Best gym trainers UK 2021: the best shoes for weight-lifting, HIIT training, CrossFit, or all-round fitness
Be it weight-lifting, CrossFit, boot camp or all-round gym work, these shoes will help you train harder and safer
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Gyms are opening in April, and you may well be tossing kettlebells and dumbbells around your backyard to fill the gap, or (guilty as charged) doing endless burpees on the living room floor. Regardless of your ad hoc exercise regime, odds are it is time to invest in a new pair of trainers to help you perform at your best.
We spend time and money selecting shoes fit for purpose when running, but people often conclude weights or HIIT training don’t require the same investment.
But a great pair of gym trainers can help you be more stable when lifting, or provide tread to assist you with your agility and speed. Whether you’re an affirmed weights lifter (complete with zero cardio t-shirt), a cross-fit aficionado or dedicated to HIIT, there’s a gym trainer to lift your game.
What kind of work-outs do you do?
If all you do is weights, your primary concern is support for your feet in the appropriate places. This means a stiff upper, and support in the heel (this helps when you deadlift or squat) - if you can, an ankle strap across the laces will ensure your feet are firmly in place.
Many of us cross-train, though, with CrossFit, HIIT, or a cardio blast to help keep us lean as well as muscular. If this is you, you’ll need a shoe that will absorb shock as well as add stability - that means cushioning. ‘Cross-training’ shoes provide support and cushioning in the mid-foot and the heel. They tend to be lighter than shoes designed simply for weight-lifting, to help you move quickly and explosively.
Finding the best fit for your foot
Unlike running trainers, you don’t want gym shoes to be too cosy. Weight-lifting shoes need to look for shoes of a reasonable width, to allow your feet to plant comfortably and offer that stable base for your compound moves.
Cross-training shoes should be a half or full size up from your regular shoe size, to allow you to move naturally as you train.
There are - as with everything - some barefoot training zealots. We’re not keen, as this invites injury - either through stress fractures, or from weights dropping on your feet. You’ll also find many gyms don’t allow barefoot training.
Here are our favourite gym shoes on the UK market for 2021.
Shoes featured here are all men’s, but each company produces a women’s shoe in the same model.
What a mighty bruiser of a gym shoe. If you’re a heavy lifter through and through, these are the kicks for you.
There’s a steep decline from heel to toe, and a souped-up torsion bar system at the rear of the shoe, to ensure the most stable platform you can imagine - you’ll be at your most powerful when you’re lifting your one-rep max weight.
There’s a single instep strap to really lock your rear-foot in place for maximum support. The midsole is thermoplastic (more, you guessed it - support).
A woven upper also ensures the perfect fit while still allowing your toes to move - so you’ll be comfortable when facing a loaded barbell.
Swiss running shoe brand On’s trainer, the Cloud X, is uniquely versatile, with a comfortable but supportive design, as well as providing impressive responsiveness as you train. Ostensibly a running shoe, we find they’re terrific in all areas of the gym.
The ‘CloudTec’ sole provides excellent cushioning for explosive movement or foot strikes as you run, while the ‘Zero-Gravity’ foam is light-weight and keeps cool as you move. The knit-weave upper means sweat and moisture is kept to a minimum, which we appreciate for particularly sweaty session.
They’re well balanced and feel great to move around in. The perfect all-rounder.
If you love bare-foot shoes, you tend to really love them, and this shoe is ideal for bringing the benefits of bare-foot trainers to your weights’ sessions.
With graphene in the outsole and midsole, these shoes are ultra flexible, very, very light, and have a wonderfully grippy exterior. They are ideal for resistance training, bolstering your grip and helping ensure a great base of support as you lift.
That said, they’re not good for HIIT - they wouldn’t provide much cushioning if you do high-impact, kinetic workouts regularly.
The knitted upper and sock-like liner ensure breathability - no sweaty feet here, while a ‘rope-tec’, thermoplastic cage ensures your feet are protected while not adding weight to the shoe - they came in at a feather-lite 210grams.
The Nike Metcon range has been rightly beloved for years, and the latest iteration is practically perfect. They’re ideal if you want a high-performance shoe you can use across a variety of exercises and training disciplines.
With a roomy toe box, excellent breathability, arch support, flexibility, and a thin enough sole to allow connection with the ground, you’ll be able to lift, run, and hit the CrossFit box without a shoe change.
Another shoe with thermoplastic in the upper, they allow airflow around the foot, which is great for high intensity workouts. The ankle support is good, too, meaning you can do agility training without worrying about injury. The sole - in addition to being flat and thin - provides decent grip. Indeed, these shoes are all things to all sorts of exercisers.
The only drawback? They’re not lookers, but do they need to be?
Need an all-round gym shoe? The Nike ZoomX will do you proud. The Nike ZoomX foam provides shock absorption and cushioning, but is light enough to ensure a lightweight shoe. Mesh uppers keeps things breathable (no sweaty, over-heated feet).
A rubber outsole is grippy enough to help with multi-directional movement, while flexible grooves in the sole are handy for stability if you’re lifting. Frankly, whatever your workout - HIIT, strength training, treadmill, circuit training, rowing - this shoe will keep your feet comfortable and safe. A winner.
Though theoretically a running shoe, the Dasher is a great option for all-round training. The rubber outsole is great for withstanding a punishing workout, so you can jump, climb, and skip and they won’t wear. A cushioning midsole will bear the brunt of any impact as you move, while a knitted upper (combination merino and eucalyptus) is snug but flexible.
If you’re driven by aesthetics, this is one of the better looking gym shoes around, while if you’re eco-conscious, be advised it’s made entirely from renewable materials, such as sugarcane and caster bean.
Vivobarefoot have a reputation for their eco-friendly credentials, and these fully vegan shoes manage the neat trick of being ideal lifting shoes, as well as kind to the environment.
Each iteration of the Primus Lite has featured less material than its predecessor, and the latest, the mark III, is made of fully sustainable materials.
If you love barefoot training, these offer all the advantages, without the increased injury risk. The puncture-resistant sole is thin enough to allow nerve endings in the feet to feed back to the brain.
With a wide shape across the toe cage, the toes can spread to stabilise you thoroughly for deadlifts and squats. They’re also ridiculously flexible and lightweight - so you can take them into CrossFit classes, too.
Like to work out outside? The Hovr Apex 2 has deep flex grooves in its sole that makes it ideal for training on grass, in parks or gardens. The same feature also makes it adept for more intense lifting sessions, so you can take it from park to gym without worry.
With a foam cushioning system, it’s good at shock absorption too, if you like to jump about in your workouts.
With a wide fit, and mid-foot support thanks to a TriBase plate, you’ll be able to power around the gym with these shoes, which have a well-earned reputation for being sturdily built.
The Reebok Nano was introduced into Reebok stable as the ideal shoe for CrossFit, and the Nano X is here to celebrate its tenth anniversary - as well as seriously up-scaling the shoe’s specs. Whether you love CrossFit, boot camps or HIIT, this is a fun shoe for people who love intense workouts.
It’s built with lightweight EVA foam in the midsole, to help provide cushioning as you jump about, while the outsole is flexible enough to ensure ease of movement, but still stable enough for when you break into your deadlift reps.
It’s a versatile shoe that will serve you well if you’re jumping on boxes, climbing ropes, or heaving a kettlebell around.