Active Clothing Sneaker Trends

I Wore 11 Different Sneakers to Orangetheory Classes for 4 Months—These Are the Best Ones for Rowing, Running, and Lifting

Photo: W+G Design
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Back in July, I decided to switch up my workout routine by signing up for my first Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) class. I wanted to change up my movement (specifically, up my cardio, incorporate more structured strength training, and increase my overall endurance), and OTF felt like a good fit for my goals. While I had the right mindset, I didn't exactly have the right equipment. I had leggings and tanks galore, but my sneaker selection was pretty wimpy. I had my trusty Hoka Bondi 8s, which are great for daily dog walks and strolls around town, but I desperately needed running sneakers. Specifically, I needed running sneakers that I could lift light weights in, too.

So I embarked on a mission to find the very best sneakers for Orangetheory Fitness, which meant understanding what I needed for class—and what I didn't. For the last four months, I've been testing some of the most popular sneaker brands to find the just-right, Goldilocks shoes that would give me support, stabilization, and lasting comfort throughout every movement and transition in class.

The best shoes for Orangetheory Fitness, at a glance

First: What is Orangetheory Fitness?

OTF is a heart rate-based interval training group workout class that's guided by an instructor. In hour-long sessions, OTF members wear heart-rate monitors that are hooked up to multiple screens and displayed all around the studio, including treadmills in the studio. As you move, your heart rate will go up, and your initials will change colors over the course of the class: gray to start (your resting heart rate), blue as you get going (during movement your body finds easy), green (when you're being challenged), orange (when you're feeling discomfort as your body starts to push harder), and red (your, "all out," maximum level of energy you can give).

Your real-time results are individualized, since they're based on your heart rate (i.e. what's "orange" intensity for some may be "green" intensity for others, and vice versa). All OTF classes are different throughout the day and week, but every session will have you rotating from a treadmill to a rower to the weight room (and definitely not in that exact order). According to the website, "the goal is to spend 12 minutes or more with your heart rate elevated in 'The Orange Zone' to boost your metabolism, burn fat, and burn more calories." Hence, the name Orangetheory Fitness.

Typically the classes I've taken have involved about 30 minutes of cardio, 10 to 15 minutes of rowing, and 15 minutes of weight training. I personally try to jog for most of class, but jogging is new to me, which is why finding a supportive sneak was all the more imperative.

What to look for in shoes for Orangetheory

Chatting with Scott Brown, vice president of fitness for Orangetheory Fitness, he tells me that, "an ideal shoe for an Orangetheory workout will provide comfort while also being supportive, lightweight, breathable, and lightly cushioned." Brown adds, "They should fit well and prevent foot rubbing or cramping."

A shoe that grippy is also key. "Even though you don't see twists and turns on the treadmill like you do on a road, altering speed and incline during an interval workout (such as Orangetheory's Treadmill blocks) changes your stride pattern and gait. When you change speeds, you don't want to slide so you need shoes with good soles and grips," Brown says.

And since you're indoors, you're lacking natural wind and airflow, so you'll likely find breathable shoes most comfortable. "Even with fans blowing as you run, it's common for your feet to get hot and sweaty during treadmill workouts at Orangetheory. A mesh shoe will keep your feet cool," Brown suggests.

What to avoid in your Orangetheory sneakers

Shoes that could hinder your workout include ones that are too heavy, overly flexible, or designed specifically for trail running, according to Brown. I've personally found that overly-cushioned shoes I rely on for walking or jogging on pavement don't give me the best treadmill landing—and they certainly aren't ideal for rowing, in which you have to strap in your feet (bulky shoes make that harder). You should also avoid sneakers with a lot of foam and lift when you're weight-lifting, since the extra cushion can mess with your balance and movement (like side-lunges). Casual tennis shoes (like Converse All Stars—which are actually great for weight-lifting) are also best to avoid, since they typically don't offer a lot of support.

With that said, there's no need for sneakers specifically designed weight lifting, either. "While Orangetheory workouts do include a functional strength floor block, you will not be lifting heavy weights. These [weightlifting] flat-sole shoes often feature plastic/hardwood soles and lack the arch support needed for the demands of high-impact training, such as running," Brown explains.

Of all the sneakers I tried (eleven total, thus far), these six have been my favorite so far. All of them give me the comfort, support, and performance I need as a beginner jogger and beginner OTF member to feel successful in my workouts.

Best overall

Saucony, Freedom 5 — $150.00

The Saucony Freedom 5s are my absolute favorite sneakers to work out in at Orangetheory—hands (and feet) down. They’re incredibly lightweight and flexible compared to the rest of the sneakers I tested. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for me to come home from class and forget I even had them on until I started getting ready for bed.

As lightweight as they are, they provide you with the support you need to level up your workout on the treadmill, rower, and weight room floor—especially the treadmill. Thanks to the PWRRUN PB cushioning that’s unique to Saucony, landings are smoother and more shock-absorbent. The sole is perfectly cushioned to feel more bouncy in your stride, but is still stabilizing. I’ve found that when I wear the Freedom 5s, I run a little faster and with more ease. As someone who used to be skeptical about a sneaker’s impact on jogging performance, I’m a true believer now—this shoe has made my runs way more efficient.

Since the sole is thinner (I’m comparing to other shoes that look like they have gigantic marshmallows for heels), strapping into a rower is no problem. And I find my stance and position super supported in the weight room, whether I’m doing squats, lunges, or deadlifts.

Lastly? The fit is a dream. The overall fit of the shoe feels like it was tailor-made for me, which I think has been a huge part of why I’ve felt so successful in class.

Sizes available: 5-12

Heel-to-toe offset: 4-mm

Weight: 7.3-oz

Colors: 10

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Responsive cushioning
  • Fits true to size
  • Great color choices
  • No break-in time

Cons

  • Is limited to indoor exercising, or exercising in prime weather (it’s not the best shoe for muddy hikes, rain, or snow)
  • Expensive

brooks otf
Brooks, Ghost 15 Road-Running Shoes — $140.00

There’s a reason why so many runners freakin’ love and swear by Brooks. As a first-time Brooks wearer, I get the hype, and can confirm it’s well-worth it. This sneaker was perfect in every way for me—truly a tie with Saucony, and I think all it really comes down to is that the Ghost 15 is a little bit heavier than the Freedom 5. Other than that? You have yourself an ultra-cushioned, supportive running sneaker that’s shock-absorbing, making treadmill runs so much smoother and energetic. I tested the Ghost 15 the day after testing a sneaker I didn’t end up loving, and noticed I was able to cover more distance in the same amount of time. I stayed comfortable in the weight room (lunges, sumo squats, and all), and fitting my feet into the rower wasn’t an issue.

With air mesh uppers, you get a lightweight, breathable shoe, but the star of the show really is the fit and the cushioning. The fit of the Ghost 15 felt like someone tailor-engineered the sneaker for my feet—there was absolutely no needless space between the shoe and my toes, nor were these tight at all. That’s thanks to the 3D Fit Print unique to Brooks’ design. Some reviewers say the Ghost 15 is a little bit wider than earlier styles, and most seem to welcome this change, with some shoppers saying the earlier fits could run narrow.

The cushioning you feel when running is the DNA LOFT v2 midsole design that’s lighter than the previous Ghost iteration, and the Segmented Crash Pad sole means you feel bouncy with every stride you take.

Sizes available: 5-12

Heel-to-toe offset: 12mm

Weight: 1 1b, 1.6 oz

Colors: 6

Pros

  • Ultra-cushioned
  • Design provides stability and support
  • True to size (no need to size up a half-size)
  • Breathable
  • No break-in time
  • Provides a more energetic run and/or walk
  • Removable insole
  • Perfect amount of flexibility

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Reinforced toe design may take a minute to get used to
  • Slightly heavier than the Freedom 5s

Most stylish

adidas edge luxe
Adidas, Edge Lux — $90.00

The Edge Lux sneakers are another pair that had near-perfect fit and feel throughout my entire OTF class. Plus? They’re stylish enough to wear as everyday shoes. What sets the Edge Lux apart from the deluge of sneakers out there (aside from how pretty they are) is the amount of cushioning they offer: They’re lightweight and pillow-y without being bulky. The generous padding is especially felt around the heel and ankle, so it feels like you’re really strapped in when you’re running for a long time. The Geofit collar also gives you that snug fit.

