Finding the right pair of training shoes is absolutely critical for any exercise, and sourcing the best shoes for CrossFit is no different. In fact, your shoes might just be the most important addition to your gear for CrossFit. Fitting your best shoes for CrossFit depends on a variety of factors – your individual body size and shape, the types of activities and your level of exercise intensity are just a few things to think about when looking for the best shoes for CrossFit. So, what is a good CrossFit shoe?
In this article we’re starting off with a bit of background, surveying the critical features any training footwear suitable for CrossFit should have. Then we’ll move onto a review of shoes for CrossFit, looking at the top five sneakers for CrossFit for 2013 to help you find the shoe that fits you best to help you get the most out of your workout with the maximum amount of comfort and safety.
How to Choose the Best Shoes for CrossFit
CrossFit is a unique sport in that it involves a range of activities. Runners have specific demands from their shoes for their singular activity, so too do tennis players and other dedicated sports. A CrossFitter however is doing all sorts of different activities involving running, lifting, jumping, skipping, climbing, pushing, pulling – all with a lot of downward pressure through the feet. As such, the perfect pair of shoes for CrossFit will be something that can perform across a variety of activities. You’ll need a shoe stable enough for weightlifting, but you’ll also need a shoe light and flexible enough for sprints or plyo box jumps, burpees or any other WOD actions that need a swift bit of explosive footwork. A versatile shoe for CrossFit might be a tricky find and some CrossFitters do prefer to work with a couple of different pairs of shoes on the go for whatever WOD they’re doing that day.
Like every other type of training shoes, shoes for CrossFit will come in all shapes and styles and your best choice will depend on your own body and your CrossFit training needs. There’s generally not going to be a lot of difference between the best women’s shoes for CrossFit and the best men’s shoes for CrossFit besides the colors and designs between styles, and some brands, the Innov8s for example, even come in unisex sizing. For both men and women’s shoes, there are four essential features to consider when looking for the best shoes for CrossFit – weight, flexibility, durability and the heel to toe drop.
CrossFit involves a lot of quick movement in running and jumping, so the last thing you’ll need for your WOD will be a heavy shoe. Can you imagine doing a box jump with a shoe that fits like a lead weight putting you off your game? The best shoes for your CrossFit workout will be lightweight with maximum breathability to ensure your feet aren’t weighed down and they stay cool.
The Reebok Nano 2.0 is a perfect hybrid CrossFit shoe with its lightweight and breathable fabric. Click on the picture to find out more.
CrossFitters also require a great deal of flexibility in their shoe to achieve maximum foot mobility. In the same way that a heavy shoe impedes your movement and reduces your training effectiveness, so too does an inflexible shoe.
The Nike Free 3 is one of the most flexible shoes on the market, good for a range of CrossFit workouts. Shown here is the Team Red and Pure Platinum design. Click on the picture to find out more.
While good shoes for CrossFit need to be light and airy with a flexible range of motion, any CrossFit athlete will tell you, you’re also going to need a quality shoe that can take a serious pounding and still go the distance, so durability is also really important. A training shoe that balances durability with a lightweight and flexible construction can be a tricky equation, but the Reebok Nano 2.0 has done it, featuring a carbon rubber sole. Shown here is the Women’s Blue and Red Nano 2.0. Click on the picture to find out more.
Heel to Toe Drop
Shoes for CrossFit are most effective and most safe with the smallest heel to toe drop, also called the heel to toe offset or differential. This refers to the difference between your heel height and your forefoot height, and for CrossFit, a shoe with a zero or close to zero heel to toe drop – as close as you can get to being in bare feet – is your best choice. If your foot is sitting firmly in your shoe and your heel and the ball of your forefoot is the same height off the ground, then your shoe has a zero drop. The lower your heel to toe differential, the easier it is to land on your midfoot which means your step is firm and stable and you’re minimising your risk of ankle, knee, foot and back injuries.
