Getting a pair of new gym shoes is the classic purchase dilemma. If you’re hitting the gym for weight training, you spend some time on the treadmill too. So what kind of shoe do you buy – one that is running oriented or a shoe designed specifically for training and lifting?
Buying a pure-play training shoe offers all the stability you need but could be clunky during runs. Conversely, a soft running shoe has greater comfort but lacks the level of support required for weight training sessions.
There is always a middle ground for everything, and that’s what this guide is about. We’ll help you find a shoe that delivers all-around performance inside the gym.
Our selection criteria apply to the shoes on the list in varying degrees. Our list is not exhaustive so you can also apply it to other shoes not mentioned here:
1. The shoe should preferably have a heel drop of 4 mm or higher: The higher the drop/lift (10-12 mm), the better it is – but only if the running shoe in question is firm and stable.
If a shoe is soft, then a higher drop shoe will prove counter-productive during weight-training. A higher drop usually translates into more foam underneath the heel. If the said foam is soft, then loading weight on top will make the shoe unstable.
The 4 mm+ drop rule is exempted for zero-drop shoes that do not compress a lot.
For example, Vans and Converse Chuck Taylor have 0 mm offsets. Yet, they’re ideal weight-training sneakers because their soles and sidewalls are made of solid rubber. The same goes for stable sneakers (with a slight drop) like adidas Superstars and Nike Dunks. But then, Vans and Chucks aren’t running shoes so their use-case is limited to weight training. Hence this guide.
2. Do not buy ‘stability’ shoes with medial posts: Let’s say you’re squatting 200lbs on a Smith machine wearing shoes with a medial post. What do you think is going to happen?
Well, the softer part of the midsole will compress while the medial post will not. This not only creates instability, but the hardness of the medial post will also be felt underneath. You’re better off in a neutral shoe.
3. A firm and stable midsole with a full ground contact outsole: Have you seen a professional powerlifting shoe? It is super-firm with zero roll and a full-contact outsole for excellent grip and stability. This is the reason why casual sneakers like the Chuck Taylor, Vans, and cup-sole sneakers are near-perfect for the gym.
For the same reasons, shoes with a heel Air Bag (Nike) or adidas Boost are excluded. Besides, treadmill runs require a firmer shoe than road running.
If you’re lifting 110 kg/250 lbs+ squats or 40 kg/100 lbs (standing) barbell/dumbells curls, then disregard this guide and get a proper (firm) training or lifting shoe instead. At this weight, you wish you had something more stable than a soft running shoe. We have reviewed the Nike Metcon 5 and the Reebok Nano 9 – both are serious cross-training shoes.
4. A planted forefoot and outsole grip: The shoe should grip well; exercises such as lunges, leg press, or calf raises require you to be on the ball of your foot. The forefoot should be flexible too.
5. Sufficient cushioning: This is required for treadmill running, all while considering points #1 to #4.
Without further ado, here’s a list of nine best shoes for gym and weight training – in solereview’s order of preference. This list only applies to you if you’re incorporating running into your fitness regime. Else, buying a pair of Vans canvas sneakers is a cost-effective way of meeting all your gym and weight-training needs.
1) New Balance Minimus Trail 10 V1
The Minimus 10 is sold as a trail shoe, so what is it even doing here on this guide? We see the 10v1 as an excellent gym shoe, and here’re some of the reasons.
The low-slung, 4 mm drop midsole is cushioned enough for short treadmill runs but has the stability and ground feedback that you require for gyms. The Vibram outsole has a great grip over synthetic surfaces.
Upper design features like the over-the-forefoot band, the protective toe bumper, and strap based lacing help protect and lock the foot down during workouts.
If solereview had to pick just one shoe out of this guide, the Minimus 10V1 would be it.
Also see: The New Balance Minimus Prevail if you need more shoe than the Minimus 10V1. This is a new cross-training shoe with a firm/flat bottom and a 4 mm drop.
