Updated: Oct 23, 2020
As a trainer, my mission is to get you to perform at your absolute best in the gym and optimize your health so you can excel towards your goals in life. Whether you prefer to be in the gym lifting weights or outside running, choosing the correct footwear is SO important.
Functionality in what you are wearing is a huge factor in all activities that we do, not just physical ones. Our brain recognizes the positions that we put our bodies into the most. Just think about how many people you see with their shoulders rounded and necks down due to working on computers and looking at phones. The same thing happens to other parts of our bodies and one of the biggest causes of foot deformity outcomes is the shoes we wear.
When I am in the market for a new pair of shoes I never substitute style for function. I am a big believer that choice of footwear is one of the most important decisions that we make day to day. Yet so many of us overlook this and make the mistake of multitasking in the same pair of shoes day after day.
With so many available brands and footwear options, I know firsthand that it can be a very difficult task to decide what to wear. The purpose of this post is to discuss the importance of your feet, and how choose what to wear to at the gym or running. Understanding the unique features of your own foot can go a long way in helping you decide what to wear.
So let's dive right in (or left) and literally start from the ground up and learn some important features of our feet.
You see, at the bottom of our feet are nerve centers that detect motion, balance, and temperature. These nerve centers or as I like to think of them as nerve beginnings, send a pulse up our central nervous system to our brain. We can not feel this system in action, but rest assured the connection from the bottom of our feet is live and gives us the beautiful opportunity to sense, feel and move.
The shoes we wear effect these sensors and the shape of our feet in a big way. If your shoes are too tight or insufficiently supportive, your physical activity may place undue stress on your feet, ankles, lower legs and other joints. This continual pressure on the wrong spots of your feet can lead to pain and injuries.
Poor footwear choice contributes to common sports injuries such as shin splints, achilles tendon pain, bunions, ingrown nails, or posture issues and lower back pain. Such injuries can significantly limit or stop your ability to perform your favorite activities.
Finding the right pair of shoes can potentially prevent, reduce or totally eliminate foot pain.
So, let's breakdown training and running and quickly discuss the different types of shoes that are designed for each to help you to perform your best. Along with a few brands that I have tried and personally recommend!
Resistance Training / Weight Lifting
Let's start with an activity that is near and dear to my heart, Resistance Training. I would consider this my specialty. To me being safe in everything that you do in the gym comes first. When it comes to weight training, picking the right shoes can help or hurt your cause. Depending on what your plan for the day when working out can dictate what you should wear on your feet.
If you are just going into the gym and going to be sitting or lying on benches while doing strength movements, such as in an upper-body day then your footwear choice doesn't totally matter. However adding weight in a standing position where you need to generate power from your legs is a completely different story.
When performing movements such as squatting, deadlifting, or overhead press we need to create tensional stability throughout our entire body. It is impossible to fire a cannon out of a canoe, as the instability from the water would leave you sunk out in the middle of the lake. Same goes for our bodies as we attempt to generate force from our legs. To do this you need a stable platform to press from and your feet and joints to be aligned so you can press evenly to not create muscular imbalances.
Set yourself up this way and perform each rep with proper technique. Add a little bit of weight or intensity through increased reps each time and there you have it the recipe for some huge muscular and strength gains!
Now I must say the main reasoning for creating this post, started as a way for me to relieve a Pet(ro) Peeve of mine. I have seen this cardinal sin (atleast in my eyes) too many times in gyms and it has to stop. Heavy Squats in Running Shoes. Described above are why you need to understand that you need stability when lifting heavy. As if that isn't enough lets dig deeper into another aspect of why this practice needs to be stopped ASAP!
Running shoes are specifically designed to help you with the specific activity, of Running. So they are really nice to have then as the extra cushion, support and bounce give you an edge when moving forward repetitively. However as mentioned this is in stark contrast to what we want when lifting heavy.
The absorption and redistribution of forces through gel or air based soles cause imbalances and can eventually lead to injury. Experts claim that squatting with the soft compressible sole of these shoes is basically like trying to lift on marshmallows. I totally agree.
When lifting heavy your feet need a sturdy and stable sole that will grip the ground. My personal performance made a nice jump when I made the switch from shoes that I always wore to shoes that were specially made for the activity I was performing. Have you ever seen a basketball player play basketball in wrestling shoes. It is simply not optimal and at certain levels in sports and life you need to take a step back and take a look at what you are doing and see if it is aligned with helping you reach your ultimate goals. One of these moments goes by when you bend down to lace up.
So please, save me from a headache LoL. Here are a few shoe types along with a few brands that I own and others that I recommend for Heavy Training days.
Weight Lifting Shoes
These shoes are great for anyone who wants to try Olympic lifting or Powerlifting. These shoes are designed with a stiff, non-compressible sole and a raised heel. The raised heel gives you the ability to squat deeper while maintaining a more upright chest position which makes it a great safe option when squatting heavy.
One of the biggest technique faults I see when training is the inability to keep an arch in the foot causing it to collapse inward turning your foot and knees with it. A raised heel actually keeps the foot in a neutral arched position. This also decreases tension in muscles that often become stiff in the lower leg. For this reason, these shoes are great for anyone who has poor ankle mobility. Like me.
The most popular brands for high quality Weightlifting shoes are Adidas Powerlifters (Pictured above) and Nike. Reebok and some other companies are getting in the game, but those are two most popular and reviewed shoes that I have heard and found when doing my research.
Cross Training Shoes
Weightlifting shoes have been around for a long time, yet are rarely seen in commercial gyms. I believe one of the main reasons for this is that they are limited in their functionality for other movements such as lunges or box jumps.
These shoes offer good support and a slight elevated heel. The sole of these shoes are not made with air or gel cushioning so they will not compress under pressure. On the other hand the smaller heel compared to that of the weightlifting shoes do not provide much help for those of us with limited ankle mobility.
Due to the popularity of Crossfit and other Cross Training Style gyms, and the high variety of movements from heavy lifting, running, olympic lifting, jumping, etc. There has been a demand for high quality shoes that are able to perform all of these tasks within a given workout and for this purpose Cross Trainers are a phenomenal option.
Flat Sole Shoes
When I see someone squatting in running shoes I usually say something. I try to bring them awareness that they are not able to generate as much power and would be much better suited in a flat stable sole. The shoe that always comes to mind as we have all seen them before are Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
With their easily recognizable flat, non-compressible sole, Chuck Taylors are horrible for long distance running but for squatting, they check a few important points when it comes to stability. If you are in my camp with limited ankle mobility, then I would stay away from these. But if your mobility checks out and are looking for a long lasting, cheap alternative then I would highly recommend the Chuck Taylor's.
Minimalist Training Shoes
A little over a year ago I jumped on the "Barefoot" wagon. Mainly because I had become aware of research that has shown that minimalist footwear is related to increased strength and size of the muscles of your feet.
I believe this is because of an increased ability to feel, grip, and press off the ground that the soles of other shoes don't allow you to do. In a comparative study the Vibram FiveFinger minimalist shoes, outperformed a popular brand of cross training shoes and showed to be a substantially more stable base during the squat.
However due to the flatness of this shoe style, everyone, not just those with limited ankle mobility should use extreme caution when lifting heavy.
I personally love the Xero Speed Force Training Shoe (Pictured Above). I use them for days when when I am lifting upper body and performing lower body movements such as goblet squats with plates under my heels, lunges, and jumps.
When it comes to my heavy lifting days, I need the added ankle mobility that comes from the raised heel in my Adidas PowerLifters. Sure this means that I have to lug multiple pairs of shoes to the gym. But if you are serious about performing better and better each time you step in the gym than making sure your apparel matches your activity is paramount.
Let's move on to our next activity Running. The obvious choice to optimize performance here would have to be Standard Running Shoes. Commonly looking like other sneakers, these shoes contain specialized technology and design features that help you run. This design is constructed to absorb and distribute forces that occur when the foot makes contact with the ground. This greatly reduces the impact shock that would eventually cause injury especially if you are running on harder surfaces.
So picking the right shoes for the right surface is also something to consider. You do not want to bring running shoes to run on rocky or muddy trails, just like you do not want to bring spiked trail running shoes when running on the street or track.
Since running long distances in running shoes is not my expertise, below is a link to a great article that I found and used to help me choose running shoes for an upcoming Spartan Race along with some other tips for finding the right fit.
Feet spread as you run. To accommodate foot spread, there should be roughly one thumb width between the end of your foot and the end of the shoe.