What’s also unique about the Edge Lux sneakers is that they’re uniquely designed for women’s feet. This was my first time trying a style of sneaker that was specifically engineered for the female foot. While I’m not sure it was more comfortable than the tradition unisex sneaker, it was a very, very comfortable fit.

Other features that I liked include a breathable texture upper, molded sockliner, and a bounce midsole which gave me really nice bounce on the treadmill. Compared to the Saucony Freedom 5s, the soles are a *bit* thicker, which I only noticed when I was strapping myself into the rower—but they’re not oversized by any means.

They also held up beautifully in the weight room. I felt super balanced, even through lunges and single leg deadlifts.

Sizes available: 5-11

Heel-to-toe offset: N/A

Weight: N/A

Colors: 7

Pros

  • Cushioned throughout
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Comes in an array of colors
  • Is sleek enough to wear as an everyday shoe
  • No break-in time
  • True to size

Cons

  • Doesn’t provide a lot of arch support

Most lightweight

cloud x
On, Cloud X — $140.00

There’s a reason why On sneakers have been so hyped up this past year: They’re ultra lightweight and offer impressive performance. It’s all in the shoes’ CloudTec®, a proprietary reactive material (Helion™ superfoam) that makes the soles so supportive. Padding around the heel gives you more comfort, as well as a secure fit, and the engineered mesh upper is ultra breathable.

I tried the Cloud X sneakers several times, and really enjoyed wearing them during my runs. The soles are fairly sleek, so strapping myself into a rower created no problems, and they were ideal for working out in the weight room—I felt stable and balanced the entire time, even as I transitioned to heavier weights.

The one con I noticed and unfortunately felt (and this is probably just a “me” problem, since this seems to happen to me a lot) is the back of the shoe consistently rubbed up on my heel. For me, the backs are a bit too tall and too rigid. I remedy this by wearing longer socks, but it’s worth noting. Another thing that I personally didn’t mind but have heard from others who own On sneakers is that their laces are very light—some wearers get nervous that they’re too flimsy and will unravel during runs (I haven’t had this issue so far.)

Sizes available: 5-11

Heel-to-toe offset: 6 mm

Weight: 7.05 oz

Colors: 9

Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • Reactive soles
  • Perfect amount of interior cushioning
  • Sleek design

Cons

  • Stiff back, has led to heel irritation
  • Flimsy shoelaces
  • Expensive

Most roomy

reebok
Reebok, Nano X2 — $135.00

For a sneaker with an extra roomy toe box, I can’t recommend the Reebok Nano X2 training shoes enough. While the fit is considered “regular,” these felt a bit on the wider side to me, which was appreciated. Even with average feet, I’ve tried too many too-tight sneakers and end up with numb feet by the end of my 30-minute jog. The Nano X2s are nice and spacious. They’re also a bit stretchier than the other shoes I tested, which is another plus if you have feet on the wider side, or just prefer the wiggle room.

A little bit heavier than the sneakers above, The Nano X2 is still a fairly lightweight shoe. Its Floatride Energy Foam is less cloud-like, but still bouncy and responsive for longer runs on the treadmill. I found jogging in these really comfortable. The soles are compact, so fitting my feet in the rower wasn’t a problem. And in the weight room, I felt really stable and secure.

The Flexweave® knit upper is a bit thicker than mesh uppers I’m used to, but the material is still very breathable. I took my dogs for walks in these, and the 90-degree LA heat didn’t bother my feet.

Reading through reviews, I noticed that some folks say they needed to size down. I didn’t, and found that the shoes fit well, but that’s something you may want to take note of when buying.