2) Mizuno Wave Rider 23
We’re glad that Mizuno hasn’t tinkered with the Wave plate for the Rider 23. Just like the 22, the midsole has an excellent blend of stability and cushioning. The wide forefoot flare and the plastic Wave plate makes the shoe supportive. Above it, the layered upper is protective and spacious.
The Inspire 16 (see below) is the closest thing to the Rider. It is similar to the Rider 23 except for a more supportive inner midsole.
3) Mizuno Wave Inspire 16
Except for the slight variance in the Wave plate, the Inspire 16 is very similar to the Wave Rider 23. Here, the molded Wave plate is harder on the inside. This difference is what gives the Inspire its ‘stability’ shoe label. Regardless of its classification, the Inspire 16 works well as a gym shoe.
The Wave plate, the wide forefoot, and the relatively firm midsole with its high heel drop keeps the foot planted during workouts.
4) Mizuno Wave Shadow 3
The design of the Wave Shadow 3 makes it an excellent shoe for indoor gyms. More so when your workouts consist of more running and less weight-training.
The low-profile midsole and ultra-grippy outsole provide lots of stability during isotonic or isometric exercises. Since it’s purposely designed for road-racing, the Shadow V3 is perfect for fast-paced gym runs.
The smooth and snug-fitting upper locks the foot in place during workouts.
5) Nike Flex RN 2019
The Nike Free concept – which the Nike Flex RN is based on – has always been a great shoe for the gym environment. The flexible and supportive midsole is suitable for weight training; the ride is cushioned enough for the treadmill.
If your exercise routine involves calisthenics then the flexible midsole becomes useful. We preferred the (discontinued) Free RN 2018 but the Nike Flex RN 2019 is the next best thing.
Even though the Flex RN has a bootie construction, the lacing is fully functional. The lace eyelets are mounted over fused midfoot panels for an effective cinch, and the last lacing row is connected to an over-the-heel strap to help lock the heel in.
6) Nike Flex Experience Run 9
Nike went back to the drawing board for the ninth version of the Flex Experience. The upper reverts to a simpler design and fits better; the collapsible heel is gentle on the Achilles.
The midsole is reworked with classic side-to-side flex grooves that is inspired by the original Nike Free. The midsole isn’t very soft, so there’s adequate stability for weight training. At the same time, the flexible running shoe design comes in useful for treadmill runs and lunges.
This entry-level lightweight trainer is also a great travel shoe.
7) Asics Dynaflyte 4
The Dynaflyte has been one of Asics’s lesser-known but competent running shoes. The latest (and 4th) incarnation of the Dynaflyte introduces a softer and better-fitting upper over a lightweight Flytefoam midsole that is carried over from the V3.
The Flytefoam midsole has sufficient cushioning for treadmills runs while being firm and supportive enough for weight training.
8) Brooks Ghost 12
The Brooks Ghost 12 continues to be our cushioned shoe pick for gym use; the 2019-20 model uses a new midsole that rides similar to the 11. The midsole has a thick stack of foam that is supportive enough as long as you aren’t loading it with excess weight.
Buy the Ghost if you want a little more shoe while steering clear of the marshmallowy cushioning territory. If you want something firmer in this class, get the Adrenaline GTS 20 or the Brooks Launch 7.
9) Brooks Transcend 7
Cushioning and support – is it possible for a shoe to have both? If the question is directed at the Brooks Transcend, then the answer is a yes.
Brooks’ unconventional stability shoe was ahead of its time in 2014. Instead of using a firmer medial post, the Transcend uses elevated sidewalls (Guiderails) as a means to deliver ride stability.
That approach worked back then, and it works now. The cushioning is plentiful in the high-volume midsole. At the same time, the raised ‘Guiderails’ and the medium-soft ride keep things supportive under the foot.
And unlike most running shoes, the outsole has a very wide footprint. All these factors combine to make the Transcend 7 useful in the gym.
Also see: The Brooks Beast 20.