How To Choose A Training Shoe (5 Things To Look For!)

Written By Charleh Dickinson  |  Wall Walks 

I have used a whole wide variety of shoes. I've had some that have given me foot blisters,  I've had some where they have worked great, and then I did my first row climb, and they completely crumbled, and then I've had some that have just made my feet cramp or just haven't felt good.

I will describe five essential things about your training shoes. By the end of this article, you'll be able to pick out a shoe that will fit perfectly no matter what kind of training you do. 

The main takeaway from this article is that I would love for the readers to get away with knowing what details to look for regarding the specificity of your training. 

What details matter? And what elements do we not need to be that concerned about it? Because sure, we can look at construction issues until we're blue in the face, but what details actually matter for performance?

Are you running? Are you lifting heavy? Are you predominantly squatting all the time? Like there's a lot of stuff. And in the sport of CrossFit. We do it all right, folks. 

So let's dig into it. 

Number 1: OFFSET (heel-to-toe drop) and What it Means For Your Training

So one thing you should care about when picking your perfect training shoe is offset. Heel-to-toe drop ultimately is offset. That's the height your heel is sitting regarding your toe. 

So higher offsets mean you will have a slightly higher heel position than where your toe is sitting or the base of the forefoot. 

Now, why would that matter for cross-training? First, some people will naturally prefer lower drops over higher drops when we look at the different types of heel-to-toe drops. 

What can drops do for your lifting and your overall biomechanics? 

So a higher heel position, are you putting that foot into a plantar flexed position before we actually start moving? 

We put our ankle into an environment that feels a little bit better in the dorsiflexion. 

It's similar to standing on a hill with your heels on the back of the hill, and you're then squatting down. 

You can generally achieve greater depths with a more upright torso position. 

And now, we generally have a range of drops when talking about crashing issues, which usually ranges between two to eight millimeters. 

Generally, folks will reach for a four, six, or sometimes a two millimeter because it's like a nice lower ground where you can tackle many different tasks. 

For example, suppose we include a weightlifting shoe with, let's say, a point seven five-inch heel elevation or a 20-millimeter drop. 

In that case, you're not going to want that for things like box jumps or anything where you're running; that would probably feel awkward. 

Some people train with zero and the normal, like Metcon'sNanos and Inov-8 which are in a four to six range. 

What is commonly known as the norm, the heel-to-toe drop is like four millimeters, and people are like, 'Oh, that's the best.' But, still, it's been adapted by all these different companies and then associated with being the best, and that's what is really interesting about choosing a heel-toe drop over experience because it needs to be individual. 

Drops will change your biomechanics based on what we discussed regarding that environment for dorsiflexion. 

But when we're looking at things like four to six or six to eight millimeter, that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. 

However, if you look at the Inov-8 300, which has a six-millimeter drop, that is the shoe I'm currently absolutely freaking in love with. With something like the Xero Shoes 360, their brand-new cross-training shoe with a zero drop, you notice a big difference. 

There's a very distinct difference working out in them, especially for extended periods; squatting in them and running in them would feel very different. 

And again, it is all personal preference. 

The point is where the heel will be sitting in the Ino-8 shoe versus the Xero shoe. 

And if you're like squatting, for example, what will happen with your overall mechanics? 

You will need to achieve greater degrees of dorsiflexion on your own; your ankle needs to be more flexible. 

But when looking at drops and considering a drop that works for you, I suggest looking anywhere from two to six millimeters; those are usually the sweet spots. 

If you need more assistance with dorsiflexion, looking for a six to eight can be a good call, mainly if you primarily focus on lifting in your cross-training shoes. 

Then, if you want more like a barefoot/natural blend, zero to even the four-millimeter shoes can sometimes feel flatter to the ground. 

So these are all things to consider.

For my cross-training shoe fans out there, you know that the Metcon Five and Six come with the additional insert. 

So the drop on the shoe begins with four millimeters, and then when you insert the insert under the insole, it adds an extra eight millimeters, so that'll put the shoe at 12 millimeters. 

Again, speaking to what we just talked about, 12 millimeters to something like zero, you will feel that significant difference. 

So if you're looking for a blend of a cross-training shoe that can also serve as a "pseudo" weightlifting shoe, it's not going to be the same height, but still, it will give you an elevation. 

Looking into a Metcon Five or Six is a good call for you if you are primarily worried about lifting in this shoe style with the higher drop.

So we've talked about offset; the higher the heel or, the greater the offset, the easier it is to squat. But it could make running feel a little odd or different or weird. 

Many people can train well with zero offsets, basically a barefoot style shoe. And then many people do well with the higher offsets; it will be personal preference.

offset(heel to toe drop) crossfit training shoe

Number 2: TOE BOX (the space for your toes!) and Creating a Good Base For Strength Training

What's the toe box? The toe box is the amount of space in the forefoot that you can move your toes. 

Why does that matter? Why does this matter for lifting? 

So we talked about cross-training specifically and the vast amount of activities you can do with cross-training. Generally, you'll want enough room to display those toes to grip the floor and feel the ground below you. 

And suppose you're constantly cramped and have a terrible foot position. If we cannot route those feet, it can be a problem up the kinetic chain to create stability and strength from the ground up in all of our lifts.

In the CrossFit shoe world, we sometimes box ourselves into thinking, 'Oh, we need to wear the Nike Metcon because that's the big shoe right now. That's what Matt Fraser wore at the Metcon. So that means I should wear the Metcon.' 

Then I'll hear people like, 'oh, well, I have heel slip in the Metcon. Or heel slip in the Nano.' 

Why is that? The mold that the company uses for that shoe most likely doesn't align with your anatomy. 

So now you've had to size up to accommodate the foot structure they use for that shoe. And currently, you're experiencing sizing issues because it's just not made for your feet.

When a company makes a shoe, they pretty much use a forming, also known as "the last," the shape of the shoe on the inside is how the target audience's foot will "most likely" be shaped. 

And then they stick with that, like so all of the Metcons in this case, and all of the Ino-8s and all these other shoes we have laying around, they tend to have the same last. 

So Metcons run narrow, and Nanos are known for having a wider toe box, and Ino-8s are somewhere in between.

When we talk about the Nano and the Metcon, for example, they're both marketing to folks with slightly wider feet, somewhat more narrow feet, and that's why if you don't fit into a Nano, it's not your problem, it's just that you don't align with the mold of the shoe. 

You would fit in something different.

I used to love the look of Metcon's. I had a couple that I was like, 'oh my gosh, I got to have those!' I could not walk 400 meters without two enormous blisters forming on the back of my heels. 

I thought it was this specific shoe, or I sized it wrong. So I got a different model Metcon, and the same thing happened. 

I still have scars on my heels from the month I tried to force myself to wear Metcon's because I just wanted to wear them. 

So you need to find, just like a house, you need to find a nice little shoe foot home for your feet.

How To Choose A Training Shoe (5 Things To Look For!)

Number 3: MIDSOLE AND STACK HEIGHT and Why it Matters For CrossFit

The midsole construction of a shoe is the material that separates the insole from the outsole. Also, stack height, which is the amount of material separating your foot from the ground. 

Now, why would this matter for cross-training? Well, in the realm of specificity when it comes to heavier loading, if you're maxing out often or you're very strong, you'll generally want a shoe with slightly less stack height between the foot and the ground. 

So Converse are popular powerlifting shoes because they're a small distance between your foot and the ground.

And even something like a weightlifting shoe that does have a high offset. That's why the heel is so firm because you don't want something that's going to be compressible. 

For my stronger lifters out there who are concerned about compression and shoes' overall ability to allow them to route the feet without actually having any form of ankle mobility or moving because of compression due to weight. 

Generally, less stack heights will be a better bet. 

High-density foams are usually the common ones used in cross-training shoes that offer a nice blend of reactivity and stability. 

Also, if you say like a Metcon Six, which has no midsole construction, that versatility you're getting in this shoe is actually from the insole. 

This is an excellent option for folks who want to train super heavy because they're a very durable option. In addition, they're very low to the ground. So when considering stack height midsole, think about how you plan to train.

Doing more box jumping and running and things where you're dynamic on your feet and something with a bit more stack height, basically a little more foam between your foot and the actual ground, is beneficial.

That'll give you more reactivity. 

Generally, this isn't something to focus on too much. If you're doing general cross-training, all the shoes I've gone over are decent.

Number 4: THE OUTSOLE AND UPPER - Durability For Various Activities

It's all about the outside of the shoe. So we have the outsole for the outside of the shoe, and the upper is usually the fabric material.

