When Nike designed the Air Trainer 1 in 1987, it also invented the cross-training footwear category.
It was conceived as a general-purpose fitness shoe, as opposed to the sports-specific design approach. Or at least, that was the idea.
The Nike Air Trainer 1 wasn’t a running shoe per se, but they were good enough to run in. It had the agility of a basketball or court shoe, and the heel lift made it suitable for weight training.
Today, the term ‘gym workout’ includes a broad range of fitness activities. It could be anything from traditional weight-lifting sessions to a bout of high-intensity training. Or going to a gym could mean deep stretches, burpees, box jumps, and 30 minutes on the treadmill or Stairmaster.
As you can see, the one-shoe-to-do-it-all approach is a bit dated. The definition of ‘gym workout’ has evolved, and with that, the training shoe design has kept up.
Shoes like the Monarch IV have hues of the original cross-trainer concept, but there are other products with superior functionality and contemporary silhouettes.
So it’s important to choose your gym shoe well. What works for one person may not necessarily be a shoe that’s a good fit for another. Before buying a gym shoe – be it Nike or any other brand – it’s important to consider what kind of training is involved.
We’ve divided this buyer’s guide based on two activity groups.
Shoes for lifting and high-intensity training
Our top pick of this group is the Metcon 7 Flyease.
Strength training and high-intensity fitness program such as CrossFit require a firm and stable midsole, heel lift (higher drop), and a relatively flexible forefoot. A higher heel-to-toe offset – or heel lift – helps maintain a better balance during weight training sessions.
While Nike sells shoes like the Romaleos 4 and Saveleos that are specifically meant for lifting, they are impractical for other activities.
Solereview recommends: The Nike Metcon 7 Flyease
Our choice for the mixed-activity routine is the Metcon 7 Flyease. The Flyease variant has all the features of the standard Metcon 7, but with accessibility-oriented features that make the shoe very easy to wear. Our in-depth review is here.
On the other hand, Nike shoes with the following design features should be avoided:
– Excessively soft and thick midsoles: Do not buy shoes like the ZoomX Invincible Run, as they lack the midsole stability for weight training sessions. An overly high heel stack is also undesirable.
– Running shoes with plated midsoles: Products like the Vaporfly and Alphafly Next% are great for running, but their unstable heel makes them unsuitable for gym use.
– Nike shoes with Max Air bags: Having a large gas-filled chamber under the heel during weighted squats isn’t a good idea at all, as such midsoles lack the necessary levels of support.
We’d also keep running shoes like the Pegasus 38 off the menu. While the Pegasus doesn’t have an excessively soft midsole, it’s not supportive enough for weighted squats or compound exercises like deadlifts. If you want to stick to a running shoe, the Nike Structure 24 fares better due to its more supportive ride.
Shoes for plyometrics, aerobics, treadmill runs
Within this group, Solereview’s recommended shoe is the Nike Flex Control 4. It’s an affordable shoe (MSRP $65) that provides an optimal blend of flexibility, comfort, and support.
Training shoes like the Metcon 7 doesn’t do very well on the treadmill. Sure, you can run in them, but they feel clunky. That’s understandable, considering that aspects like the midsole stability and overall protection are priortized.
Likewise for plyometric activities like jumps, lunges, or aerobics – where a bulky shoe proves to be sub-optimal.
Solereview recommends: The Nike Flex Control 4
Here, we need shoes that are flexible, yet supportive and lightweight. Some ride comfort doesn’t hurt either. For plyos like jumps, lunges, or aerobic activities, a low-profile and flexible midsole helps.
Thus, it only makes sense that we’ve sorted the shoes into two categories.
Recommended Nike products for weight training and high-intensity training
1) Nike Metcon 7 Flyease
We love the Flyease variant of the Metcon 7. It shares the same midsole and outsole as the standard Metcon 7, but is easier to wear – thanks to the hook-and-loop strap and heel clip.
The Metcon 7 is a very different shoe than the Metcon 5 and 6. The more flexible forefoot makes it better for plyometrics than before. The React midsole adds a layer of softness that previously was missing.
The rubber wrap has been reinforced and widened in the midfoot. This update makes a J-hook easier during rope climbs. The Metcon 5 and 6 lacked a midsole, and relied on a dual-density insole with a heel lift. The Metcon 7 got rid of that as well.