Sizes available: 5-11

Heel-to-toe offset: N/A

Weight: N/A

Colors: 10

Pros

  • Roomier toe box
  • Stylish enough to be worn every day

Cons

  • You may need to size down
  • Interior padding is on the lighter side

Best compressive design

asics
Asics, Gel-Nimbus 24 Platinum — $120.00

Gel-Nimbus 24 sneakers are a tried-and-true style for everyday runners and joggers—mainly because of their best-in-class cushioning and responsive build. I wanted to try the Gel-Nimbus 24 Platinums, which are 10g lighter than its mother shoe, and are supposed to be even more comfortable to wear during longer-distance runs. The FF Blast Plus cushioning absorbs shock and impact with each stride, which ultimately helps you avoid injury.

I found Gel-Nimbus 24 Platinums to be a really effective sneaker for jogging, power walking, rowing, and the weight room (on the day I tested, we went really heavy with traditional and sumo squats, so I got a nice feel for how well I could balance with these on). The DuoMax design, which makes these shoes better for stability and support, is what helped me stay firmly put while I did squats and lunges with 10-pound weights in hand.

The fit is different from the rest of the sneakers I tried, though: Due to the 3D Space Construction, the Gel-Nimbus 24 Platinums have an almost sock-like fitting that improves compression (which also reduces pronation, if that’s an issue for you). The material is stretchy, including the tongue—which you can adjust to your liking (it doesn’t budge once you’ve tied your shoelaces, though). As someone with average-width feet, these felt a little on the tighter side, but this could be because I’m just used to a looser fit. Also, I had to play around with the laces—when I first tried the shoes on, the toe box felt too tight, but once I loosened the laces, I got more wiggle room. Most of the reviewers say these fit true-to-size, but there are a few like me who find them maybe a quarter of an inch too small. So, I’d try to order your size as well as a half-size up if you can, just to be on the safer side.

All in all, I had a really successful class wearing these—I was able to jog for a longer distance, rowing wasn’t a problem, and I felt good while weight-lifting. Aside from the compression I wasn’t used to, these are incredibly cushioned (without feeling overbearing or heavy), and they’re also very breathable (I wore them while taking my dogs on a walk after class and regretted not putting on thicker socks—they’re definitely better for indoor gyms, since your feet will feel the breeze outside wearing these with regular thin socks).

Sizes available: 5-12

Heel-to-toe offset: N/A

Weight: 9 oz

Colors: 1

Pros

  • Lightweight, Flytefoam Blast in the soles for bouncier, shock-absorbing landings
  • Reduces pronation
  • Interior cushioning that’s super comfortable
  • Provides support for the weight room
  • Breathable upper
  • Really pretty colorway
  • No break-in time

Cons

  • May be too compressive of a fit for some
  • Maybe runs a quarter to a half-size smaller
  • Limited colorways

Best for arch support

hoka kawana
Hoka, Kawana — $140.00

I’m a big Hoka fan (I’ve worn both my Bondi 7 and 8s into the ground), so I was excited to try the Kawanas out for OTF. Hoka is known for offering arch support and stability, and it didn’t disappoint. Features include the iconic, beveled, thicker heel and cushioned sole—this design is for smoother, more balanced runs. Compression-molded foam gives ankles and heels more support and padding while you work out, and a breathable mesh upper keeps your toes cool.

I tested the Kawana out a few times and liked how stabilizing it was for my runs. It did just fine in the rower. I’d say of all the shoes on this list, the Kawanas felt a bit too pillow-y for the weight room. With that said, I was able to do all my movements with ease.

Interestingly, even though I have fallen arches, the arch support was a bit too intense for me. If you prefer a sneaker that gives you generous arch stabilization, this shoe is definitely for you. For me, it sometimes felt the interior of the shoe was squeezing the sides of my feet .

Sizes available: 5-11

Heel-to-toe offset: 5 mm

Weight: 8.4 oz

Colors: 4

Pros

  • Arch support
  • Stabilizing design (thanks to beveled heel)
  • Soles are extra bouncy

Cons

  • Arch support may be uncomfortable for some
  • Sole is a bit too thick for weight training

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