The shoe should wrap comfortably around your foot. It should not pinch or feel sloppy, and your foot should be centered on the platform of the shoe.
Some shoes may better accommodate a narrow or wide foot. Some shoes are even available in either wider or narrow size options. Standard shoe widths are D for men and B for women.
Standard running shoes are great if you enjoy medium or long distance running as the support from their individual technologies allow you to maintain that performance for an extended period of time.
Another option of shoes for shorter distance running that requires you to use a slightly different technique, is Minimalist Running. As with all things it is uncomfortable at first, but if you can master the biomechanics and get comfortable it is a whole lot of fun and great for the overall function and strength of your feet.
Minimalist Running has been touted as improving strength and balance, while promoting a more natural running style. Minimal footwear is any footwear that lacks high-cushioned heels, stiff soles and arch support. So basically you are running on a flat no drop sole which gives you the opportunity to run how you would if you were truly running barefoot. Similar to lifting in the gym without a belt.
Here are just some of the great benefits you can expect from Xero's Highly Reviewed Minimalist Running Shoes. The HFS!
Natural FIT — a wide toe box lets your toes spread, splay, relax, and function naturally.
Natural MOTION — the HFS is flexible enough to let your feet bend, move, and flex the way, well, that feet are supposed to. The Lightweight “XERO-drop” design (non-elevated heel) allows for proper posture, and it’s built low to the ground for balance and agility.
Natural FEEL — the HFS has a 5.5mm FeelTrue® rubber sole to give you the right combination of protection plus ground-feedback, so your brain knows how to move your body optimally.
5,000 mile sole warranty
As mentioned earlier going from running in standard running shoes to minimalist shoes are going to affect your running technique as the way your foot strikes the ground is most likely going to change significantly.
I recommend first getting a pair of "barefoot" shoes to walk around with and get comfortable walking around in before just jumping right in and running. Taking off your Nike's and throwing on a new pair of minimalist shoes and going for a run is a recipe for disaster and is a huge reason why people swear off this technique. You must give your body time to acclimate and acquire the skill and motor patterns to run this way. A lot of research is being conducted on this new style of forefoot running and all signs are pointing towards this being more efficient and natural way to run.
My Personal Shoe Journey
If you can tell from this article Feet and Shoes are very important to me. I have a genetically handed down foot condition called Hammer Toes (Thanks, Dad). In which all my toes, except the big one, have an abnormal bend in the middle joint. This has led my foot to a shortening in the muscles of my feet and have led me to a very high arch. Normal sneakers have been really hard on my feet for years and have led to some slight deformity.
Knowing this, I have had to look far and literally wide for shoes that allow me to function for day to day. I personally love Xero Shoes as their shoes give me a wide toe box so my toes are not squished together, no drop as I do not need any arch support, and the ability to feel and grip the ground which have strengthened the bottom my feet immensely.
Ever since a friend introduced them to me over a year ago they have been my favorite brand of shoes and I now have three pairs, the Speedforce for training, Prio for everyday wear and the HFS for when I feel like running which honestly is rare.
I highly recommend them to my family and clients and if you are looking for a functional pair of shoes that allow you to feel the ground beneath you then don't hesitate to check them out! Here
For full transparency in addition to the Xero's mentioned above, I also own a pair of Adiddas Powerlifters, two pairs of Reebok Nano's, a pair of No Bull's Trainers, and a pair of Under Armour Recovery Shoes that I use when my feet are sore after a long day of training clients. I try to rotate these am much as possible, but if I had to only keep one pair of shoes I would go with the functionality of the Xero's.
If you have a personal fitness goal then rethinking your choice of footwear is a must.
If you have any desire to lift heavy weights that require you to produce force through your lower limbs. Please stop squatting in running shoes and get yourself a pair of Weightlifting or Cross Training Shoes
If you’re more of a runner then feel free to run in shoes that are meant for the specific action of running or give minimalist running a try. If going into the gym to squat on occasion and not really planning on squatting as much as you can handle, then the versatility of Cross Trainers are a great option.
If you have any doubts, consider speaking with a sports/orthopedic physical therapist. Or feel free to message me for any additional thoughts or recommendations.
Keep Learning & Moving Forward My Friends!
- Coach Mike
My Research For This Guide Came From: