Minimalist Cross Training Shoes – Introduction
What are the best minimalist training shoes on the market in 2023?
Minimalism is the art of doing more with less.
This philosophy can be applied to architecture, interior design, possessions, travel, and even diet and exercise.
In fact, we recently produced a guide to minimalist training at home, which was written to help you strip your workout of unnecessary, time-consuming exercises and create more time-efficient programs.
The minimalist movement has also made its presence felt in the sports shoe industry.
Minimalist footwear has become increasingly popular in the last ten years or so.
In this article, we explain what minimalist training shoes are, look at the benefits and drawbacks of this type of footwear and reveal our five favorite minimalist shoes for 2023.
Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means I may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
What Are Minimalist Cross Training Shoes?
The human foot is an amazing feat of biomechanical engineering.
It consists of 26 bones, over 30 ligaments, and 29 muscles.
It’s a highly complex machine!
The foot is capable of dozens of different movements and plays a critical role not just in your ability to stand, walk, run, and jump but also in your balance, posture, and stability.
It’s no exaggeration to say that your feet are the foundation of your body, and strong, healthy feet are critical to your long-term health and exercise performance.
So, what do most people do with these incredible locomotive devices?
They enclose them in cushioned, supportive shoes that effectively isolate them from the outside world!
As a result, a lot of people’s feet are weak and lazy.
Their shoes do all the work, and that means the muscles and ligaments are less active, and the feet become reliant on shoes for support.
Of course, this didn’t use to be the case.
The Benefits of Bare Feet
In fact, your great-great-great ancestors didn’t wear shoes, or the shoes they did wear were much less engineered, so the feet were not so protected.
This meant the muscles in your feet had to support your arches, grip the ground with your toes for more effective locomotion, stabilize your own feet and ankles, and absorb shock rather than rely on the support and cushioning in your shoes.
In short, not wearing shoes meant your feet had much more work to do and were naturally stronger.
Unfortunately, the ground is unforgiving, and not wearing shoes is not always socially acceptable, which is where minimalist shoes come in.
Minimalist shoes are designed to mimic going barefoot while protecting your feet from hazards.
For this reason, minimalist shoes are sometimes called barefoot shoes.
They have a “zero drop” from the toe to the heel, which means they are completely flat.
Most have protective soles but provide very little external cushioning or additional stability.
Minimalist shoes do away with all the technical features commonly found in engineered running shoes.
They’re as close as you can get to being barefoot without your feet actually being naked!
What are Minimalist Shoes Good For?
Benefits of Strength Training in Minimal Shoes
First of all, a true minimalist shoe is perfect for strength training.
For example, when you lift weights in shock-absorbing running shoes, the sole often compresses and deforms, which gives you an unstable platform to lift from.
This lack of stability is not an issue for bench presses and pull-ups but could be a real problem during heavy lifting workouts, such as squats, deadlifts, and standing overhead presses.
With no heel block and very thin soles, minimalist shoes put you closer to the ground, so you should feel more stable during ground-based exercises.
Powerlifters like wearing minimalist shoes for deadlifts and can often lift more weight compared to wearing running shoes.
That said, minimalist shoes may not be ideal for barbell squats, especially if you have tight calves.
A raised heel allows your knees to travel forward more efficiently, resulting in a deeper, more quad-dominant squat.
For this reason, many lifters prefer to wear shoes with a solid raised heel for squats, such as Olympic lifting shoes.
Running in Barefoot Shoes
Some people also like to run in barefoot shoes.
This encourages a toe/heel gait instead of the more usual heel/toe running style.
Minimal cushioning forces you to run more mindfully and use your feet and calves to absorb shock instead of relying on your shoes.
This may produce a more natural, efficient running style, even if it does take some getting used to if you usually wear built-up running shoes.
However, it’s worth mentioning that it can take many months to acclimate to running in minimalist barefoot-like footwear.
Wearing regular shoes for so long means your feet and ankles are probably pretty weak and unaccustomed to the demands of going without cushioning or support.
Unfortunately, doing too much too soon will invariably result in injuries.
Avoid problems by increasing running frequency, duration, and intensity gradually while continuing to run in your regular training shoes.
Now you know that minimalist athletic shoes are designed to simulate going barefoot and can work for:
- strength training,
- walking, and
However, except for lifting weights, you should introduce minimalist shoes gradually, as doing too many miles too soon could increase the risk of injury.
What to Look for in Minimalist Shoes for Training
So, you’ve decided that you want to buy a pair of minimalist shoes; good for you!
Here’s what to look for in your first purchase:
Thin sole, zero heel drop
Ideally, the sole should be thin but strong and grippy, with no height difference from the front to the back of the shoe.
This will protect your feet from the harsh ground without compromising that all-important barefoot feeling.
A snug-fitting heel
Your minimalist shoes should move with your feet.
The heel needs to fit snugly, so there is no unwanted movement.
For this reason, most minimalist shoes have narrow heels and are best worn without socks.
Some minimalist shoes are made to slip on, while others have Velcro or lace fastenings.
Because the material (called the upper) will stretch over time, an adjustable fastening is probably best so you can cinch your shoes up more tightly and achieve the perfect fit.