For this reason, the barefoot shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers have been popular with some CrossFitters. While the Vibrams do have zero heel to toe drop and offer all the flexibility you’ll need, a lot of athletes do prefer a shoe for CrossFit that has a bit more padding on the sole and more sturdy across the top of the foot. And let’s face it, some people just don’t like the curious look of the Five Fingers.
The Inov8 F-Lite 195 is a brilliant alternative to the Vibram barefoot shoe with the same lightweight and flexible benefits. Shown here is the unisex grey/blue/yellow design. The Merrell Hammer glove with a zero differentiation and good durability is also a great alternative to the Vibram Five Fingers.
Any minimal natural movement shoe you use, you’ll probably need to take time to get used to it as you’ll be using different muscles in the foot, especially if you’re making the transition from heavier or bulkier traditional training shoes.
The Best Shoes for Cross Fit – The Top 5 Shoes for 2013 Reviewed
The Reebok CrossFit Nano 2.0 are one of the most popular training shoes among CrossFitters. The Nano 2.0 are the new generation of Reebok CrossFit shoes and offer everything you need in a pair of good all round shoes for CrossFit, perfect for running, squats, lifting, jumping, climbing and anything else you’ll come up against in your WOD.
Reebok Nano 2.0 are built with an athletic mesh covering most of the forefoot area providing great breathability to help keep your feet cool and dry. They’re lined with an Orthalite sock liner for a really natural feel which means you don’t lose any natural foot action responsiveness so the Nano comes really close to a barefoot feel while still giving you a good amount of cushioning. The carbon rubber outsole is really durable, able to withstand just about everything you can throw at it while still being a super lightweight shoe.
The Reebok Nano 2.0 has a 4mm heel to toe drop offering a good neutral and natural movement while still providing an effective stability for safe, quick and comfortable movement. The sole also offers enough firmness to really help to drive your heels down for maximum lift stability and power.
CrossFitters whose focus stays mainly on pure weightlifting often stick with the Nano’s cousin, the Reebok Lifter (which used to be called the Reebok Oly CrossFit shoe). While the Reebok Lifters are still a great shoe for weightlifting and squats, they’re a touch heavier and don’t have the flexibility and breathability of the Nano 2.0 making the Nano the better all round shoe for hybrid CrossFit training.
Reebok CrossFit Nano 2.0 shoes come in a range of colors and designs in both men’s and women’s styles. Reebok also offers a custom design service (click this link for more details). Shown here are the men’s green “Charged” and women’s pink. The Nano do run a touch to the narrow size, so a lot of CrossFitters do well with ordering half a size up from their usual sneaker size to compensate for the tight fit.
The Reebok Nano 2.0 are currently available from $109.99.
Pros – Good all rounder suits a wide range of activities.
Cons – sizing can be too narrow
New Balance make some of the best general fitness shoes in the industry and the New Balance shoes for CrossFit are no exception. The New Balance Minimus X20 are a good and reliable pair of cross training shoes perfect for CrossFitters looking for a shoe to suit a variety of activities.
The mesh covering a lot of area over the top of the shoe gives the X20s a good level of breathability. The Minimus X20s are designed closely following the New Balance running line so the shoe weight is good and light, perfect for quick sprints as well as jumping. The shoe’s upper construction is flexible but it is still a bit stiffer than other shoes suitable for CrossFit.
The New Balance X20 has a decent rubber sole with excellent grip. The toe to heel drop is 4mm, same as the Reebok Nanos, which is generally good for achieving safe stability during squats and lifting, and hitting the midfoot strike in your stride. The sole is a touch softer than some other training shoes so if you’re looking for something to suit really heavy lifting, you might be better to keep your sights on the Reeboks. The softer rubber can also be a durability issue during rope climbs and other workouts that involve a lot of abrasive pressure on the feet.
New Balance Minimum x20s, like all New Balance footwear, comes in a range of sizes that tailor not only to foot length but also variable width, so athletes with a wider foot who often have trouble with width in other brands, will do well to check out the X20 range.
