You don’t want to go in not knowing what tools to use for the job, so here’s a simple list to get you pointed in the right direction.
Reebok Crossfit Nano
The gold standard, as far as many are concerned, this shoe is actually greatly effective in its design. The low heel-to-toe drop keeps you steady and aids sprinting, the wide toebox alleviates a common complaint of trainers, and the firm sole with grooves for flexion works for both lifts and dynamic activity. The only real drawback for many is that it’s hard to run distance in. However, A. some Crossfitters can go up to the 5k distance in the shoe, and B. running far is going to be a problem for basically any cross-trainer.
Inov-8 f-lite series
Inov-8 is an often-overlooked brand, but overall, I’d say they’re the best “functional fitness” guys out there. Now, the f-lite series has a few models, with some being better for the lifting, some for running, and some for dynamic/outdoor workouts. Whatever your routine, you should be able to find a fit for your needs.
Nike Lunar Caldra/Free Transform Flyknit
Definitely the softest shoe of the bunch, this model is best for more dynamic training and less heavy lifting. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t perform, though. As Olympian Ashton Eaton will attest, the Caldra is best-suited for more running-intensive training. The Transform, meanwhile, is a lighter, flexible for women.
One of the best-selling shoes for the past several years, the Kinvara is a fantastic blend of speed with a bit of cushion. Be it as a race shoe for heavier runners or a trainer for the elites, the Kinvara appeals to a very broad population.
If you’re willing to trade speed for comfort, the Clifton is the best choice over the Kinvara. The low-density foam allows for a ton of cushion underfoot, but is a turn-off for heavier runners whose weight may not let the foam expand all the way, causing the longevity of the shoe to suffer. On the other hand, heavier runners may also LIKE the shoe, even if they find it dies quickly, due to the lower-impact on their knees.
Adidas Ultra Boost
Everyone has ranted and raved about this shoe, so I won’t go too much into it, but from the aesthetics to the feel, everything about this model (and it’s ST counterpart) let’s you know it’s top-of-the-line. The only shortcoming may be that it’s TOO soft, a complaint that the ST does not share.
Before the Boost foam came around, there was another contender for “most cloud-like” ride. The Glycerin uses a gel/foam hybrid to evenly absorb shock and has proven itself as a top-tier shoe, year over year.
The “GTS” on the tongue of this one stands for “Go-To Shoe,” and it has indeed become one of the most popular models in the world. Great for those looking for a ton of support, but still some flexibility, the Adrenaline is also solid with cushioning. If you want a practical boot, visit the Brooks Beast and Ariel, but for most people, this will be the sweet spot.
“Nikes have no support,” it was often said. No longer! A couple years ago, a heavy retool of the Structure led to one of the most all-around athletic models. Lightweight with great feel and speed, this is a go-fast shoe that doesn’t compromise support. The upper is a little warm, but carries with it a lot of comfort.
If you love that premium feel but need a tinge more stability, the Hurricane should be your first thought. The way the upper wraps the foot is amazing and underfoot it’s both soft and snappy. Saucony also utilizes 4-8mm heel-to-toe drops in all their shoes, making them a little more stable by nature.
New Balance Leadville
A variant of this shoe was built as a proposal to be the primary training shoe for the US military. That means it’s got what it takes to log the miles and the conditions. If you want a cushioned she with just a hint of support, the Leadville will lead you to a great run.
Topo Athletic is not a household name, but they make a fantastic product. Their Hydroventure is the lightest weight water-resistant shoe on the market and comes with a wide toebox, making it perfect for keeping your balance on a slippery path.
Inov-8 Roclite series
This is Inov-8’s second appearance in this article, although the Roclite line is nearly the complete opposite of the f-lite: The f-lite is ideal for the inside of a building or parking lot, while the Roclites are ready to go on nearly any outdoor surface. Add in the fact that you can easily attach gaiters to the ankle to keep out debris, and you can tackle almost any terrain.
Nike Zoom Streak
Uber light and responsive, the Streak is both a great sprinter and racing flat for elite distance runners. The heel is more cushioned, but you’ll be spending most of your time on your forefoot, because the midfoot shank recoils to push your every step forward. Don’t miss the Flyknit update coming out this year, as well.
Asics DS Trainer/Racer
I’m not a huge fan of Asics’ propulsion trusstic system (the plastic bit under the arch) because in general, I find full-contact midsoles have better transition. However, the DS line is made for speed, so the trusstic works with the rest of the shoe to aid rebound much better than other models. The DS’s are also some of the rare shoes that incorporate support elements.
Newtons are built for long-distance, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that the lugs up front are very effective in mimicking a spike plate on track shoes. You get a lot of energy return from these guys and they keep you up on your forefoot. The pricier models have more lock-down on the upper, but there are also more budget-priced options.
Converse Chuck Taylor
This shoe could practically be called the Old Faithful, due to its iconic in American culture. Originally for basketball, the CT’s flat, firm sole has made it ubiquitous on powerlifters’ feet for a century; not to mention the iconic fashionability it carries. The Chuck II is great for walking around and everything, but the original CT is the one you want in the gym.
Your other option for a low-set lifter. Pretty similar to the Chuck Taylor, but a little different shape, different materials. Go with your personal preference.
Many companies make these, so pick your poison. Now the heel on these make deadlifting hard, but can help a lot on bench and especially squat. Many people just opt to deadlift without shoes anyway, so it might not matter to you. They basically give you a more mechanically advantageous position on squat, and lift your feet up higher on bench to help with drive. If you’re doing snatch and clean/jerk, these are the gold medal for you.