When New Balance’s Minimus line of shoes exploded onto the scene a few years back, all the focus seemed on the natural running crowd, with the MT and MR trail and road models taking the limelight. But their cousin the MX20 cross-trainer has been on my radar for some time as the potential pick of the range.
While I have jumped on the minimal shoe bandwagon and taken it to the limit, almost exclusively wearing zero-drop, thin soled shoes which were great for running but didn’t end up being the all-rounders that I needed for the variety Crossfit training throws at me.
Enter the MX20!
I’ve had a secret hankering for the retro-looking electric blue models with white sole, and they didn’t disappoint when pulled out of the box. These things look fresh!
The usual hallmarks of New Balance’s Minimus design are there: light weight, flexibility, anatomical design, lower stack height and roomy toe-box. From there, they depart solidly from the rest of the Minimus range.
Design and Features:
The shoe has a simple lightweight upper with plenty of mesh for ventilation, and a reinforced section around the toe and heel to back up the claim of being a do-anything gym shoe. Surprising when compared to other Minimus/minimalist shoes is the heavily-padded collar around the heel. New Balance says this is to give additional support, but I think they could’ve slimmed it down a bit for a more agile feel. Interestingly, the new version 2 MX does have a much thinner collar and we’ll cover that in and other design changes in the newest review.
Key features of the shoe are its mix of minimal upper with a more solid platform geared towards weighted movements in the gym. As with the rest of the original Minimus range, flexibility is great, and the shoe features a low heel height with just a 4mm heel-to-toe drop.
Sometimes the quest for light weight leads to intricate designs and space-age fabrics, but these are a refreshing honest and simple shoe. There is lightweight mesh, simple lacing and reinforced sections that brace the instep and mid-foot for extra stability.
A hallmark of the Minimus range is a smooth, no-sew interior almost devoid of seams for a snug fit even when worn barefoot. The MX20 gets halfway there on this front, with a better effort than your regular gym shoes, but is some way short of my other Minimus shoes the MW20 lifestyle and MR00 road racers, both of which are super-smooth on the interior. The MX20 has a few noticeable ridges around the tongue and mid-section, but they do give a pretty good feel both with and without socks.
The small drop from heel-to-toe is perhaps the most noticeable feature to anyone unfamiliar with the minimalist shoe movement. This means there is far less difference in height from front-to-back, designed to give you a more natural, planted feel and ensure the shoe works with you instead of against you. Typically this has been desirable for runners looking to maintain a natural, mid foot strike, but this is one of the first such designs for a gym shoe.
They key feature of these shoes for me, and I suspect for most readers, is the unique sole. The shape is based on New Balance’s minimalist last, which is said to be more anatomical and especially broader where it needs to be. Right on. In this case, the sole is also very cleverly constructed of two different materials. A light, firm-yet-springy EVA for the most-part, with two inserts of denser material front and back. These two large areas sit right under your forefoot and heel, and this is where things get interesting. These areas are a much denser rubber, which compresses way less than the light EVA around them. They also provide superior grip.
Fit and Sizing:
One issue I was concerned about after some quick internet research, was the fit and sizing. I had an issue with the rubber band across the forefoot on the Minimus Trail model and never felt comfortable with my wide foot. The MX20 has no such issue, so good news there. The toe-box is nice and wide, not overly high, but there is not a huge amount of toe-spring so I don’t think this is an issue at all. But a lot has been said online about the sizing. The consensus seems to be these shoes run a touch short, so consider sizing up half a size.
I fit a 9.5 in other Minimus, but grabbed a 10 in the MX20 based on this common suggestion. Seems that was the right way to go. I have no problems with fit at all, but it still does feel like a slightly bigger shoe than I would normally get. Once I’m working out though, it gives me no issues at all.
So in the MX20 you get a lightweight shoe with stability and traction where and when you need it. Why and how does this work?
Well, if you are thrown into a workout which has you moving from station to station, or throwing your body around with any kind of plyometric movements, you’ll appreciate the careful placement of this grippy rubber right where you drive the balls of your feet in to change direction, land when kicking out on a burpee, or slam your feet back to get under a solid overhead bar movement. I’ve seen people come unstuck in these areas in other lightweight shoes.
Secondly, if you are throwing some decent weights about either overhead or perhaps squatting, you’ll appreciate the lack of compression in the heel area especially. This is perhaps the biggest difference compared to normal cross-trainers. But as we’ve stated here numerous times before, if you’re doing some serious lifting you should be wearing purpose-designed shoes with a high, solid heel. In other words, an Olympic lifting shoe. These will certainly compress under heavier weights.
As you could imagine, when it comes to purely weight lifting my Reebok Crossfit Oly Shoes outclass the MX20 hands-down. But, and it’s a big but, if you are moving through multiple disciplines in a workout or doing high reps of low weights with maybe some running thrown in – these shoes excel!
I’ve pushed these shoes with a mix of 400-800m runs, burpees, overhead squats, cleans, front squats, box-jumps, kettlebell swings and countless bodyweight movements. So far, no chinks in the armor! The best test for me was repeated 400m sprints with overhead squats in between, requiring a sometimes elusive mix of stability and agility. I felt planted and solid in the squats, but had no trouble hitting the road for a quick run.
Underfoot, these are definitely not going to give the level of ground-feel felt in truly minimal shoes, but despite their stability they don’t slap along uncomfortably on a run. In fact the flat but slightly springy EVA was pretty nice to run on and the traction was great. I wouldn’t run a marathon in them but they certainly didn’t feel like they weighed me down as many traditional trainers would.
Burpees and pushups felt good, with no issues of pinching or inflexibility in the toe box. Landing from a box-jump or pull-up set was solid but with enough spring to minimize fatigue over longer stretches. And stability was never lacking for weighted movements. There is just enough heel-to-toe drop to give that nice solid feel you get in lifting shoes, but they don’t turn around and trip you up when you’re moving around. Skipping and running both feel natural and easy in these shoes, with enough cushion to help you keep going, but minimal enough design to not interfere or fatigue your feet prematurely.
Conclusion and Ratings:
Overall these shoes live up to their description and deliver on their promise. So many products that try to cover many bases end up just being average everywhere. These have just enough of everything to be a real contender for me as “one shoe to rule them all”.
Comfort: Functional fit, but nothing to write home about – 3.5 Stars
Function: A rare thing – a true all-rounder which is exactly what they needed to be. 5 Stars
Price: Great value for money and not hard to find on sale. 4.5 Stars
Quality: No issues here, but compared to similar offerings like the Reebok Nano, they feel a little cheap. 4 Stars
Styling: I love them. Simple, slightly 1980s and plenty of color choices for all tastes. 4 Stars
Where to Buy the New Balance MX20:
These shoes are available from numerous stores locally and online. I would say that trying these on before buying would give me some piece of mind given the few issues I’ve run into with sizing. If you are planning on ordering them online I would recommend buying directly from NewBalance.com since their prices are very reasonable and returns and/or replacements are a simpler process when you buy directly from the source.
Nick’s Bio: Nick is a trainer with Adapt Crossfit in Canberra, Australia amongst other things and this has led to a shoe addiction! He’s tried and trained in a wide range of minimalist and specialist shoes, with reviews and general musings on life at nicholashind.com
ADDITIONAL SHOE FEATURES: