Best Shoes For Men and Women
If you’ve never bought a dedicated CrossFit shoe before, the number of options can be absolutely overwhelming.
Luckily, finding the right shoes for your feet is a simple matter of evaluating 5 basic characteristics of a good CrossFit shoe: support, breathability, durability, weight and heel-to-toe drop. In case you’re new to this, I’ll break down what makes each factor so important…if not, feel free to skip on down, there’s plenty of information here for veteran Crossfitters as well.
First, let me get one common misconception out of the way, regardless of if you are a man or woman buying shoes the same basic models apply. Fortunately, manufactures create male and female versions of the shoes to accommodate the differences in feet structure.
Support is important because so many of the most popular models are designed to mimic the experience of being barefoot as closely as possible (in fact, some people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, the patron saint of fitness, are famous for working out with nothing on their feet but calluses). As a result, many shoes have little or no support, instead functioning more as protection. If you are just starting out or have special foot concerns like fallen arches or chronic ankle issues, you’ll want a shoe with a lot more support than some of the most minimalistic models on the market.
Breathability can be surprisingly important. If you’re the type whose feet sweat a lot (no shame in it, I go through plenty of socks myself), the sweat eventually has nowhere to go but the fabric of your shoes. You know what shoes with poor breathability do when they’re repeatedly soaked in sweat? They stink. A lot. Even if you’re the one guy at every gym who doesn’t really give a damn how he smells, your shoes will also become slippery as sweat builds up inside your shoe during a workout and they also get heavier over time as they continue to absorb stale sweat, so I hope those two factors are enough to at least get you to consider the breathability of your shoe.
Obviously, you should expect any shoe you wear for CrossFit to take just as much of a beating as you, and that’s where durability comes in. Many people make the mistake of thinking a more expensive shoe automatically means a more durable shoe, but I’m here to let you know they’ll sell a piece of junk for as much as someone will buy it for. One particular model in my store with a price tag of $150 comes to mind…admittedly it looks really cool, but only for about 3 or 4 months. The extreme and diverse performance demands of a CrossFit workout will destroy anything not built for the struggle, and although nobody’s shoes last forever, you should get 6 months of use out of your shoes at the very least.
If you’ve ever lifted your feet off the ground, you understand why the weight of your shoes matters…but let’s assume you’re rising from the couch for the first time in a decade after a really intense Netflix marathon. Fine. CrossFit, like most athletic pursuits, requires powerful, explosive movements, and a heavy pair of kicks is just going to slow your down. Of course, lighter weight also typically means less support, so it’s always important to balance out the trade-off.
One of the most important aspects of selecting the right CrossFit footwear is the offset or heel to toe drop, which refers to the vertical distance between the bottom of your heel and the forefoot. This is important because the core of CrossFit is Olympic-style lifts, which require flexibility to perform without ending up in a medical facility. Your calf and ankle have a lot to do with this, as they allow you to properly settle into a squat. Many beginners lack this flexibility, and so they choose shoes with higher offsets to elevate the heel and help compensate for their limited range of motion. Now that you know what you’re looking for, we can examine the best type of shoe based on your experience level and preference.
Scroll down for Intermediate and Advanced
One of the most common questions I get down at the store is the best shoe for beginners to CrossFit. My answer is the same every time: the closest thing to what you already wear. I assume you read my story in the About section (check it out if not), so I can’t endorse just going into the box with just anything on, but overall the closer you stay to what you’re comfortable with in the beginning while still getting a viable pair, the better.
A common question I get from people interested in CrossFit is if there’s a difference between mens’ and womens’ shoes of the same shoe besides sizing. What can I say, some of the ladies’ models come in really funky color schemes that appeal to the fashion-conscious male and not every woman wants to wear a technicolor dreamfoot, so many customers ask me about shoes marketed toward the opposite sex, or if there is a different best shoe for men and women.
I can see how people would look at the similar outsides of a given shoe in mens’ and womens’ models and think they’re pretty much interchangeable, but shoe manufacturers pay special attention to the common anatomical differences in the foot of a man or woman like foot contour and arch length and engineer their shoes to compensate for these differences, so if you’re wondering about the best model for either, it’s probably the same shoe.