The redesigned midsole includes a stiff TPU heel lift under the heel, and a React foam midsole. The grooves under the forefoot make the Metcon 7 more flexible than before; these changes increase the use case versatility.
It’s an excellent shoe for most weight-training sessions, unless we’re talking squats that exceed 140 kilos/300 lbs – in which case it’s going to be safer to train in the Romaleos 4 or Saveleos instead.
Our detailed review will be published soon.
2) Nike MC Trainer
Its $70 retail price and versatile character make the MC Trainer an excellent value proposition.
It strikes a great balance between being a weight trainer and plyometric-friendly shoe. The single-density foam midsole provides a comfortable and relatively flexible ride that works well across a broad spectrum of workouts.
The wide rubber outsole grips very well and creates a stable foundation for lifting sessions. The midfoot wrap is a toned-down version of the Metcon; the wide flanks are compatible with rope climbs.
At the same time, the flex grooves make the MC Trainer a decent treadmill and Plyo shoe. The lacing loops on the comfortable mesh upper help deliver a secure fit during vertical and side-to-side movements.
3) Nike Free Metcon 4
As the name suggests, this Metcon variant draws its design inspiration from the Nike Free. The abundance of deep grooves infuses the Free Metcon 4’s midsole with a lot of forward flexibility versus the standard Metcon.
Lunges and jumps are easier with the flexible forefoot, and the stable heel works for lifting exercises. The heel midsole has a supportive ‘strut’ on the side, and the solid rubber base keeps the foot planted during lifting.
The sock-like upper is cleverly designed. A fixed yet elastic heel band locks the foot in place, and the lacing loops help create a secure fit.
Recommended shoes for plyometrics, aerobics, and treadmill
1) Nike Flex Control 4
The Nike Flex Control 4 has the flexible and nimble ride of a running shoe, and also has the level of support that Plyometric and aerobic gym exercises require. Its low-profile cushioning also works for treadmill use.
The periphery of the outsole is supported by lugged slabs of rubber that grip the floor during vertical and side-to-side movements.
The raised midsole under the heel cups the foot; this makes the Flex Control supportive enough for light weight-training sessions. The foam channel on the outsole also keeps the weight centered for stability.
Even though the upper is made mostly of mesh, the tightly knit texture and layered reinforcement prevents the foot from sliding sideways during shearing movements.
2) Nike City Rep TR
Nike’s training shoe assortment is full of reasonably-priced gems, and the City Rep TR ($65 MSRP) is one of them. If a basic gym sneaker is all that one needs, then the City Rep TR will not disappoint.
A simple mesh upper with supportive overlays holds the foot in place during plyometric or aerobic workouts. Below, a firm midsole made of EVA foam fulfills the basic cushioning needs for jumps and treadmill sessions.
The midsole is generously covered with a rubber outsole for traction and stability on the gym floor.
3) Nike Flex Experience Run 11
Unlike the first two shoes, the Flex Experience Run 11 is not designed as a training shoe.
Having said that, it has many features that make it a plyometric and aerobic-friendly shoe. This is the most flexible and minimal shoe on this guide, and that makes it an excellent choice for box jumps and burpees.
The low-profile midsole allows an efficient power transfer for vertical jumps, and the ultra-flexible forefoot is perfect for burpees. And this being a running shoe, using the Flex Experience as a treadmill shoe is a no-brainer.
It’s worth noting that the Flex Experience 11 is a better shoe for gym use than the last year’s model. That’s because the rearfoot midsole no longer has the deep flex groove, thus increasing the rearfoot stability.
The $65 MSRP doesn’t hurt either.
5) Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 3
The Nike React Infinity Run 3 may be a mediocre running shoe on the roads, but its wide and supportive midsole proves useful inside the gym.
The wide footprint of the React midsole makes the React 3 stable enough for low-intensity lifting sessions, whereas the cushioned ride makes it suitable for brief treadmill runs.
The stiff heel clip also acts as a stabilizer, and the 8 mm heel drop adds forward bias.
The outsole is generously clad with rubber, so the traction is good on rubber mats and other grippy gym surfaces. For whatever it’s worth, the Flyknit upper also keeps the foot secured during workouts.