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Post-quarantine, I was desperate to re-embrace my love of in-person fitness. Having tried and loved Orangetheory Fitness when I lived in New York City, I was stoked to find that the popular chain had opened close to a dozen studios in my new home of DC. I booked my first class in April, sweated my way through it, and immediately signed up for an unlimited membership. Since then I’ve taken three to five 60-minute OTF classes per week. In doing so, I’ve become a better rower, ran faster than I ever thought possible, mastered speed walking on high inclines, fallen back in love with dumbbell lifts—and learned a thing or two about what makes a top-quality shoe for cross-training.
Over the last few months, I’ve tried 10 pairs of sneakers from APL, Adidas, Hoka, Nike, Brooks, and On Running. While each have their benefits, they’re not all cut out for dynamic, high-intensity interval workouts like Orangetheory.
What is Orangetheory Fitness?
Orangetheory is a heart rate-based interval training fitness class that offers 45-, 60-, and 90-minute classes. Most classes offer a full-body workout designed to hone endurance, strength, and power through running or power walking, rowing, and lifting. Each day is categorized as endurance, strength, power, or ESP, which is a combination of the above, and OTF also offers Lift45, a weights-focused class that often focuses on either upper or lower body movements.
Orangetheory uses heart rate monitors to teach clients about the five heart zones: resting (gray), easy (blue), challenging (green), uncomfortable (orange), and "all out" (red). The goal of each class is to score at least 12 splat points, which you earn for every minute in the orange or red zones. There are displays on each treadmill—and, in some studios, on each rower—as well as all around the room so you can keep an eye on where you’re at and use it as motivation to push yourself harder.
Why should you get cross-training shoes?
Because Orangetheory is a cross-training workout incorporating time spent on treadmills, rowers, and the floor, you need shoes that deliver a cushioned ride for running, a slim silhouette for rowing, and a stable design for lifting.
OTF is more running-focused than some other HIIT workouts like CrossFit, so I tried some running shoes as well as some cross-trainers in my quest for my perfect pair. And while I hope my experience will help you navigate the vast landscape of workout shoes, no two feet are the same. As such, this is what works for my size 10, medium-arch, narrow feet.
1. Hoka One One Mach 4
Pros: Comfortable sole for power walking and running, great color selection, fit in rower heel straps
Cons: Potentially too padded for sprinting, too flexible for wide-stance lower body exercises
My Hoka Mach 4s are my current faves thanks to their unmatched, cloud-like footbed. The shoes are fantastic for power walking and running and the arch support is next level—there’s no uncomfortable rubbing or pinching, as can happen from too-narrow and too-firm insoles. Beyond the cushioning, the toe box is well designed, providing enough room to wiggle your toes, but not so much to become unstable while running. They come in women's whole and half sizes 5 to 11 and a wide color selection of bright combinations.
These shoes can become a bit unstable for certain lower body lifts, like side lunges, as the flexible material allows the side of the ball of your foot to press out over the sole. It hasn’t proved problematic for me but it’s something I’m aware of, so if I know the floor workout is going to be lower body specific, I’ll wear a different pair. They also can feel bulky for sprinting.
2. Hoka One One Arahi 5
Pros: Cushioned sole for comfortable running, fit in rower heel straps, stable during lifts
Cons: Too flexible for some lower body lifts, narrower insole
Next on my list of faves are the Hoka Arahi 5s. Like the Mach 4s, the Arahi 5s feature a cushy sole that’s comfortable with every step. The toe box is roomy but less flexible than the Mach 4s, so the shoes are more stable for side lunges and other floor movements. The mesh material is breathable and lightweight so my feet don't end up a sweaty mess.
These aren't as forgiving as the Mach 4s when doing exercises that require quick changes of direction, with a narrower insole that sometimes rubs the arches of my feet. They come in women's whole and half sizes 5 to 12 and in regular and wide widths.
3. Nike Zoom X Superrep Surge
Pros: Stable for floor exercises, fit in rower heel straps, great for sprinting
Cons: Not the snuggest heel/ankle fit, lacking a padded sole for longer runs
The Nike Zoom X Superrep Surge sneakers are a great pair of shoes for floor-specific workouts. As they’re specifically designed for HIIT classes like OTF, it's no surprice that I find them most appealing for lifting, rowing, and sprinting over walking or long-distance running. The low ankle silhouette makes them feel unsteady when going at slower paces for longer bouts on the treadmill. As such, on days when I’m power walking or jogging, I prefer my Hokas.
The foam sole is lightweight and the shoes feel stable enough for both slow- and fast-paced floor movements, from lateral hops and side lunges to suitcase squats and mountain climbers. They also have rower clips so you can hook them right into the machine. They come in women's whole and half sizes 5 to 15.
4. APL TechLoom Tracer
Pros: Designed for floor training, easy to slip on and off, great color selection, fit in rower heel straps
Cons: Too flexible for sprinting and some floor movements
Because I take one Lift45 class every week, I like to have shoes just for lifting weights. The APL TechLoom Tracer is a fantastic option. The sneakers have a flexible lycra collar and tongue that makes slipping them on and off a breeze.
That same flexibility makes them less ideal for running—but that’s not shocking considering they’re specifically designed for training, not sprinting. They’re also not the best for lunges, as they easily slip off your heel if you wear them right out of the box: loosely laced with the ends hanging freely inside. After my heels slipped out one too many times, I re-laced them to tie on the outside—less cool-looking, sure, but more practical—and that fixed the problem. Now I can comfortably wear them not only through Lift45 classes but classic 60-minute OTF workouts, too.
The APLs come in 25 colors and in women's whole and half sizes 5 to 11. I've found that the sizing can be tricky, so if you have the option to try on in-store, I recommend it. I have a few other pairs of APLs and typically have to go up half a size for them to fit comfortably. However, with the TechLoom Tracers, my regular size fits fine.
5. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21
Pros: Stable from heel to toe on the treadmill, rower, and floor
Cons: Not the greatest color options, too firm for my liking
These sneakers, which are designed for running, are stable, streamlined, and lightweight. They’re a great shoe for long-distance running, I just don’t love how firm the heel is—especially because they’re said to have a "cloud insole." It feels too stiff and makes them supportive but not all that comfortable for a 60-minute HIIT class, in which you're running, jumping, and changing direction.
I'm also not a fan of any of the 24 color offerings—in person, they’re not as vibrant or saturated as the other shoes on the list. While colors might not matter to some folks, to me, having bright shoes provides a motivational boost. The Brooks shoes come in women's whole and half sizes 5 to 13 and in regular, narrow, wide, and extra wide widths.
Other sneakers I tried but didn't love for OTF
I put these other popular shoes to the OTF test, but they didn’t fill the bill.
Adidas Ultraboost 21 Shoes: They feel great for jogging, daily dog walks, and running errands, but the hyper-cushioned heels are too bulky for the OTF rower heel straps, which causes my feet to slip out of the rower, ultimately slowing down my row time.
Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2: From the moment I saw these chunky shoes that Nike claims are designed specifically for HIIT workouts, I wanted them, thanks to their unique silhouette. Sadly, like the Ultraboosts, they’re too bulky for the rower. Additionally, they’re notably heavier than all the other sneakers I own, which makes them clunky for running.
APL TechLoom Wave: They’re crazy comfortable, but too flexible for running and not stable enough for interval floor routines. (Still a fave for low-intensity activities outside of OTF though!)
APL Women’s Streamline: The latest silhouette to join the APL family, the Streamline sneakers are an absolute dream for running and walking with their lightweight design and well-cushioned sole. That said, they’re too padded and unstable for lifting weights and too chunky for the rower.
On Running Cloudflyer: I find these to be lightweight, comfortable, and supportive for walking, rowing, and even lifting, but the laces are so thin that I often don’t feel like they’re secure enough for runs and sprints, despite being designed as a running shoe.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: 5 cross-training shoes for Orangetheory Fitness: Nike, Hoka One, and more