The New Balance Minimus come in the WX20 for women and the MX20 for men, and both men’s and women’s shoes offer the same weight, flexibility and durability features. Both are available in a range of colors and designs. Shown here are the Kinetic Blue in the men’s and purple in the women’s styles.
At the time of writing, Amazon has sales on select options of the New Balance Mx20 starting at around $35. Typically, the NB MX20s will sell from around $95 to $110 making these some of the cheapest shoes for CrossFit available.
Pros – wide sizing options, excellent breathability
Cons – not as flexible as some other shoes and rubber sole not as durable as other brands
The best Innov8 shoes for CrossFit are the F-Lite 195s. Innov8 F Lite 195 is one of the lightest shoes on the market and it’s a good alternative for any athlete looking for the comfort and light flexibility of the minimal Vibram Five Fingers while still getting a bit more support and foot protection from a more traditional shoe.
The shoe has a mesh upper, making it a super lightweight and flexible shoe as well as offering unsurpassed breathability. The Innov8 has a fully lined and lightly cushioned sock for added comfort as well as ensuring it fits snug as a slipper. The advanced lacing system also ensures a snug fit cradling the midfoot behind the base of the toes.
With its light and flexible design the Innov8 F-Lite 195 is perfect for CrossFitters with more of a running focus in their training, but it’s also good for the explosive plyometrics. The natural barefoot design also makes it a good choice for lifters looking to stabilise their feet and perfect their form without a lot of excess padding on moves like the power clean, squats, deadlifts and kettlebell swings, where there’s a lot of pressure going through the feet and careful form is important. This shoe has a 3mm toe to heel drop giving it that slight edge over the Reebok Nano or the NB Minimus in terms of the evenness of the sole.
Innov8 uses unisex sizing so do be careful when sizing up your feet. On average, women will tend to go down around two sizes from their regular shoe size number.
The Innov8 F-Lite 195 is currently available from around $95 to $170 with the lower price available on certain designs only.
Pros – extreme lightweight flexibility for a close to barefoot experience while maintaining cushioning and stability.
Cons – unisex sizing can be hard to fit, especially for women.
The Nike Free is another good option for an all round pair of shoes for CrossFit, suitable for everything from sprints to lifts and everything in between your WOD can throw at them. There are currently three grades of Nike Free shoes – 3, 4 and 5.
With a large area of mesh covering, Nike Free 3 is the lightest and most flexible shoe in the Nike Free range and is the closest thing Nike offers to a true barefoot running experience. The shoe has a 4mm offset.
The Nike Free 4 has slightly more cushioning and less mesh covering than the 3 but is still lightweight and flexible, but again, not quite so flexible as the 3. The sole has a 6mm offset.
The Nike Free 5 is the least flexible in the Free range but still a lightweight and considerably flexible shoe. The 5 has an 8mm offset so it’s not going to be a good option for CrossFitters looking for a more neutral sole differentiation but it is a good choice if you’re building up your foot resistance and working your way up to a natural barefoot workout experience.
Nike Free 5 is quite supportive with an arc of cables wrapping the midfoot and arch from underneath the foot to ensure a close and stable fit that is still adaptive to your stride.
All shoes in the Nike Free range are fitted with sock linings that mould to the foot’s natural shape to ensure the best fit and maximum comfort. All the Nike Frees are also built with abrasion resistant rubber for excellent durability and also feature a grooved outsole with deep contours along the length and width of the midsole so the shoe moves with your natural movement rather than trying to resist it.
The Nike Free range for both men’s and women’s shoes come in a huge range of colors and designs.
Sizing on the Nike Frees in all ranges to tend to run toward the narrow so check the size charts before ordering as you may need to order a size down.
The Nike Free range sell from around $90 up to around $180 depending on your style and design choices.
Pros – a range of flexibility and toe to heel drop ratios makes the Nike Free perfect for athletes gradually adjusting to a more natural fitting shoe
Cons – Even the lowest toe to heel offset is a few millimetres off zero. All tend to be narrow in fit.