Lace-up and Velcro shoes are also easier to put on than pure slip-ons.
To imitate being barefoot more closely, your toes need space to spread when you walk and run.
Ensure your minimalist shoes have a wide toe box to accommodate your foot as it spreads.
Narrow minimalist shoes are not a good option for most people.
Your feet are bound to sweat during your workouts, so your minimalist shoes should be breathable.
This is especially important if you plan on going sockless – which you probably should so that your shoes feel more natural.
Waterproof uppers might sound like a good idea but will make your feet sweat more, as will shoes made from neoprene and other types of rubber.
Mesh uppers are generally best.
Your minimalist shoes should bend just like your feet do.
If you can’t roll your shoes lengthways with very little effort, they’re probably too stiff and will interfere with the natural movement of your foot.
Even breathable minimalist shoes will get sweaty and stinky in time.
The good news is that many can just be thrown in the washing machine.
After all, there is little cushioning or support for the water and detergent to ruin, and less padding means they dry fast, too.
So, if you plan on washing your minimalist shoes, make sure they are made with this in mind.
5 Best Minimalist Training Shoes for Lifting & Running in 2023
Not sure which are the best minimalist cross-training shoes for you?
Here are five of our favorite models for 2023.
#1. Vibram FiveFingers Cross Training Shoes
- Optimal balance of traction and durability
- Responsive on unpredictable terrain
- Engineered for stability and comfort
Vibram Five Fingers pretty much started the barefoot shoe movement.
With their toe separators and form-fitting design, they do look kinda weird, but if you are okay with wearing shoes that look like foot gloves, they’re a good option.
However, they can be tricky to put on, especially if your toes crowd together.
And, did we mention they look funny?!
#2. Merrell Trail Glove 5
- Mesh and TPU upper and traditional lace closure
- Hyperlock TPU film heel counter for security
- Breathable mesh lining
- Integrated insole
- Merrell Barefoot 2 construction for enhanced proprioception and stability during...
Merrell Trail Gloves have been around for nearly a decade, and this is the 5th version of these popular minimalist shoes.
They look like fairly traditional sneakers but have flat soles and a zero-heel drop.
However, they’re surprisingly rugged and ideal for hikers and trail runners navigating rough terrain, as well as wearing in the gym.
Merrell Men’s Trail Glove 5 Hiking Shoes have Vibram soles and are also machine washable, making them easy to keep clean.
My old model twos are six years old and still going strong!
#3. New Balance Minimus Trail Running Shoe
- Acteva midsole
- 4 mm drop - due to variances created during the development and manufacturing...
- 4 mm drop - due to variances created during the development and manufacturing...
New Balance has a long history of making great athletic shoes.
This minimalist running shoe ticks all the right boxes and works well as a gym trainer or running sneaker.
The rugged sole means they’re at home out on the trail but also look like a traditional running sneaker, so they look good in the gym.
The laces of this Minimus 10 V1 model mean it’s easy to customize the fit.
#4. Inov-8 Men’s Bare-xf 210 V3 Sneaker
- ZERO DROP - Zero lift allow steady for deadlifts and stable footing so you can...
- WIDE TOE BOX - Plenty of space in the forefoot allows you to spread out the toes...
- STICKY RUBBER GRIP - A patented stick rubber on the outsole guarantees a...
- MINIMAL CUSHIONING - These lightweight trainers have minimal support so you can...
- VERSATILE EVERYDAY SHOE - Perfect for everyday wear and multipurpose gym. These...
Inov-8 (innovate, get it?!) make great outdoor and weight lifting shoes.
This minimalist barefoot shoe is available in a range of different colors and has a really robust sole to protect your feet from hazards in and out of the gym.
Besides being a wonderfully versatile shoe, they’re very light and breathable, so you may even forget you are wearing them at all!
#5. Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit
- Breathable mesh upper with seamless synthetic overlays
- Soft and breathable textile lining
- Removable 3mm thin Performance insole
- Ultra-thin, flexible and foldable
- Durable rubber sole for maximum sensory feedback and minimum interference
The Primus Trail Knit is the perfect choice if you want a barefoot shoe with loads of grip.
Made from recycled materials, this breathable off-road shoe from Vivobarefoot looks good and performs even better.
The narrow heel and wide toe box provide a secure, comfortable fit, while the 5mm flexible rubber sole is thick enough to protect your feet without compromising that barefoot feel.
Minimalist Cross Training Shoes – Wrapping up
Minimalist shoes that mimic going barefoot may seem like a redundant idea.
After all, you can just take off your shoes and go barefoot for real, right?
However, most gyms forbid barefoot training, and walking or running outdoors without shoes is a recipe for disaster.
After all, your ancestors had skin like toughened leather on the soles of their feet, but you do not!
Barefoot shoes enhance your connection with the ground for more stable workouts and will help strengthen your feet and ankles.
However, if you plan on wearing them for walking or running, it’s best to introduce them gradually and increase your mileage over several months.
But, if you want to enjoy the benefits of going barefoot without damaging your feet on rocks, twigs, and other hazards, barefoot shoes could be just what you’re looking for.