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 tow 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—and upgrade your workout.
Below, we’ve included vetted sneaks for all kinds of cardio activities, from heavy lifting to leisurely strolls, plus what to look for when you’re shopping for workout shoes. All of the sneakers we included meet our SELF Sneaker Awards criteria, come recommended by experts, or are highly-reviewed bestsellers from brands we trust like Nike, Reebok, 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 kinds of high-impact workouts call for shoes with cushioning and shock absorption. You’ll want a lightweight shoe that feels like a second skin. Nike Free sneakers are bestsellers for their sock-like fit, and the ZoomX Superrep are extra foamy with reinforcement in the arches. All 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 moves.
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 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, cloud-like run, On Running’s Cloud 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, or completely flat (like weightlifting shoes). Our reviewers loved Asics for arch support and for beginner runners. For trail running shoes, Altra’s Lone Peak sneaker, which has zero drop and plenty of grip, wowed our 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 midsole strap, like Inov-8’s Fastlift or Under Armour’s Project Rock BSR 2, which minimizes foot-shifting mid-rep.
Best Walking Shoes
Your daily hot girl walk could probably use even better sneakers. 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 4MPH, 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. Ryka’s Journey sneaker won a SELF Sneaker Award thanks to the wide toe box (a good choice for wide feet) and unobtrusive arch support—the latter of which is especially important for folks with flat feet. Our reviewers said they felt like an “extension of their foot.” Reebok’s laceless DailyFit DMXs also won an award for their combination of serious cushion and arch support. Hoka and Dansko make walking shoes with inches of cushioning and a bit higher of a heel drop.
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 bestselling 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 bestselling hiking boots all have supreme grip for rocky, slippery terrain, plus extra ankle support through higher laces. Each of these pairs also has water-resistant outsoles in case you’re hiking through puddles or ponds. If you love long-distance treks, opt for a lighter pair like Columbia’s Newton Ridge or Hoka’s One One Sky Toa. “Bigger and heavier doesn’t necessarily mean better if you are out doing more day hiking and fast hikes,” Shanti Hodges, hike guide and owner of Wild Utah Tours and founder of Hike it Baby previously told SELF. Merrell’s boots are excellent for winter hikes (or colder climates) because of their warmth and durability.