The Demise of the Cross Trainer.
Cross trainer sports shoes…..the rise or imminent demise?
In the early 1980’s, we saw the arrival of the sports shoe model marketed as the one shoe you could use for all activities, the cross trainer. It became a category of shoes that I frequently recommended as it allowed usage for a range of activities, had good shock absorption, stability & durability. 
The “modern history” of sports shoes.
The 1970s were an amazing period of development of sports footwear.The running boom arrived with many people getting in to competitive recreational long distance running. Demand for jogging footwear would explode with Asics, Brooks, New Balance, Saucony the new Nike competing for the soles of all these long distance practitioners. 

Basketball boots started becoming more sophisticated after many years of the Converse Chuck Taylor being state of the art….yes that fashion shoe!

With the booming fitness trend that begun in the early 1980s, Reebok lead the way in the aerobics industry with fitness shoes. In 1987 Nike introduced the  first cross trainer – Nike Air Trainer 1. A Nike designer was tired of packing several sets of shoes, a pair for running, a pair for basketball, a pair for weights another pair for racquetball. A hybrid was designed with a lean towards basketball design that could do the job of four shoes.
EVA the midsole evolution
It is considered that the introduction of EVA midsoles was the principal agent  for change. An air infused foam of varying density that provided shock absorption. Not only could manufacturers provide shoes with cushioning but models with a different degree of cushioning. Sport shoe companies blossomed with the eternal quest for the ideal shoe, primarily built around the best midsole. 

As research development continued marketing became a major part of the  business strategy with the quest for lighter softer.

What’s so good about cross trainers?

Whilst cross trainers have evolved over 30 years the original concept is still  very relevant. 

Cross trainers are not meant to replace technical running shoes for the serious runner, or tennis shoes for the competition tennis player. They provide a shoe that works for the huge numbers of recreational sportspeople. One pair of shoes to wear to the gym, play a game of netball, basketball or squash, maybe even a short run or two a week  a great pair of shoes for fitness walking.
What makes a cross trainer?

A technical running shoe is designed to run in a relatively straight line on a  relatively flat surface, which has a reduced need for stability in the upper. We see the introduction of the upper being all mesh or knitted fabrics

A tennis shoe is designed to cope with stop/start & sudden change in  directions. This requires a lot more strength in the upper, which until recent times were predominantly leather.

The integrity of cross trainers was primarily in the upper. Early models were  mid cut (a low cut boot) offering ankle support. Uppers were predominantly leather. In recent years a blend of leather & mesh with reinforcing has reduced the weight without compromise. It is interesting that some models continue with an all leather upper option.

Whilst the major difference is in the upper there were elements within the  midsole & outsole that also added to the integrity of the cross trainer. Foot framing is little flange like extensions of the midsole onto the upper. Cup soling is extensions of the outsole across the midsole up to the upper. These features are seen to improve the mediolateral stability of the shoe.
What’s happening to cross trainers?

This blog has been inspired from just hearing that Brooks have stopped  making their 2 models of men’s & women’s cross trainers. When recommending cross trainers to my patients I have always included the Liberty the more controlling Maximus when indicated. Most of my daughters have enjoyed many seasons of netball in their Liberty cross trainers.

It seems that the shift is towards a category most companies are calling “gym  training”. These shoes appear to be aimed towards the wide range of gym activities such as High Intensity Interval training (HITT), cross functional training weightlifting. Whilst some of these shoes appear to be suitable for these activities I may not be so keen to use across other sports fitness activities.

So after just over 30 years we are seeing the beginning of the eventual  demise of cross trainers. I am sure the sports shoes companies have seen sales figures drop rising sales of the “new” gym training shoes.
What do I buy now?

If you are going to use the shoes most of the time certainly look at the “gym training category.  If you want a shoe that you can use in a range of activities there are still some cross trainers out there. Asics New balance are continuing, but with an apparently reduced range.

Here is where now we think a little laterally.  I consider shoes marketed as netball shoes are outstanding cross trainers as they have all the desirable characteristics of a cross trainer. Both Asics Mizuno manufacture netball shoes. Tennis shoes also now come in to consideration. They have long suffered the stigma of being perceived as heavy clumpy. They may have been many years ago but there is no way Federer Nadal are going to wear heavy clumpy shoes for a five set match on a hard court. Maybe tennis shoes are now providing the ultimate in shock absortption, stability durability? The range of tennis shoes is not great I tend to think the mainstream sports shoes brands do it a little better than the pure tennis brands.
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