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What Are Cross-Training Shoes Used For: A Beginner’s Guide

Runners, we have some good news and some bad news about your running routine. The good news? Running is a great way to get out there and get some exercise, no matter your ability or ambitions.

There are few things we runners love more than getting into running clothes, lacing up their favorite shoes, and getting lost in a great playlist and a beautiful landscape as the miles tick by. The bad news? If you want to progress in your running, get in better shape, and consistently set new PR’s, running itself isn’t enough. You have to do some cross-training.

As a type of exercise, cross-training is all the rage in the fitness world, and for good reason: it has a ton of physical benefits, and you’ll see better results from your routine much more quickly. Cross training isn’t a specific kind of exercise, though, so it brings up a question: if you need specific shoes for specific kinds of exercise, what should you look for in cross-training shoes?

Investing in a high-quality pair of shoes for cross-training isn’t cheap. So, it only makes sense to figure if you can use cross-training shoes for multiple kinds of exercises.

What Is Cross-Training?

Regularly doing the same workout–for example, running five times per week–can become monotonous over time. Worse, it can lead to developing weaknesses in your body, and weakness leads to poor results and, potentially, injury. Runners are notorious for being weak in lateral movements and upper body strength, for example, because running focuses almost exclusively on leg muscles moving you forward. To overcome this, cross-train.

Cross-training is not a single thing. It is simply any form of exercise that diversifies how you work out. It could be strength training, aerobics, yoga, cycling, team sports like soccer or basketball, high-intensity interval classes, kick-boxing, etc. Cross-training is good for you because it engages the rest of your body that is not targeted by running. It promotes full-body fitness and strength. Plus, it’s fun to mix up your workout routine, and maybe even learn a new sport as a bonus. By varying your workouts, not only do you target multiple muscle groups in one workout session, but you also enjoy your workouts more (and stay mentally fresh for your toughest running days).

Top Benefits of Cross-Training

There are numerous benefits when you cross-train:

  • Improve fitness: Since cross-training is a combination of exercises, you target major muscle groups other than your running muscles.
  • Prevent injury: When you mix up your workouts, you end up less likely to develop overuse injuries that would typically arise when you focus solely on one thing. This is especially beneficial when you are a runner, since cross-training will improve your overall strength–especially in your leg and core muscles.
  • Recover faster: One of the top benefits of cross-training is that you get to try active recovery alongside rest periods, which helps in improving fitness and avoiding injury. For instance, yoga is great for the body, and at the same time is a brilliant option for active recovery from a hard running session.
  • Improve mental health: While cross-training has countless benefits for the body, it also comes with advantages for mental health. Physical activity helps improve mental clarity, as it releases endorphins. The variety of exercises available as cross-training can help calm the mind or release stress.

What Are Cross-Training Shoes Used For?

Cross-training shoes aren’t regular sports shoes, which are often designed for a specific sport. Instead, a good cross-training shoe – like the Nike SuperRep – is designed to cope with an extensive range of physical activities. While cross-trainers do have certain characteristics of running shoes, they are capable of offering so much more than that.

When it comes to their uses, you can say that these shoes are the jack-of-all-trades. Other than long-distance running, cross-training shoes are great for playing sports like basketball, volleyball, and tennis. You can also use them for yoga, aerobics, and casual cycling.

1. Build

Cross-training shoes are typically a bit more rugged than running shoes. They provide less shock absorption, but offer more lateral support, which is essential for multi-directional movements. The extra stability will keep your feet secure in the shoe, and the shoe on the ground.

Despite less shock absorption, these shoes still have ample cushioning in the forefoot. They are meant to protect your feet when you exercise and land on your toes.

To give an example, exercises such as sprinting and jumping rope involve a lot of landing on your toes. Cross-trainers need to take this into account. Since these shoes are firmer than other styles, they are also perfect for weight training. It’s not a good idea to use running shoes for weight training. The foam can easily get compressed–and even collapse–under repeated heavy loads, but cross training shoes won’t.

2. Material

Cross-training shoes use different materials than running shoes, as well. Designed to take a beating through a range of activities, the materials are significantly stronger. This makes them ideal for standing up to wear and tear, so your workout can be as tough as you’d like.

Since cross-training exercises might involve a variety of sports, your shoes are going to take a real hammering. That is why more importance is given to the shoe’s outer material than the cushioning.

All these tough materials mean that your cross-training shoes are going to be durable, which is great if you are on a budget. The downside to this is that this tough material brings on some added weight.

Cross-Training Shoes vs. Running Shoes

While these shoes may appear to be identical, they can be almost completely different. If you are the type who is serious about your workout, you should stick to the right pair of shoes.

Running shoes tend to be supportive, corrective, more cushioned, and far lighter in weight of the two. Cross-training shoes, on the other hand, have to endure much more, which is why they need a more durable build.

If you are the type who both runs and cross-trains (and here, we really encourage you to be that type), we would recommend buying two separate pairs of shoes. This may seem unnecessary, but wearing the right shoes for the job will ensure you minimize the risk of injury, which saves time, frustration, and medical expenses in the long run.

When Should You Replace Cross-Training Shoes?

If you have invested a good amount of money in a pair of high-quality cross-training shoes, they will last you a long time. However, it is still beneficial to have an idea as to when you should be replacing your cross-training shoes.

According to sports stores, a regular cross-training shoe will be able to sustain about 100 hours of wear. With higher quality shoes, it could potentially be longer.

A hundred hours might not seem like much, but you might only be cross training once or twice per week. If this is the case, one hundred hours can roughly equal a year of wear. However, if you notice some obvious wear-and-tear on your shoes way before that, it would be ideal to replace them right away for the sake of your health and safety.


Stop ignoring that “Cross-train” box in your training plan! Cross-training builds fitness, breaks up your routine, and strengthens your body. It is a necessary part of getting in great shape. And a great pair of shoes can help motivate you to work non-running activities into your training routine. As stated above, cross training shoes can be used for almost every activity. Highly durable and versatile, they are a great buy.

Ben Drew

Ben Drew

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.

The Wired Runner