Just like you wouldn’t go to the gym without the right sports bra, heading into a training session without the best workout shoes in town can make or break your workout. Now, of course, you don’t always need shoes, especially if your workouts of choice are yoga, Pilates, or barre, but if you’re doing any kind of running, weight training, HIIT, or hiking, you should be lacing up to protect your feet.
Below, we’ve included vetted sneaks for all kinds of cardio activities, from heavy lifting to jogs to leisurely strolls, plus what to look for when you’re shopping for workout shoes. All of the sneakers come recommended by experts, have garnered a SELF Sneaker Award in years past, or are highly-reviewed bestsellers from brands we trust, like Nike, Hoka, Asics, and more.
Best HIIT and Cross-Training Shoes
If plyometrics, Crossfit, and HIIT workouts are your go-to, you’ll want to find a gym shoe that’s up to the challenge. These types of workouts are high-impact, so they call for shoes with cushioned insoles and shock absorption, and you’ll want a lightweight shoe that feels like a second skin. Nike Free sneakers are bestsellers for their sock-like fit, and the York Frank Trainer has been a longtime favorite for its support, versatility, and roomy toe box (the retro colorways don’t hurt either). Many of our picks have a mesh upper for breathability and a little extra room for your toes during box jumps and burpees. Ryka’s Influence cross-training shoe has a grippy sole for lifting, plenty of cushioning for plyo, and stiff ankle support for lateral movements.
Courtesy of the brand / Amanda K Bailey
Ryka fEmpower Dauntless Sneaker
From cross-training to errands to standing all day without fatigue—the Ryka fEempower Dauntless shoe offers a solid solution at a great price point.
Best Running Shoes
Here at SELF, we know a thing or two about running. Most of our running-sneaker picks below are SELF Sneaker Award winners, meaning they were rigorously tested and reviewed based on expert criteria. One of the most critical factors as to how a pair of running shoes will feel? The cushioning in the midsole, which cradles your foot and absorbs the shock generated each time it hits the ground. If you want a foamy, cloudlike run, On Running’s Cloudmonster sneaker or Hoka’s Clifton 8 are fan favorites. You’ll also want to consider the drop, or the heel height, of your potential picks. The average shoe has a 10- to 12-millimeter (or higher) drop, while more minimalist models have less or are even often zero-drop (completely flat), like weightlifting shoes. Our reviewers loved Asics for arch support and for beginner runners. For trail-running shoes, Altra’s Lone Peak range of sneakers, which has zero heel-to-toe drop, grippy rubber outsole, and rugged lugs, was a top pick among testers.
Best Weightlifting and Strength-Training Shoes
When it comes to lacing up for a strength training session, you should look for either a flat or lifted sole. Lifting shoes with flat soles, like Converse sneakers, Nobull trainers, or Nike Metcon’s, are for folks who prefer minimal arch support or heel lift. A shoe with a higher heel “allows you to put more pressure through your heels and find a full range of motion—all while protecting your feet,” Tiffany Thompson, NASM-certified performance coach at Future, previously told SELF. All of our picks are inflexible to create a stable base and feature a hard sole, which will help you generate power through your heels for strong squats and deadlifts. Some lifters like shoes with a mid-foot strap, such as Inov-8’s Fastlift, which minimizes foot-shifting mid-rep.
Best Walking Shoes
Your daily hot girl walk could probably use better footwear. If you’re a runner who occasionally walks, your running shoes are probably just fine for your strolls. But if you don’t push your pace past 4 mph, finding a shoe that’s specific to walking is a good idea. Walking shoes should be flexible, not rigid, and offer a good amount of stability in your forefoot and heel. Footjoy’s Flex XP won a SELF Sneaker Award thanks to its wide-toe box (a good choice for wide feet) and breathable mesh material. Our reviewer noted that it’s a stylish shoe, but lacks the level of arch support that people with flat feet would look for in a pair of shoes. The Nike Waffle Ones are a good option for moderate arch support that doesn’t feel obtrusive. Hoka and Dansko make walking shoes with inches of cushioning and a bit higher heel drop.
Dansko Women’s Pace Walking Shoe
Best Indoor Cycling Shoes
As a certified indoor cycling instructor of five years, I know a thing or two about the right pair of clip-in shoes. Cycling shoes, which have cleats that attach to the bike pedals, align your hips, knees, and feet to reduce your chance of injury on the bike. This makes your foot’s job a little easier so you can focus on engaging key muscles like your calves, hamstrings, and quads. My personal favorites are TIEM Slipstreams because the sneaker-like sole and recessed cleat mean I can wear them for gym workouts after I teach. Shimano makes a few best-selling cycling shoes that are breathable, cushioned, and durable. If you want a more stylish option, cycling instructors love Nike’s SuperRep cycling shoes, which come in a few fun colors and patterns.
Best Hiking Boots
Hitting the trails? These best-selling hiking boots all have supreme grip for rocky, slippery terrain, plus extra ankle support through higher laces. Some of these pairs also have water-resistant outsoles in case you’re trudging through puddles, ponds, or rain. If you love long-distance treks, opt for a lighter pair like Columbia’s Newton Ridge. “Bigger and heavier doesn’t necessarily mean better if you are out doing more day hiking and fast hikes,” Shanti Hodges, a hiking guide and owner of Wild Utah Tours and founder of Hike it Baby, previously told SELF. Kodiak’s durable yet lightweight boots are excellent for hiking in all kinds of weather, and if you want the feel of a sneaker with the traction of a boot, go for Columbia’s Montrail Trinity trail-running shoe.
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Hiking Boots
Kodiak Kenosee Mid Cut Waterproof Hiking Boot