The Merrell Barefoot Hammer Glove shoe are another leader in the minimal shoe market and their light deign and durable flexibility make them a popular choice for shoes for CrossFit. With a zero toe to heel drop, the Merrell Barefoot Hammer Glove have a completely neutral sole making them the only choice for CrossFitters looking for the barefoot experience while still having the overall protection of a traditional shoe. They’re also a good alternative for CrossFitters who don’t like the design of the Vibram Five fingers. The durable rubber outsole of the Merrell Hammer is actually made by Vibram.
The upper part of the shoe is designed with a breathable mesh with synthetic leather reinforcements so you’re getting a light and glove like fit while still getting the lateral and medial support around your foot ensuring a stable lifting stance. For that added insurance of fit stability, the Merrell are also fitted with a Velcro strap to secure the forefoot.
As the Merrell Barefoot Hammer Glove offers natural stability and balance as well as a light weight design, these are perfect shoes for all facets of CrossFit training.
The Hammer Glove are specifically designed for men and don’t have that many color options, offering mainly greys and black shades. For women looking for the same features of the Hammer Glove but in a shoe designed specifically for women, Merrell also make the women’s Barefoot Train Crush Glove shoe which has similar features to the Hammer Glove with a zero drop, a super lightweight and flexible design. The Train Crush has less mesh covering overall making it not quite as breathable as the Hammer and does not come with the Velcro forefoot strap. The Merrell Train Crush Glove does however come in a far greater range of colors and designs.
On average, you can pick up a pair of the the Hammer Gloves for around $114, while the Train Crush Gloves come in at around $110.
Pros – zero toe to heel drop making for perfectly neutral and natural running motion
Cons – Hammer Glove only available in men’s designs (women have other design options and similar shoe specs by opting for a different style of shoe)
Like any piece of CrossFit apparel your perfect fit for the best shoes for CrossFit is going to depend on your body and your overall workout needs. A lot of CrossFitters, like any other athletes prefer to rotate their shoes depending on their specific training needs for the day. The best weightlifting shoes for CrossFit, for example is the Reebok Lifter, but good as the Lifters are for weight training, they’re not so great for running or swift footed plyometric exercises. So, if you’re after a single pair of shoes to do the trick for your full workout from sprints to lifts, there are a few options here perfectly suited to the needs of CrossFit training.
If you’re after a fine pair of shoes for all round CrossFit training, you can’t go by the Reebok Nano 2.0. Available in a wide range of colors and designs for both men and women, the Reebok Nano CrossFit shoes are durable and lightweight with a relatively low toe to heel drop offering the best all round natural stability to suit a full range of CrossFit needs. The Reebok Nano CrossFit shoes however can size a touch narrow so if you have a wider foot, choose the New Balance X20 with similar specs to the Nano but available in wider sizes. But, if you’re working out to the extreme side of intense, the NB X20 might not have the durability you’ll need. The NB MX20 is also one of the cheapest shoes for CrossFit available.
If you’re after a super flexible shoe for CrossFit, look no further than the Nike Free 3, a durable and comfortable shoe with unsurpassed flexibility.
For CrossFit athletes looking for a natural and barefoot experience while maintaining the overall cushion and stability of a more traditional sneaker, then the Inov8 F-Lite 195 is the best choice. For CrossFitters who want to go that extra step toward barefoot training then the Merrell Hammer Glove for men or the Merrell Train Crush Glove for women are the best choices for shoes for CrossFit with a zero toe to heel drop. If you’re just getting used to the idea of neutral sole CrossFit training and want to make the change from traditional sports shoes to the barefoot experience gradually, then a good place to start might be the Nike Free 5 or 4s, working your way down to a more neutral minimal shoe.
The right pair of shoes is a critical component of your arsenal of CrossFit equipment, clothing and accessories, so don’t let the wrong pair of shoes get in the way of achieving your maximum results and optimum health and fitness. Finding the best shoes for CrossFit might take some experimenting, but once you’ve made the match the effort will show as your performance soars to unstoppable heights.