The outsole is the actual rubber that meets the road. 

Why does that matter? We're talking about the outsole and the upper, specifically in cross-training. 

We will be most concerned with their ability because both features will feed better into specific activities. 

So talking about the 245 here, which is so comfortable and lightweight. It has a full-like, more mesh-like soft upper, but there are better bets for rope climbs or burpees.

The overall durability when training outside or indoors: If we're training outdoors, we're going to want a full rubber outsole. 

Now, if you're wearing a running shoe, you can be exposed to midsole layers, but that's different for that shoe's specificity. 

When we're talking about cross-training specifically, we usually don't want to have any exposed middle layers. 

In the Metcon Seven, one of my gripes is the exposed midsole grooves in the forefoot. So what ends up happening is that if you're doing cross-training or any form of athletic focus activity and not doing dedicated running, you're doing a lot of lateral movement. 

You're doing stop-start stuff, you're doing shorter runs, and what ends up happening is that foam material can get scratched up, it can start to fray and have that flakiness to it. 

When discussing cross-training shoes, suppose you're a more athletic focus athlete with your style of wearing cross-training. In that case, a shoe with a full rubber outsole is a good bet for overall durability when tackling gym workouts on rubber surfaces or in commercial gyms. 

The tread pattern, while it doesn't matter too much if you're predominantly training on the rubber mats.  

It's not like we're driving off-road vehicles with these shoes, right? But then, when you look at something with a little more aggressive tread, that will be better on looser surfaces, like turf, a trail, or grass.

So if you're doing some outdoor running, maybe some trail running to pick up something with a little more grip. 

But if you're going to be inside the gym, then going with something a little bit flatter and not as knobby could work.

Another thing we have to mention is rope climbs. Rope climbs are one of the most treacherous things for a shoe in all CrossFit or functional fitness.

That's because we're using our feet to clamp down something that's very abrasive; it can really bang up a shoe. 

So if you have something again with more fabric on the outside, that's okay, but know that you could bang it up a lot more. 

But suppose you have something durable; they've built the outside of the shoe to withstand a lot and have ridges. 

In that case, pretty much all the shoes have those high outsoles that come up the side of the shoe to prevent any rub on the fabric. 

upper (the upper part of the shoe) for Crossfit sneakers

Number 5: It's Not That Important

There are some shoes that, in theory, are better than others when it comes to cross-training. 

However, that being said, if Matt Fraser wore old-school Nike or the old-school New Balance grandfather shoes, he would still win the CrossFit Games. 

All those years, if Rich Froning, instead of wearing his fancy Nanos wore crocs, he probably would still win the CrossFit Games. 

If Tia Toby wasn't wearing nobles, and she was wearing maybe not flip flops, but any other shoes or running shoes, she probably would have still won the CrossFit Games. 

It's something that will make a small difference in your performance. 

If you have to think about your shoes in the middle of the workout, they are probably not the right shoe for you. 

You want to be able to put on the shoe and then forget that it's even there. 

So that means your foot is not cramping, and you're not experiencing any blistering. 

And when you're doing things like heavy squats, you feel stable, and when you're running, you don't feel like your foot is just slapping the ground and rocks are poking through it. 

Or when you're doing rope climbs, you don't feel like you're shredding the shoe to pieces and want to feel like they can last a long time. 

At the end of the day, when talking about shoes, they only will make a difference once we start going deeper into different realms of specificity.

If you are only, let's say, doing jump rope and your shoes are only marathon running, there are better shoes for you. 

But with cross-training, we do so much stuff. 

The F-Lite 6 300 shoes are my favorite. I love them. They're great. They feel stable. They look sick. And all those things considered, they're durable. 

So find a shoe that works for you. 

To Summarize

We have a shoe calculator on our website. Answer a few questions, enter your name and email address, and then I'll email you which shoe you might like. 

So if you have a narrower shoe, we might suggest something different. Or if you do a ton of running, we'll offer something different. 

If you deadlift 600 pounds all the time, then we'll suggest something different. 

So if you want to find out what the calculator algorithm spits out as a suggested shoe for you, click here. 

If you want access to all of WODprep’s best courses, from learning how to do double unders, to muscle ups, to mental strength, to the cardio engine, to weightlifting, where all of our courses are together in one place, click here.

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