What Shoes Should You Wear for HIIT Workouts?

Buying Guide

For high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a cardiovascular training method that pushes you to your limits, you need training shoes that can handle the heat.

Last updated: October 3, 2022
8 min read
Selecting the Best Shoes for HIIT Workouts

The Right HIIT Shoes Can Make or Break a Workout

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of cardiovascular exercise that alternates between short, intense bursts of anaerobic work with short periods of recovery. During the period of anaerobic exercise, you are working at maximum capacity. Your heart rate is high, anywhere between 80 to 95 percent of your maximal heart rate (MHR).

You can’t keep up such a high heart rate for very long, which is why the work component of HIIT only usually lasts for 15 to 45 seconds. The workout is then followed up with a short recovery period, where your heart rate will drop to around 50 percent of your MHR. This rest period can last up to one minute, depending on your ability to recover. A longer work period requires a longer break.

For this reason, a HIIT workout can only be performed for up to 15 minutes. The intense nature of HIIT leads to great fitness benefits, but also requires the right footwear and apparel.

What Are the Benefits of HIIT?

HIIT is associated with some well-studied benefits. In the exercise period, your muscles work anaerobically — without oxygen. During this phase, your body uses glucose to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Over the various intervals of work/rest, an excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is created. Increased oxygen consumption requires energy, meaning that your metabolic rate is elevated long after the exercise has finished. This is part of a physiological adaptation that has two major benefits:

  1. To increase your fitness levels, so your body will be able to handle the same exercise stimuli better in the future.
  2. To restore the body to homeostasis, in order to heal muscle damage and deliver essential nutrients for recovery.

The well-established benefits of HIIT are linked to the two main physiological adaptations. For example, a randomized controlled trial published in 2016 found that after five weeks of HIIT, participants improved their VO2 max by 9 percent. The VO2 max is your muscles’ ability to use oxygen during exercise, one of the best indicators of fitness levels.

Another study conducted by Azusa Pacific University in California concluded that HIIT is an effective tool for fat loss. During a six-minute HIIT workout, participants burned up to 112 calories. The researchers measured the effects of EPOC over the 24 hours following the workout to assess metabolic changes. They found that participants burned up to 457 calories just from that one, six-minute workout.

What Type of Exercise is HIIT?

The high-intensity aspect of HIIT is emphasized. If you’re not working at max capacity, you won’t be working anaerobically or taking advantage of the EPOC effect. This means that the type of exercise you’ll be doing will need to get you to the max heart rate zone.

Some of the best exercises for HIIT include:

  • Sprinting
  • Jumping rope
  • Riding a stationary bike
  • Rowing
  • Doing plyometrics, such as box jumps or burpees
  • Weight lifting on a circuit

These exercises get your heart rate up quickly. When performed with a high level of exertion, they are perfect for HIIT. You can’t do crunches or squats at 90 percent of your max heart rate, so you won’t enjoy the benefits of HIIT.

A HIIT workout may look something like this:

  • Sprinting on a treadmill — 30 seconds on/30 seconds off — repeat for eight rounds

The best HIIT workout are simple but effective. If you’re sprinting at max, that 30 second interval will feel never-ending. But for each interval you complete, you’re getting fitter. Push your body to its limits and reap the rewards.

What Type of Shoes Should You Wear for HIIT?

HIIT is often high-impact. High-impact exercise is defined as exercise that involves both feet being off the ground at the same time. Box jumps, burpees, sprinting are all examples of high-impact exercise. These exercises get your heart rate up quickly and efficiently, making them a great choice. In these exercises the feet are the first point of impact as you hit the ground

For high-impact exercise, you have to ensure your footwear provides the support you need to prevent injury. Protecting your feet from the impact by wearing training shoes specially designed for that intensity, is essential.Here's what to look for when buying shoes for HIIT.

1. Find Shoes Capable of Complex Cross-Training

In a single HIIT session you might find yourself performing box jumps, treadmill sprints, kettlebell swings and more. You need footwear that can handle the complex cross-training you’ll be doing. Your everyday running shoes might not be adequate.

Cross trainer shoes contain special features that make them better suited to the demands of HIIT. Shoes with plenty of cushioning under the midsole, for example, will protect your arches against impact during jumping.

2. Choose Shoes With Sufficient Shock-Absorption

Most forms of HIIT are high-impact. This requires shoes with shock-absorption. Shock-absorption in shoes refers to the ability to reduce the amount of kinetic energy that enters your body with each step.

Not all shock-absorption is equal. Shock-absorption dissipates impact by absorbing the energy, which can delay forward movement. Nike React foam cushioning diminishes the force of impact by absorbing the energy. This cushioning prevents serious impact up the kinetic chain, which can be linked to injuries or damage. Nike React foam cushioning also reacts to movement, delivering a greater energy return. You’ll enjoy performance benefits, while protecting your body against impact.

3. Look for Shoes With Traction for Lateral Movements

A box jump followed by a lateral burpee requires agility. Agility requires traction. Shoes without sufficient traction will impact your performance as you slip and slide through the multi-directional exercises.

Wearing running shoes for HIIT can be detrimental because the traction they feature is designed for forward or straight movement. This may not be a concern if your HIIT workout consists of sprinting. But for plyometrics or dynamic lateral movement, your HIIT shoes will need to have grip, traction and flexibility.

4. Give Preference to Shoes with Stability

HIIT training shoes need to provide stability. Running shoes are suitable for running, not the high-intensity interval training demands and variety of HIIT. Cross trainer shoes are more stable. This comes down to what’s called the "drop." The drop refers to the difference in height between the heel and forefoot.

The greater the drop, the steeper the angle. Being barefoot is the baseline, with a drop of zero. A typical running shoe has a heel drop of around 10mm. This cushions the heel, encouraging a heel-to-toe strike. This is perfect for running, but in cross-training, it can shift your weight forward, creating instability.

Instead, opt for HIIT shoes with a reduced toe drop. These shoes will have a drop of up to 4mm. This keeps your weight centered and stable.

5. Buy Shoes That You Like and Work for Your Foot

Aside from the key design features of HIIT shoes, you should also factor in your personal preferences. Do you prefer low-cut or high-top HIIT shoes? Do you have naturally flat feet and require more arch support? Do you prefer lace-up or slip-on shoes? What colors do you like? These are all important factors to consider when choosing shoes for HIIT.

What Type of Clothing Should You Wear for HIIT?

High-intensity training requires supportive, durable, sweat-wicking workout wear. The types of exercise performed during HIIT involves plenty of multi-directional movement — side-to-side, up and down, bouncing, jolting and jumping. You need activewear and training shoes designed to handle the types of exercises performed. Here are some tips to help you decide what to wear for HIIT.

1. Go for Sweat-Wicking Pieces

Working at a high-intensity means one thing for most people: sweat. Don’t be afraid of sweating; it’s a sign you’re working hard. But sweat can interfere with your performance if it isn’t managed properly by your activewear.

Materials like cotton that trap sweat will prevent airflow and retain moisture in the skin. This affects your body’s ability to effectively thermoregulate. You’ll feel hot and heavy, which can slow you down. Opt for sweat-wicking materials to keep cool and comfortable. Nike Dri-FIT technology transfers sweat away from the skin and onto its surface, so it can evaporate.

2. Choose Skintight Vs. Loose-Fitting

For certain workouts, loose-fitting clothing may be preferred. However, for HIIT, go for tight clothing. Tighter-fitting, flexible fabrics allow for a full range of motion and comfortability, and are better suited to high-intensity exercise.

You’ll feel aerodynamic and agile in tighter clothing. For HIIT workouts that involve intense movements such as jumping or changing direction, you’ll want clothes that don’t get in the way. Plus, snug-fitting workout clothes increase blood circulation and oxygen delivery and keep your muscles warm throughout your workout.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Wear Running Shoes for HIIT?

Running shoes are designed for forward movement, which effects the traction they offer and the cushioning. In terms of the cushioning, running shoes usually have a higher heel-toe drop to protect the heel against impact as it strikes the ground. If you are only going to be sprinting for your HIIT workout, running shoes are fine. But if you’ll be cross-training, which is common, it’s vital to wear shoes designed for multi-directional agile movements. These shoes will have a reduced toe drop and midsole cushioning.

What Are Cross-Training Shoes?

Cross-training is when you train in a variety of ways. Cross-training might involve combining running with weight-lifting, for example. Cross-training shoes are a hybrid of athletic footwear. They combine different features, such as midsole cushioning instead of heel cushioning, a wide toe box, and/or a rubber outsole. They are shoes that are suited for multiple types of exercise.

Originally published: October 27, 2021

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