How to Pick the Perfect Workout Shoes, According to Fit Experts

Just like no two feet are the same, no two sneakers are either—and the best workout shoes for women depend on so much more than just aesthetics. Foot type, injuries, and preferred activity all come to mind—and if you’re avid runner, biker, hiker, or trainer, you probably know you need different shoes for each of these activities so you a) don’t injure yourself and b) get the most of out your workout. 

Online shopping for sneakers is tricky because you can’t try anything on—and unless you don’t mind buying shoes in multiple sizes, you probably want to get it right with your first order. That’s why we reached out to fit experts, from podiatrists to physical therapists, to find out how to pick the right pair of workout shoes for your needs. See what they have to say, below. 

Why is important to have different shoes for different types of workouts?  

Chanel Perkins, DPM, explains to Glamour that “the force you exert throughout your feet for plyometric exercises such as hopping or jumping, is a very different type of force exerted with more isometric exercises such as lunges or squats.” This means that wearing the wrong type of shoes—say, a running sneaker while weightlifting or strength training—could strain the ligaments and muscle tendons in your toes, feet, and ankles. Which ultimately can lead to painful things like heel spurs or plantar fasciitis. No thanks.

What are some key things to consider when shopping for workout shoes online? 

Until the day comes that we’re able to pull sneakers out of our screens and try them on immediately at home, Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS tells Glamour that “support, stability, and cushioning” are a great starting point for figuring out what kind of sneaker you may need while online shopping. From there, Dr. Malek says, you can look into what may be best for your foot type—either wide or narrow, high or flat arches, and the amount of ankle strength you have.

If you have strong ankles, Dr. Malek says you can wear flatter shoes for cardio exercises. We’re talking minimalist fits with a near-barefoot feeling. But given how freeing these lightweight designs are on the foot, they definitely don’t work for everyone—especially not if you need ankle support or if your feet have a tendency to roll in or outwards, which experts refer to as over or under pronation. In these instances, Dr. Malek says you may want to opt for a stability shoe with a wider base and arch support in the middle to help even out your gait. For those with injuries or specific needs, Dr. Perkins advises picking shoes with removable insoles is a plus to allow for custom orthotics to accommodate foot concerns like plantar fasciitis or bunions.

What features make training shoes different from running sneakers or walking shoes?

For gym workouts and training programs like CrossFit, Dr. Malek says, “most brands will offer a flatter trainer with more flexibility for easier lateral and multi-directional movement.” That means if you’re doing circuit rounds of box jumps, burpees, and squats, you want to look for a cross-training shoe with a flat heel and lots of flexibility to allow for quick moves. 

On the other hand, Dr. Malek says walking and running shoes are “more often structured for linear, heel-to-toe movement” so you feel propelled forward in your movement. Dr. Perkins notes that walking shoes are generally heavier than running sneakers, as “a running shoe is designed for speed and performance.” In terms of fabrication, they also typically feature mesh uppers for added breathability and lightweight-ness. Finally, Dr. Perkins says that running shoes tend to have lots of cushioning in the forefoot and heel to help absorb the shock your shins and Achilles tendons get from hitting the pavement. Cue the “walking on clouds” sensation. 

There’s obviously a lot to take in—and even though the brand name or aesthetics may be what draw you in at first, you should always prioritize your foot type and athletic needs. Scroll down for a complete guide to shopping the best workout shoes for women.  

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