You have a favorite crop top for hot yoga class and a sleek pair of compression capris perfect for boot camp, but do you put the same focus on your go-to sneaker? Just like your choice apparel, footwear isn't one-size-fits-all for every fitness activity. In fact, wearing the wrong footwear for your workout can actually put you at risk for injury. As more and more women are tackling box jumps and burpees (there are now more CrossFit boxes internationally than Starbucks locations in the United States), the demand for a shoe that can withstand a hardcore sweat session, kettlebells and all, is rising. (Related: Incredible New Sneakers That Will Change the Way You Work Out)
"You're already making an investment in the clothes you wear, a gym membership, and your time," says Fernando Serratos, product line manager for Asics. "It's a no-brainer to invest in the right footwear that makes you perform your total best and crush what you set out to do. You want to get these workouts in and make them count."
Not to worry: Where there's a demand, there's supply. Big-name brands are recognizing the need for training-specific footwear. Just this month, both Nike and Reebok released shoes, the Metcon 3 and Nano 7 respectively, designed for HIIT workouts. Asics, a longtime favorite among runners, is even dabbling in the field, releasing the Conviction X.
But how are these sneakers different from your go-to half-marathon pair? Here's what you should look for in a training shoe:
1. Essential stability: It's important to protect your foot during high-demand workouts. Your ankles and heels crave a locked-in feel for lifting weights, and your mid- and forefoot also need support. "Running is a linear activity, but HIIT training is very different, " says Kristen Rudenauer, Reebok's senior product manager for training footwear. "Movements such as side shuffles, pivots, jumping jacks, cutting between cones, ladder work, planks, and push-ups—you need support from front to back."
2. The right fit: Most running specialty shops will advise customers to shop a half to full size up to accommodate foot swelling while running multiple miles. But in training shoes? Not so much. "We don't recommend that you size up when selecting a training shoe," says Nike master trainer Joe Holder. "Due to multidirectional movements and the need for stability while training, having a fit that's true to foot size is important."
3. A focus on breathability: Things get hot when you're tackling your third round of mountain climbers. "You're already working hard enough," says Serratos. "You want something that's not going to make your feet so sweaty. Lightweight wicking fabric is essential." Look for an option with mesh panels to help you keep your cool.
4. The right amount of traction: Between climbing ropes and hopping small hurdles, fast-paced workouts require optimal traction. Look for a firm outsole, often with added rubber in the forefoot, to help you flash through quick movements without a slip.
5. The perfect look: As more and more shoes in this category hit the market, it's easier—and more fun—to find a style that suits not just your performance needs, but also whatever look you're going for. "At Nike, we know that when athletes look good, they do well and perform better," says Holder. Both Nike and Reebok allow consumers to customize their training shoes, picking everything from the color of the laces to the logo.
6. Good shelf life: The general rule of thumb for running sneakers is to swap them out every 300 to 500 miles (or 4 to 6 months). With training, it's not as black and white. You want to look for a sneaker that's going to withstand wear and tear. "The telltale signs you need a new pair is if there are visible excess compression lines along the sidewall, loss of structural integrity, or the rubber is peeling off of the bottom," says Rudenauer.