Published: 2/09/2022By Shabana Waheed
If you’re like me when you started working out, you probably went to the shoe store and bought whatever shoe was the most stylish and comfortable to wear before starting your fitness journey. At the time, there was no thought in my mind that your footwear could possibly hinder your progress at the gym. Who would even think about this as a beginner at the gym? NONE of my trainers EVER told me about footwear. I did, however, see the occasional person at the gym with sandals on and had a few questions that I kept to myself, ha.
I wore the same shoes to lift in that I wore running, to Zumba class, and also spin class. I didn’t have a clue – but to be honest, that’s OK. Most of us don’t, so let’s just go over some basics. I won’t overwhelm you with too much but I’ll give you what to look for so you can maybe make some different choices according to what you do most in the gym. Personally, I bring two pair of shoes to the gym: one for lifting and one for cardio. So, let’s get started …
Running shoes need to be saved for running, walking, and cardio. Here is why:
1. Running shoes have toe spring. Toe spring refers to the degree of upward curvature of the soul under the toes or front of the foot. Its purpose is to facilitate forward motion through the front of the shoe. This is the part of the running shoe that lifts your toes off the ground. For proper lifting, you need your entire foot and all your toes planted on the ground for correct Proprioception.
2. Running Shoes have a cushioned heel for heel strikes to decrease force to the body. It’s like walking on pillows, essentially. When lifting, it’s best to have a flat, firm, and stable foundation for better output. The cushion also reduces the force you can put into the ground, making your lifts weaker and less explosive. You can also injure yourself by wearing the wrong footwear. Ask me how I know – ouch.
So, what are some better options for lifting in the gym? Well, if you are just in one spot squatting and deadlifting, and if your gym allows it, barefoot is the absolute best. Yes, I know how weird this sounds but it’s true. I do go barefoot if I’m doing deadlifts and back squats in one spot at my gym and then converse for the rest of my everyday lifting. However, I know barefoot won’t bode well with most of us so I have some options on what to look for as basic guidelines when searching for appropriate footwear. Knowing not to wear cushiony running shoes is key, but here you go.
I wear converse. The leopard print shoes in the photo are ZRG Women’s Canvas Low Top sneakers from Amazon. Converse and their knock-offs have a narrower toe box so if you have a wide foot, I would not recommend cramming your feet into these. But, if you have narrow feet and you like them, they’re great and an affordable option with lots and lots of fun variety to choose from. Edited 12/2022 I no longer wear converse as my every day shoes. I now wear Whitin and other zero drop shoes as my main lifting and every day shoes and those will be mentioned later in this article!
You want a shoe where your toes can spread out naturally as if you were barefoot. Something like the Xero Shoe Prio (see photo below). These have been known to be good for CrossFit because they have a tiny bit more cushion on the heel for transition.
I asked Malia, Owner and CEO of Lifting the Dream, which shoe she prefers as a CrossFit athlete and she said, “I have used Nike Nanos for a few years and love them. They provide support for both lifting and running in one shoe!”
Another option would be the Vivobarefoot shoe. These shoes are meant to let your foot function naturally – the way your foot was meant to. So, you will feel everything you walk on. Most people are not used to this but if you want to have good balance and proprioception, shoes like this and using them on a daily basis will get you there. They also help prevent injury.
I did find a super affordable barefoot shoe on Amazon for around $43. These are called Whitin and come in a variety of colors. That first link goes to women’s style but the men’s can be found here. These are great minimalist shoes on a budget and meet the criteria of being shaped like a foot with no cushy sole! These came suggested to me by a CSCS Coach.
As I mentioned previously, I now wear mostly Whitin shoes in the gym and as every day shoes. They provide a wide toe spread, zero drop as well as some transitional options and they’re affordable. I have healed my torn meniscus by switching to a barefoot shoe.
Again, a shoe with a wider toe box and a flat, no-cushion sole is what you are wanting to go for. Narrow toe boxes that gather up your toes aren’t letting you spread them out and really ground your toes for max force and capability. See the image below as an example of why you want a shoe that looks and is shaped like a foot from the outside. The narrower the toe box, the less stable you are. Obviously, the image is showing a dress shoe on the left but you get the idea. The narrower the form of the toe box, the more cramped the toes are going to be. Not a good thing.
So, next time you head to the gym, pack your bag with an extra pair of shoes. It takes 30 seconds to switch shoes when you do your cardio. It’s well worth it in the long “run” 😉.
What shoes do you lift in?
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