Why do we wear specific shoes? (CrossFit Equipment Series)

CrossFit is a community with many quirks and one of them is the fact that there is a whole industry designated to making equipment and apparel just for our fitness regimen. We don’t see this for Zumba, Bar Classes, or HIIT Classes, why do we see it in CrossFit?

In this series we will be going over the different pieces of equipment you may find in a CrossFitter’s gym bag and why they may or may not be useful!

Today we are gonna cover every CrossFitter’s favorite: SHOES!

What makes a shoe good for CrossFit?

CrossFit mixes together many modalities. We perform olympic lifts, gymnastics, and a majority of the traditional cardiovascular exercises (think running, rowing, and biking).

With this in mind, we can gather two things. The shoe must be able to stand up to a ton of punishment and we need to be able to have a stable platform to lift.

Shoes that are made for CrossFit accomplish this by having a wide toe box, almost no drop from heel to toe, fray resistant upper, and a hard rubber sole.

Why do these qualities aid the athlete?

Wide Toe Box

Weightlifting movements whether it is an olympic lift or powerlifting movement, the foot needs to spread to adjust for the load and give the athlete a proper base. If a shoe is narrow at the toe this will cause a great amount of discomfort as well as reduce the efficiency of the athlete during a lift.

A good way to tell if a shoe has this is if the area where the ball of your foot is as wide or larger than the hell of the shoe.


You’ll usually see shoes made for CrossFit advertise that their shoe is “zero-drop.” This adaptation is made so the shoe can be used in a variety of movements. While a slightly heeled shoe may help with being up right in a squat, if we have to go for a long run right after we will put unnecessary stress on our knees.

Movements such as the deadlift, lunges, box jumps, jumping rope, rowing, running, and biking are all movements that benefit from this zero drop feature.

Fray Resistant Upper

We put our shoes through a ton of abuse. There is one movement in particular that would turn a normal training shoe into saw dust. That movement is the rope climb.

Whether you are doing a legless or foot assisted rope climb, your feet are used to descend from a rope. When a shoe has a cloth upper, the shoe will be torn through in a couple of trips leading to damage to the athlete’s skin as well as a ruined pair of shoes.

CrossFit shoes tend to have fray resistant materials infused into the upper, such as Reebok’s kevlar infused flexweave, that make sure the shoe can survive these rough conditions so your feet come away as pretty as they were when you started the workout.

Rubber Sole

This is a twofer and probably the most important.

CrossFit shoes are hard at the sole (think like a pair of Converse or Vans). The soles of these shoes are also made of rubber, which is in part to aid the resistance to rope climbs. The other reason, the more important of the two, is weight transfer to the floor.

When we perform weight lifting movements we have to put power into the floor to produce enough force to move an object. If we were to lift in running shoes, which are soft to help athletes run for long distances on hard surfaces, our lift would feel wobbly. This softness dissipates power and makes the lifter unstable resulting in less than efficient movement patterns. In our gym we tend to ask athletes to lift in just their socks in they use running shoes for this very reason.

A CrossFit shoe sacrifices the ability to run long distances for improved weight lifting.

What brands make CrossFit Shoes?

Nike: MetCon

Probably the most popular shoe designed for cross training, Nike MetCons are Nike’s stalwart for the weight room. There are currently 6 iterations as well as many other off shoots such as the DSX and Free.

Most athletes I have trained go for this shoe, with the main issue being that the soles tend to squeak after a couple weeks of use. I personally have not been able to go a couple workouts without the sole becoming detached for the upper. I seem to be the only person I meet with this issue so take it with a grain of salt. I have owned the 2,3,4, and 5.

Reebok: Nano

The original shoe made for CrossFit and the only one legally allowed to call itself a “CrossFit” shoe.

The official shoe of the CrossFit Games, this show shoe has 10 iterations with the most recent being named the “Nano X.”

These shoes tend to stand up to the most punishment and in my experience I have only had to give up on pairs when the tread on the bottom of the shoe finally goes bald. Most athletes tend to not go for these shoes due to looks. They are often regarded as the most comfortable of the CrossFit shoe group.

NOBULL: Trainer

The most expensive and fashion forward of the bunch, this is NOBULL’s original shoe.

These shoes are insanely durable due to their superfabic upper that gives the shoe rigidity and protects the foot the best for rope climbs. It also makes them quite easy to clean with a hose incase you go running through mud.

In my experience with NOBULL’s the inserts can get a little lively on earlier releases while the newer color ways have better inserts that stay in place longer. I have gone through about 3 pairs and just like the nanos, I only had to stop wearing them when the shoes ran out of tread. Due to the shallowness of the tread, they wear out just a bit sooner than the nanos.

Other brands that I have not tried but know they make a shoe that works for CrossFit:

Under Armor: Tribase Reign

Inov8: F-Lite 290

  • These are the shoes that Titan Games champion Dani Speegle wears.

The Bottom Line:

The gear in your gym bag is there to assist you, not make or break you. These shoes won’t burn more calories or get you that next muscle up. They will never overcome strength and hard work. But, what they will do is allow you to do more hard work safely.

If you have foot issues, please consult your doctor before changing anything with your footwear.

*I, Kidd Campbell, am in no way affiliated with any of these brands. I simply have just worn a bunch of shoes and coached plenty of athletes who try these shoes as well.

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