What Kind of Shoes Should You Wear to the Gym?

Gym day in the Nike Free TR8 cross-training shoe 👯

Gym day in the Nike Free TR8 cross-training shoe 👯

There are so many types of gym shoes out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’ve ever logged miles on the treadmill and been in pain or developed shin splints, you might’ve wondered whether your shoes were cut out for the job. Or maybe you want a cute new pair of sneakers that works well in the gym too.

Certain shoes are definitely better than others for different types of exercise like lifting, plyometrics, and machine cardio. Specifically, there are three main types of shoes gym-goers should be aware of and consider wearing accordingly.

If new shoes aren’t in the budget right now, no worries. You should still be able to learn tips here that’ll help you in the gym (including applying the shoes you already have to specific activities) and better prepare you for a future purchase.

So here are the three kinds of shoes:

  1. Cross-training shoes

  2. Lifting shoes

  3. Running shoes

Let’s get into the specifics! (P.S. – this is not a sponsored post, I’m just a fan.)

#1: Cross-training shoes

Used for: lifting weights, all cardio besides distance running

Characteristics: mostly flat sole but cushioned

Doing shoulder presses in Nike Metcon cross-training shoes.

Doing shoulder presses in Nike Metcon cross-training shoes.

Cross-training shoes are great for pretty much anything you’ll do in the gym besides treadmill running because they’re flat enough for your feet to properly grip the ground while strength training but cushioned enough that when you land on them, they’re forgiving on your joints. You can lace up cross-training shoes to lift weights, do a bootcamp, hop on the elliptical, do circuits, use the StepMill, do HIIT, go to CrossFit class, or do plyometrics.

If you’re on a budget and want a new pair of gym shoes – and don’t mind skipping treadmill running – these will cover most of your bases.

My top picks for cross-training shoes: Nike Metcon, Nike Free TR8, Reebok Nano

#2: Lifting shoes

Used for: lifting weights

Characteristics: flat with very little cushioning

Wearing Vans for an all lifting workout day.

When you’re lifting weights, especially heavy ones, you want your feet to be able to grip the ground – meaning you should be pushing your big toes into the ground and pressing your pinky toes down to stabilize. That’s only possible to do in shoes that are relatively flat and don’t have much cushioning.

For gym days when you’re lifting only, you could head to the gym in flat shoes like Converse or Vans. If you don’t have flat sneakers and don’t want to buy them, you could take your shoes off and wear socks only for some of your lifts. That’s what I do, because it gives you the ultimate grip.

You definitely don’t, however, want to spend an extended span of time lifting in running shoes. They’re fine to use to get started with strength training but long term, they aren’t the best for stability and alignment.

My top picks for lifting shoes: Converse, Vans

#3: Running shoes

Used for: treadmill running

Characteristics: light, minimal heel height, some cushioning, wide toe area (enough to wiggle your toes), neutral (meaning no stability or control mechanisms that change how your foot moves)

Running for distance is a different beast because you’ve got to take into consideration what kind of shoes promote a healthy gait and allow your foot to move in a natural way. When you’re distance running, you definitely want specific running shoes rather than cross-training or lifting ones.

There’s a lot of info out there about the best types of shoes for running, but recent research shows that the best running shoes have the five qualities listed above [1].

If you’re really serious about running and logging more than a few miles at a time, head to a running shop to get specialized shoe advice.

Otherwise, here’s my top pick for running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33

Have any questions about gym shoes? Leave a comment below!


  1. Recent research shows that the best running shoes are light and neutral with minimal heel height, some cushioning, and a wide toe area: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2015/09000/Five_Key_Characteristics_to_Consider_when.8.aspx