Best-rated athletic shoes

Self

We asked hundreds of SELF reader-testers to put 421 pairs of women's sneakers through their paces. Four weeks, 6,035 miles, 253 workout DVDs, 418 classes and 766 hours of strength training later, we present our first annual sneaker awards! Pinpoint your perfect pair to step up to your fitness goals.

Photo courtesy of kswiss.com

Cross-Training: For the Gym

You need a stable, sturdy shoe for dumbbell workouts.

Winner: Blade-Max Endure, $100; Yahoo! Shopping.

Athlete-engineered sliced soles provide traction. And who needs Louboutins? One tester loved the style as much as the function: "They're sexy as hell."

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Photo courtesy of puma.com

Cross-Training: Group Classes

Sidestep seamlessly in cross-trainers that help you move in any direction.

 

Winner: Puma Pumagility, starting at $70; Yahoo! Shopping.

Flex-grooved bottoms welcome lateral moves. Foam compresses and widens to keep feet stable. Testers liked them for "quick changes in direction." That means you, Zumba.

Photo courtesy of merrell.com

Cross-Training: Minimalist Trainers

Deconstructed sneaks force otherwise dormant foot muscles into action. Make sure your feet are ready for minimalist kicks with this 4-week strengthening plan.

Winner: Merrell Lithe Glove, starting at $63; Yahoo! Shopping.

Minor cushioning but major flexibility make these the ultimate minimalist multitaskers. Testers wore them to Zumba, on the elliptical and for a run, saying their feet "could really grab the ground."

Photo courtesy of mizunorunning.com

Supportive Long-Distance Sneakers

A more substantial shoe takes the pounding out of your feet and onto the pavement.

Winner: Mizuno Wave Creation 13; starting at $140; Yahoo! Shopping.

They have a double-decker plastic midsole separated by shock absorbers, which act like a springboard. "I barely felt the road," one high-miler said. Fit tip: Go up a half size.

Photo courtesy of asics.com

Minimalist Running Shoes

Light-as-a-feather minimalist shoes encourage a more natural forefoot strike, which lessens the load on your joints.

Winner: Asics GEL-Neo33, starting at $100; Yahoo! Shopping.

Designed to allow all 33 joints in your foot to move freely, these are minimalist without being too minimal, with a thicker sole. "I felt energized. My feet weren't constricted," a tester said.

Photo courtesy of reebok.com

Cushioned Sneakers

Neutral runners go farther and faster in pillowlike picks that ease the impact.

Winner: Reebok ZigNano Fly 2, starting at $73; Yahoo! Shopping.

The signature zigzag sole puts bounce in your step, literally. "The bottoms are like springs, easing you off the ground," a tester claimed.

Photo courtesy of nike.com

Superlight Running Shoes

Superlight sneakers with a firm midsole can help you run faster.

Winner: Nike LunarEclipse+ 2, starting at $110; Yahoo! Shopping.

A sock liner with two densities of foam cradles your midfoot. Have high arches? These will fit like a glove. And even with all of the bells and whistles, testers found the shoes surprisingly "airy and flexible."

Photo courtesy of ryka.com

Walking Shoes

Walkers strike heel first, rolling heel to toe, so a supportive heel, flexible sole and bend in the toe box are key.

Winner: Ryka Devotion, starting at $70; Yahoo! Shopping.

Eight squishy triangles create a platform along the bottom of the shoe. One tester said, "It was like walking on marshmallows."

 

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