Overall: Nike Free 5.0
The Nike Free series makes a good starter shoe because it does a good job of combining a traditional athletic with a CrossFit feel. They do have an elevated heel and aren’t specifically built for CrossFit so durability may eventually become an issue if you love rope climbs, but for a person just starting out, a pair of Nike Free shoes can give you a taste of the CrossFit experience while giving you time to acquire it.
Versatility: Puma BioWeb Elite
The BioWeb Elite is built as a jack of all trades, intended for athletes who want to combine endurnace training with a CrossFit routine and wear one shoe for both. It provides the support and balance beginners will be comfortable with while starting out lifting and training as well as an outsole built for road running. It’s almost like two shoes in one. You won’t be climbing too many ropes in these, but then again you won’t be climbing too many as a newbie anyway.
Value: Yourself, Please
At least in the beginning, choosing a pair of CrossFit sneakers based on price is a risky decision at best. Expensive is not necessarily better. That said, would you rather spend the extra $50 or hobble around on crutches for a month? There will be plenty of time to pinch pennies when you’ve figured out what your foot will tolerate, for now the best value is to buy the right pair of shoes the first time.
Overall: Reebok U-Form CrossFit
These customizable shoes are the closest an average Joe can get to having a pair of shoes specifically built for your feet. Remember those boil-and-bite mouthguards from pee-wee everything? These work under the same principle. You just stick these in the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes and heat them until the little tab turns red, then take them out, lace them up, and take a seat as they mold themselves to your foot in about 8 minutes. People at my gym swear by these, and I can really see the appeal. They’re light at 13.4 ounces, you won’t find a better fit and they also look pretty cool. The price tag scares some off, but having shoes guaranteed to keep you in comfort through a WOD is a good investment from where I’m sitting.
Versatility :Reebok Nano
The Reebok Nano 4.0 is in the same vein as the Nike Free line, but with a little less cushioning for stability during lifts. They’re much more engineered toward CrossFit than the Free with more rugged materials and a spacious toe box to allow your toes to separate naturally when force is applied to your feet. You’ll see these a lot in gyms for a simple reason: they’re a quality option. From burpees to rope climbs, they do it all. I own a pair myself.
Value: New Balance Minimus
The New Balance Minimus is a lot of people’s first “real” CrossFit shoe. It’s light as a feather and has a 4mm heel to toe drop, so every lift in the box will be rock solid. It’s also well under $100 at most retailers, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt its popularity. The…um…minimalistic design of the Minimus doesn’t provide as much as a novice is used to in the way of support, but those who have been in the CrossFit game for a few months and want to take the next step often do so in a pair of these.
Overall: Vibram Five Fingers
CrossFit veterans know that the closer a shoe is to not wearing a shoe, the better it is for most WODs. Vibram toe shoes are as close as it gets. If you’ve ever run cross-country or taken part in one of those mud runs that seem to be all the rage now, you’ve seen these plenty. They have next to no support and are really just to keep the world from puncturing your feet, but they offer unrivaled stability and grounfd feel during the most intense lifting sessions. I’ve tried these on and could see where they’d be great mid-workout, but the fit was just a bit of culture shock for me. Your mileage may vary.
Versatility: Inov-8 Bare XF-210
Some vets prefet to wear multiple pairs of shoes tailored to each workout type: one shoe for running, one shoe for lifting, one shoe for movement…it’s a bit much for me, but I understand if you don’t want to do everything in a synthetic version of your own foot. The Inov-8 provides a great overall shoe for those who prefer a more traditional fit for their CrossFit footwear. Designed specifically for CrossFit, it has a low profile with just enough cushioning to run without eventually crying. I’ve seen folks in the gym wear the same pair of these for over a year…when my Nanos finally quit on me, I’ll definitely consider these.
That’s right. The original signature shoe, the All-Stars themselves, have a big cult following in the CrossFit community. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Light, breathable canvas. All the stability of the foundation of the gym they’re used in.
As the NBA eventually found out, they don’t support too much of anything, but for someone who has experience with CrossFit, I have to tell you these make a pretty strong choice. Once, when I had to choose between a pair of new CrossFit sneakers and the rent, I chose both in the form of Chucks. They did me just fine for the next two months of training. I prefer a bit more cushioning, but it’s surprising how well the shoe works today for a shoe designed for the Depression.
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