rope climbs, but the wearer's foot as well. What most might not focus on is the heel area of each shoe. A sticky gum sole might be great for traction during running and lifting, but will stick to the wall like glue when you try to bring your feet up and down during handstand push-ups.
When testing the comfort of each pair of shoes, we wore them for not only our specific testing and CrossFit WODs, but also wore them for entire days while coaching in the gym. Most shoes require a bit of a break-in period, so we wanted not only to test these new and out of the box but to also put some miles and time on them. We were looking for decent arch support, cushioning in the midsole, and room for our toes to splay in the toe box. We also took note of the padding in the uppers and the tongue of the shoes, specifically during running and rope climbs. We wanted to find a shoe that can handle the WOD but can also be worn beyond the workout for multiple hours comfortably.
We focused on the feedback our feet were receiving in each pair of shoes during the testing phase. During weightlifting, we were looking for a shoe that we could feel the ground and our balance easily in; the last thing you want to worry about during squats or box jumps is losing balance because your feet are tipping over or moving in your shoes. We wanted to test the flexibility and sensitivity in each pair, specifically through 30 weighted walking lunges with 20-pound dumbbells. With each step, we measured how easily we could find balance in our heel to drive off the ground, and enough toe splay so that our back foot could balance through the floor as well.
Breathability was tested in a controlled temperature office at our gym between classes, as well as in the hot, dry, Colorado summer months in the gym and outside. We wore each pair during a weekly "control" WOD that combined all three modalities of monostructural, gymnastics, and weightlifting. The workout was two rounds of a 400m run, 20 handstand push-ups, and ten hang power cleans at 95 pounds. After each workout, each lifting session, each run, we took off the shoes and took note of how hot…and how stinky our feet were. Nobody wants to deal with wet socks and sweaty feet during their workout.
CrossFit's entire program is based on measurable, repeatable, and observable data from workouts to show an athlete's progression on the health and wellness continuum. Putting these shoes through the tests listed above gave us measurable, repeatable, and observable data on each pair to find the best all in one shoe for CrossFit on the market.