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Shoe Review: Top Performance Trainers

By Brian Metzler

Update your shoe quiver with a performance-oriented training shoe

We’re in the middle of the fall race season, which means that a lot of runners are in the best shape of their lives and ready to run a fast half marathon or marathon in carbon-plated racing shoes.

Those “super shoes” have received a lot of exposure in recent years, and justifiably so, because they can definitely help you run faster if you’re willing to absorb the lofty price tags. They promote efficient and fast running because they have midsoles made of highly responsive super foams that provide optimal energy return in conjunction with the levering action of a carbon-fiber plate embedded in the chassis of the shoe.

But you can’t wear your high-end race shoes every day – because that can lead to overuse injuries and also because those foams aren’t very durable and won’t last very long. That means it’s a good idea to have another pair of light and fast shoes in your quiver for faster workouts. Specifically, there are a lot of amazing next-gen performance trainers – many of which have a midsole made of a super foam derivative but no carbon-fiber plate – that are ideal for up-tempo training efforts and are, in most cases, versatile enough to be everyday trainers.

Here’s a rundown of five of the very best performance trainers available at running stores right now.

A firm/stable shoe with a zero–drop platform

Altra was the last of the major shoe brands to develop a racing shoe with a carbon-fiber propulsion plate, but the launch of the Vanish Carbon shoe earlier this year also led to the plate-less Vanish Tempo, a lightweight performance trainer built on a balanced (zero-drop) platform. It’s nearly identical in construction as its carbon-enhanced cousin, but without a plate it’s a bit softer and more forgiving. Built on Altra’s nitrogen-infused EGO PRO super foam midsole compound, it’s a light and responsive shoe with a dramatic rocker geometry. The midsole isn’t mushy soft, but more of a firm-soft blend that gives it some structure. The toe box isn’t quite as wide as most Altra shoes—it features the brand’s new Slim Footshape Fit—but that actually gives this shoe a bit more agility than if it had a roomier forefoot.

Weights: 6.9 oz. (women’s size 8); 8.2 oz. (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 0mm heel-toe drop (33mm in the heel, 33mm in the forefoot)

Brooks Hyperion Tempo, $150

A firmer, mildly bouncy trainer with great feel for the ground

Brooks is known mostly for soft and cushy training shoes, but this one breaks the mold a little bit by offering some energetic pop and a slightly firmer demeanor. Built on a platform of cushy-but-firm nitrogen-infused DNA FLASH midsole cushioning, the Hyperion Tempo is light, agile and energetic. The low-profile design provides great feel for the road with a smooth, stable ride that offers a noticeable spike of bouncy energy during the transition from midstance to the toe-off phase of the stride. The light, stretchy upper helps lock down a runner’s foot and is also very breathable. Although it’s versatile enough to be an everyday trainer or even a 10K racing shoe, its light, nimble design makes it best for up-tempo workouts.

Weights: 6.3 oz. (women’s size 8); 7.2 oz. (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm heel-toe drop (31mm in the heel, 23mm in the forefoot)

A lightweight, cushy trainer with a soft, smooth, speedy ride

The Hoka Mach 5 is a soft, cushy and very flexible shoe that inspires speed and efficiency by promoting quick-cadence running at any pace. The dual-density Profly+ midsole setup includes a hyper-responsive supercritical foam just below the foot for energetic pop and a rubberized EVA bottom layer that provides a bit of stability and consistency in every stride. An airy, lightweight upper blends the ideal mix of comfortable stretch and locked-down support and complements the light and fast design of the chassis. The rubberized foam outsole isn’t going to be quite as durable as segments of blown rubber and carbon rubber, but it’s a heck of a lot lighter.

Weights: 6.8 oz. (women’s size 8); 8.2 oz. (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm heel-toe drop (31mm in the heel, 23mm in the forefoot)

A soft, springy and highly flexible shoe with exceptional creature comfort

The second edition of New Balance’s Fuel Cell Rebel was universally deemed one of the best shoes of the year in 2021 – a fun, lightweight, well-cushioned and extremely versatile shoe. Based on my wear-testing, I think the third version is even better. Utilizing the brand’s super-soft, very light, supercritical FuelCell midsole foam, it oozes softness and energy return in every stride. This year’s model has been updated with 1.5mm of its high-rebound Fuelcell midsole foam and a slightly wider footprint, which has made it even cushier and livelier. The lightweight engineered knit upper, plush interior and the soft, gusseted tongue have the right balance of comfort, structure and foot hold, especially because the shoe has a slightly narrower forefoot.

Weights: 6.5 oz. (women’s size 8); 7.6 oz. (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm heel-toe drop (32mm in the heel, 26mm in the forefoot)

A smooth-riding near-maximally cushioned trainer with energy for days

The Endorphin Speed 3 is agile, energetic and versatile enough to run at any pace and tackle any kind of workout with ease. The peppy feeling is created by the resilient PWRRUN PB midsole foam, the rocker shape of the SpeedRoll geometry and the curved nylon plate embedded in the midsole. The foam is both shock-absorbing and responsive, meaning it absorbs the impact with the ground but it also captures a lot of that downward energy and converts it into forward propulsion. Extremely energetic and buttery smooth, it’s a shoe that won’t beat up your feet and lower legs during a longer run, and that will speed your recovery for your next workout.

Weights: 7.2 oz. (women’s size 8); 8.1 oz. (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm heel-toe drop (36mm in the heel, 28mm in the forefoot


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