The path to finding a pair of gym-worthy shoes is fraught with potential compromises. When hitting the gym for weight training, the treadmill usually gets some time as well. So what kind of shoes work best here – should it be 100% running-oriented, or a product that’s designed mostly for training and lifting?
Buying a pure-play training shoe offers a lot of stability, but isn’t necessarily the best choice for treadmill sessions. The Nike Metcon is a good example. Conversely, a soft running shoe offers a higher level of comfort, but lacks the stability that weight-training sessions demand.
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 curated guide is not exhaustive, so this reasoning can be applied to other shoes not mentioned here:
1. The shoe should preferably have a heel-to-toe offset 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 therefore, supportive.
If a shoe is soft, then a higher offset shoe will prove counter-productive during weight training. A higher drop usually translates into more foam under the heel. If the said foam is soft, then the weight loading will induce instability.
The 4 mm+ drop rule is exempted for zero-drop shoes that aren’t too soft.
Take, for example, Vans and Converse Chuck Taylor models with their 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 usage is limited to weight training. That’s why this guide exists.
2. Avoid ‘stability’ shoes with medial posts: Let’s say you’re squatting 200lbs wearing shoes with a medial post. What do you think is going to happen?
Well, the softer part of the midsole will compress whereas the medial post will not. This not only creates instability, but the hardness of the medial post will also be felt underneath. Here, a neutral shoe with a uniform density midsole is a better choice.
3. A firm and stable midsole with a full ground contact outsole: A professional power-lifting shoe is super-firm, exhibits zero midsole bias, and has a full-contact outsole for superior grip and stability. That’s why casual sneakers with those characteristics – like the Converse Chuck Taylor and Vans – 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 more than 110 kg/250 lbs squats or 40 kg/100 lbs (standing) barbell/dumbells curls, then ignore this guide and get a proper (firm) training or lifting shoe instead. At this weight, a stable training shoe offers better safety than a soft running shoe.
In the last edition of this guide, we recommended the New Balance Minimus Trail 10 V1 – a running shoe that was excellent on the treadmill while being flat and stable enough for weighted workouts.
Unfortunately, we no longer see it in New Balance’s assortment. On the bright side, New Balance sells a Minimus series of training shoes. Hence, these low-offset shoes ( 4 mm) continue to be an option. If we had to choose from that assortment, it would be the Minimus Prevail. (AFF LINK NB)
4. A planted forefoot and outsole grip: The shoe should grip well; exercises such as lunges, leg press, or calf raises activate the ball (front) of the foot. The forefoot should be flexible too.
If this article were written five years ago, various Nike Free running shoes would have received a mention. In 2021, suitable Free models no longer exist; the only shoe that comes close is the Flex Experience RN 10. So that’s what we have here.
5. Sufficient cushioning: Ride comfort is desirable for treadmill runs, and that should co-exist with traits mentioned in points #1 to #4.
Without further ado, here’s a list of nine best shoes for gym and weight training – sorted in Solereview’s order of preference.
This list applies only if the gym workout includes running. Else, buying a pair of Vans canvas sneakers is a cost-effective way of meeting most weight-training needs.
1) Mizuno Wave Rider 24
There are no two ways about it – the Wave Rider 24 is softer than the 23 due to its reformulated midsole foam and smaller ‘Wave’ plate.
That being said, the heel still has the rigid Wave plate for rearfoot stability. And like the previous model, the wide forefoot midsole delivers a planted ground feel.
The just-right blend of cushioning and support makes the Wave Rider 24 suitable for weight training and treadmill runs. The comfortable upper breathes well, thus making it suitable for indoor use.
The Inspire 17 (see below) is the next best thing. It is similar to the Rider 24 except for a (more) supportive inner midsole.
2) Mizuno Wave Inspire 17
Except for the slight variance in the Wave plate design, the Inspire 17 is very similar to the Wave Rider. Here, the molded Wave plate is more structured (thus harder) on the medial side.
When compared to the Rider 24, this design tweak is what gives the Inspire its ‘stability’ shoe label. Regardless of its classification, the Inspire 17 works very well as a gym shoe.
The Wave plate, wide forefoot, and the relatively firm midsole with its high heel offset keep the foot supported during workouts. There’s sufficient cushioning comfort for treadmill runs as well.
The Inspire 17 now has a gusset holding the tongue in place, a feature that helps secure the midfoot fit.
3) Saucony Guide 14
Some readers may want to know – why the Saucony Guide 14 instead of the Ride 14? And doesn’t the Guide have a medial post?
Well, it used to have a medial post, but not any longer. There’s a tiny plastic stabilizer affixed to the inner midsole, and that’s about it.
The midsole is cushioned yet firmer than the Ride 14. Under the midfoot, the plastic stabilizer layers above the outsole so the shoe feels very supportive during the transitions.
Thus, the Guide 14 is truly a supportive shoe that also happens to possess ample cushioning. This sweet spot of ride comfort and stability combines the best of two desirable attributes. The cushioning adds comfort to the treadmill runs, and the ride firmness is a good fit for weight-loaded workouts.
The snug upper is comfortable and secure, and also sells in an optional wide.
4) Nike Flex Experience Run 10
In the absence of suitable Nike Free models, the Flex Experience 10 is the next best thing.
Last year, Nike went back to the drawing board for the 9th version of Flex Experience. The V10 is near-identical, both from an upper and sole viewpoint. The upper design is basic, yet fits smooth and secure. In the back, the collapsible heel is gentle on the Achilles.
The midsole has deep, side-to-side flex grooves that are inspired by the original Nike Free. The midsole isn’t very soft, so there’s adequate stability for weight training. The flexible nature of the midsole design is useful for treadmill runs, lunges, and box jumps.
By the way, this entry-level lightweight trainer is also an excellent travel shoe.
5) Saucony Kinvara 12
The Kinvara did not show up on the last edition of this write-up, but it does here. That’s because Saucony’s popular low-profile trainer receives a slew of updates. The new changes make the Kinvara 12 a better gym-going shoe than the 10 and 11.
And what, exactly, may those changes be?
The Kinvara 12 has a flared midsole, so there’s a high level of stability under the heel and forefoot. The cushioning isn’t lacking either; along with a ‘Topsole’, the midsole packs ample cushioning for runs.
This blend of cushioning and stability makes the Kinvara an excellent pick for weight training and treadmill runs alike. Though the outsole is (still) mostly foam, the better-defined outsole texture improves the grip.
The upper is lightweight and breezy for indoor comfort, while the seamless and sleeved interior makes the fit smooth and secure.
6) Mizuno Wave Shadow 3
The design of the Wave Shadow 3 makes it an excellent shoe for indoor gyms. More so when the 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 treadmill runs.
The breathable and narrow upper locks the foot in place during workouts.
7) Asics Kayano Lite
This shoe may be named after the medially posted Kayano, yet the two shoes are nothing alike.
The Kayano Lite’s midsole lacks the traditional Asics paraphernalia like a medial post, visible Gel pads, or plastic midfoot shank. In their place is a single-density midsole with a wide and supportive base.
The K-Lite is plenty comfortable too. The resilient Flytefoam midsole combines treadmill-friendly cushioning with a ride that’s supportive enough for gym workouts.
The upper is typical Asics – very plush and smooth on the inside.
8) Nike Zoom Structure 23
A firmer medial post is no longer a part of the Nike Structure’s design, so this shoe is more gym-friendly than the 22.
Like the Asics Kayano Lite, the rearfoot is where plenty of cushioning and stability co-exist. The foot sits cupped by the midsole rather than atop it; this arrangement gives the shoe adequate support during weight training sessions.
A compressed Zoom Air bag under the forefoot makes treadmill running enjoyable and efficient. The outsole geometry also helps with the overall stability and traction.
Bringing everything together is a fully-sleeved upper with a very plush tongue and heel; a strap-based midfoot lacing system locks the foot down during workouts.
9) Brooks Glycerin GTS 19
Now wait a minute – where did the Glycerin GTS come from? And where is the Transcend 7?
The GTS (Go To Shoe) variant of the Glycerin 19 replaces the Transcend. And if you don’t know what the Transcend is, here’s a quick primer.
Brooks’ unconventional stability shoe – the Transcend V1 – was ahead of its time in 2014. Instead of relying on a firmer medial post, the Transcend used elevated sidewalls (Guiderails) as a means to deliver ride stability.
That approach worked back then, and it works now on the Glycerin GTS. The cushioning is plentiful in the high-volume midsole. At the same time, the raised ‘Guiderails’ and medium-soft ride keeps the foot supported.
In 2021, nearly all ‘stability’ shoes from Brooks feature the Guiderail, be it the Adrenaline GTS 21 or Launch 8 GTS. It’s now the Glycerin’s turn to get the Guiderails, and the result is a cushioned shoe that works for the gym environment.
The outsole footprint provides plenty of ground contact and traction, and that works very well on the gym floor and treadmill.