2020 Runner’s World Fitness and Nutrition Awards
Photo credit: Kory Kennedy From Runner’s World These 31 products—every one of them rigorously evaluated
From Runner’s World
These 31 products—every one of them rigorously evaluated by the RW test team—will take your running to the next level. To find the absolute best stuff, we vetted hundreds of options on grueling road and trail runs, during sweaty gym sessions, and to fuel our efforts and recovery. No matter what your fitness goals are, this is the gear that will help you reach them faster.
Bounce back with these high-tech devices, low-tech tools, and topicals that help treat and prevent aches and pains.
The handheld massage-device category has recently exploded, and there are now a ton of options ranging in price from $100 to $600. You might be tempted to reach for the cheapest, but the Hypervolt delivers the best bang for your buck. In the RW Test Zone, we weighed down the guns to see how much force they could apply before stalling out, and the Hypervolt performed near the top of our test. But perhaps more important, it’s whisper-quiet. For real. We’ve even used it in the middle of a staff meeting without anybody noticing. In contrast, some of the pricier models sound more like construction equipment.
TriggerPoint MB1 Ball
A simple massage ball is an essential part of every runner’s recovery tool kit, ideal for kneading small muscles and encouraging blood flow. At 2.6 inches in diameter, the MB1 is the ideal size to relieve tension in your calves, neck, shoulder blades, and feet. It’s more effective than a tennis ball, and the grippy foam exterior is easier to clean. We’ve tested many massage balls over the years, but this one stands out for how great it is for deep-tissue rolling, especially on achy arches and tight IT bands.
Sidekick I Want It All Bundle
This mobility set is among our favorite—and fastest—means for loosening tight muscles. The unique shape of the Fuse Vibration Therapy Peanut Roller ($95 if purchased separately) releases knots and safely rolls along the spine. The stainless steel Echo Muscle Reliever ($135) works miracles on ankles and shoulders, while increasing range of motion within a couple minutes of scraping, and the Revive Muscle Warming Spray ($17) eliminates friction as it warms to soothe soreness. If you’re unfamiliar with muscle scraping, Sidekick includes online tutorials and classes.
Rapid Reboot Recovery System
Rapid Reboot is a high-performance recovery system that works as well as some similar, more expensive options. Zip these on after a run and queue up Netflix—you’ll get the premium recovery that many elites rely on. Ten intensity levels let you dial in the right compression, and two progressive modes help flush out lactic acid from your legs. It’s an investment, but they cost about the same as one professional massage per month for a year—worth it if you require that level of recovery work.
In our testing of high-performance self-recovery tools, nothing proved as effective as the Marc Pro. Lofty praise for an electrotherapy device, but it works, helping torched legs recover fast after hard tempo sessions and long runs. The device uses long, gentle waveforms to stimulate muscles without fatiguing them. Although it’s pricey, its ability to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and loosen tight muscle tissue is worth the money.
OOfos OOmg Low Shoe
Sure, we test hundreds of running shoes each year and fill semiannual guides with the best of them, but what you wear on the road to recovery is just as important as what you wear on the road. With an impact-absorbing foam midsole, these slip-ons help alleviate pain and stress on your joints. Think of them like a foam mattress for your race-weary feet. Bonus: They’re machine washable, too.
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BLDG Active Skin Repair Hydrogel
Take a spill on the trail or rip open your hands in CrossFit and you’re usually in for a lengthy healing process. But this hydrogel patches you up faster than other ointments. It works by using hypochlorous acid, which is also produced by your white blood cells to speed healing. So, while your body treats the injury internally, this gel treats wounds from the outside, too—it kills 99.9 percent of bacteria, according to BLDG, but is nontoxic. Use it to heal road rash and take away the sting from sunburns.
Bag Balm Organic Hemp & Arnica Muscle & Joint Rub
Given the explosion in CBD products, there’s little to no regulation yet, so it’s hard to know which brand is even safe, never mind effective. We like that this one comes from a brand we already know and trust. In testing, we’ve used this full-spectrum ointment, which is blended with arnica, to effectively soothe cranky Achilles tendons and tender hamstrings. Herbs like lavender and rosemary give it a delicate, non-medicinal scent.
Runners know we should apply sunscreen before heading outside, but no one wants to return with greasy, oily skin. Unlike most sunscreens, Skinnies Sungel isn’t water-based; it’s more concentrated so you need less. It dries in just two minutes and forms a thin, barely there layer of protection. In our test, we found it won’t sweat off, and lasts longer than other sunscreens. It won’t sting your eyes, and there’s only a slightly waxy feeling on your fingers afterward. Plus, it’s designated reef-safe, so it’s good for the environment, too.
Everything you need—from weights to wireless headphones—to enhance your training, no matter how you work out.
Altra Solstice XT
A true hybrid shoe, the Solstice helps you sweat it out at the gym as well as on the road. This flexible, lightweight trainer has high rebound and tacky rubber for a reliable grip. Altra’s signature features—a foot-shaped toebox and balanced cushioning (7mm drop as measured by our lab)—help you feel grounded when performing lunges, lifting weights, landing box jumps, and logging light weekly mileage. Our shoe testers were impressed by the Solstice’s versatility, with one describing its ride as “natural and smooth.”
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We wouldn’t recommend the NoBull Trainer for a long run, but its flat, hard midsole is exactly what you want for weightlifting. The construction supports your feet and ankles, keeping you stable through heavy squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Yet the shoe is still flexible enough for agility drills, jumping rope, or sprint repeats. Another way they’re not like many running shoes: They last. One test pair has gone through nine months of regular CrossFit WODs with few signs of wear.
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Reebok Nano 9 Training Shoe
Yes, Reebok’s stalwart training shoe is built for CrossFit workouts, but that doesn’t mean its benefits don’t extend beyond the box. The most recent upgrades—a more supple woven upper, added cushioning, and more flexible outsole—make it the most run-worthy version yet. It’s best to stick to quick sprint efforts, short runs, and exercises like high knees and mountain climbers, but the shoe’s locked-in support, stability, and roomy toebox make it one of the best for strength training, circuit training, and group fitness classes alike.
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NordicTrack Commercial 2950
Connected fitness is one of the hottest trends in home gym equipment, and of all the treadmills we tested this year, this NordicTrack has some of the nicest features. Its enormous 22-inch touchscreen displays a huge range of streaming workouts via the company’s iFit training system. You can watch videos of elite runners, following them through remote locations around the world, and the machine automatically adjusts the incline and speed to make the experience feel realistic. Is it? Well, no. But the large display helps you forget that you’re in your basement and not outside. We just wish you could stream Netflix, too.
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Weights
You can do a nearly infinite number of exercises with dumbbells, but who has space at home for a huge rack of weights? The 552’s unique system gives you the equivalent of 15 different sets of weights and takes up no more space than two large dumbbells. Simply turn a dial to increase or decrease weight in 2.5-pound increments, from 5 to 52.5 pounds. While the pair costs almost the same as a full set, it’s a solid option for active households, or anyone who wants to avoid a gym membership.
Believe Training Journal
Strava, Garmin, MapMyRun—it’s so easy to track your runs online, but it’s hard to replace the nostalgic charm of logging your training longhand. There’s power to putting your aspirations in writing. And the Believe Training Journal is more than a place to record your workouts: It offers nuggets of wisdom from elite runners and essays on mental health, nutrition, and setting achievable goals.
Thule Urban Glide 2
Jogging strollers tend to be do-it-all vehicles. Sure, you can run with them, but they’re also used frequently just for running errands. But, if you want one that excels when it’s time to work out, get behind the Urban Glide. Thule built a sleek, lightweight model that rolls better than anything else we’ve tested, especially when you’re running quick. And the built-in handbrake lets you control speed with a simple twist, which is especially helpful on hilly roads. But you don’t have to completely sacrifice versatility: Your kid can still recline at nap time, the front wheel can swivel when you’re navigating grocery store aisles, and a roomy cargo basket below deck zips closed to hold snacks and toys.
Soundcore Spirit Sports Earbuds by Anker
Wireless earbuds and headphones now deliver clear sound and longer battery life, which is perfect for runners. These earbuds are water (a.k.a. sweat)-resistant, reliable, and provide decent sound quality compared to the higher-priced models. We’ve worn them running and during at-home workouts for the last six months without any quality issues or loss in battery life. The low price means you can train hard in these and worry a little less about replacing them if they break.
Delicious snacks, energy-boosting gels, and protein-rich recovery options that provide essential nutrients—all approved by dietitians.
Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal Cups
As runners, we rely on carb-packed whole grains to fuel up before and after runs. These single-serving cups come in handy when you’re on the go. Thanks to added chia and flax seeds, they are loaded with fiber, protein, and iron. It takes only three minutes to make: Just add hot water and let it sit.
These soy-, dairy-, and gluten-free bars were created by runners looking for energy from real food. With nine different flavors made of easily digestible ingredients (think: dates, nuts, seeds, and yes, chocolate), these bars are portable and mess-free. A perfect snack before, during, and after workouts.
Organic Valley Fuel Protein Shake
Packed with a whopping 20 grams of protein, this super convenient, zero-effort protein drink is ideal after long runs and hard workouts, when your body needs to replenish fast but your stomach lacks the appetite for a full recovery meal. It has no added sugars, antibiotics, or GMOs.
UnTapped Maple Pure Vermont Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a dual fuel, providing both glucose and fructose for runners who want a natural source of energy. These packets are perfectly sized to slip into most pockets, making them easy to whip out midrun.
GU Roctane Energy Gel Cold Brew Coffee
Studies show that caffeine (3 to 6mg/kg of body weight) can reduce perceived exertion and increase performance. These gels contain 70mg each, so when combined with a cup or two of coffee, they provide enough of a boost to reap those benefits.
CLIF Bloks Energy Chews Ginger Ale
Candy-like fruit chews are great, but sometimes your palate just can’t handle sweet stuff. Enter: ginger ale–flavored gummies. The fresh and zesty flavor is a welcome change for both your taste buds and your stomach. They provide quick-digesting carbs and are easy to eat on-the-go.
Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix
Made with real fruit, cane sugar, and salt, these packets offer 80 calories and the key electrolytes you lose in sweat (sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) to power your everyday run training.
Maurten Drink Mix 320
With up to three times the carb content of a standard sports drink (79 grams) and 500 milligrams of sodium, this mix fuels your longest, hardest, sweatiest runs without upsetting your stomach.
When you want a hit of electrolytes but don’t need the sugars in other hydration mixes, these tablets ($7 for 10) do the trick. With just 15 calories and 1 gram of sugar, they replace the essential electrolytes and minerals you lose in sweat.
From logging miles, mapping routes, and checking vitals to storing your favorite playlist, these are the year’s top watches.
Garmin Forerunner 945
The 945 is the most feature-packed Forerunner yet, tracking every step on the run and each heartbeat while you sleep, delivering you a complete profile of your life as an athlete. Plus, it finally supports music playback—you can store up to 1,000 songs on the watch, whether they’re your own MP3s or synced from a music service like Spotify—and can stream the tunes to your wireless earbuds via Bluetooth. Full-color maps, previously exclusive to the Fenix watch series, are another handy feature. Displayed on the watch, they help you find your way around new cities without getting lost. You can even generate round-trip courses on the fly, no computer required.
Apple Watch Series 5
The Apple Watch is an incredible all-day timepiece, and it holds its own on the run. Series 5 is the latest and most powerful model, though it gets only a few minor updates over the Series 4. It comes in the same sizes as the previous one (40mm and 44mm), and has many of the same popular safety features, like fall detection and EKG. The biggest improvement is the new “always on” screen. It dims when not in use to conserve power and brightens when you raise your arm or touch the watch face, but it never shuts off. Go for the “GPS+cellular” version that costs $100 more. It’s fantastic to just ask Siri for any song you want midrun, without ever having to download tracks before you head out the door.
For the rugged and gnarly roads less traveled, you’ll never want to leave home without these essential items.
Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set
Salomon’s S/Lab hydration vests are so good, the company hasn’t changed them since 2017. Some of the lightest hydration vests we’ve ever tested, they were also the first to be built for soft flasks, which conform to your body while you run—so much better than hard bottles. The ultralight, stretchy material has soft edges and bungee sternum straps to give you a snug fit without any pressure points. The largest pack in the range boasts an eight-liter capacity—enough to hold all the gear you need for a big run like Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, but with a barely there feel when you don’t need it. And unlike many hydration packs, this one has pockets that can actually fit a large smartphone.
Katadyn BeFreeWater Filtration System 1.0L
While trail running can conjure up images of runners tackling big mountains with little gear and drinking fresh water from pristine streams along the way, most trails don’t offer such secure oases. Katadyn’s flask makes it easy to get safe drinking water during long days on the trail. The cap features an integrated system that filters water while you drink it. The soft flask collapses down when empty, so you can toss it in a pocket or hydration pack for any run, without penalty.
Kahtoola’s Microspikes provide the best winter traction we’ve tried—way better than drilling screws into your trainers. The slip-on crampons bite into ice, snow, and dirt so you can fly down the trail in any conditions. They even come with a stuff sack so you can stash in a pack when your route hits sections of paved road.
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