Raise your hand if you like shoes.
(Puts both hands WAY up)
I love shoes. My closet is packed with booties, wedges, sandals, and flats. And, of course, workout shoes. I have shoes for running, shoes for lifting, shoes for CrossFit… I’m also in the market for my first “real” pair of lifters.
Why so many shoes for working out, you ask? Can’t you just wear the same pair of tennis shoes for everything?
You could. A lot of people – maybe even most people – do. But if you’re serious about your training, or want to reduce your risk of injury, proper footwear becomes crucial.
Let’s talk about what kind of shoe you should wear for what kind of workout.
Weightlifting – Powerlifting
When I’m squatting or deadlifting, I swear by my Chucks. Those Converse you might pair with a sundress or a pair of jeans for a casual look? Perfect for powerlifting. Some say the best shoe you can wear in powerlifting is a sock, and I’ve certainly spent my time lifting, especially deadlifting from a deficit, in my socks. The next best thing are Chucks. This is because they have a flat, thin sole.
When you’re lifting, you want every part of your foot to grip the floor. I think of it as “screwing in.” That’s so I can feel like I’m grounded in – I’ve screwed into the floor, I’ve got a solid base, I can feel the weight, and I’m ready to make my lift. The heavier the squat, the more cognizant I am of this. Running shoes have thicker soles and are meant for absorbing shock. You lose a lot of ground contact when trying to squat or deadlift in them.
What’s great about Converse, aside from their build, is their price tag – they’re about $50, and can often be found on sale at places like Rack Room. Both low top and high top will work. As Louie Simmons, Mr. Westside Barbell himself says, “Don’t have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat.”
Weightlifting – Olympic Lifting
I don’t have a 10-cent squat – my squat is at least a full dollar in value – but my snatch and clean-and-jerk leave a lot to be desired. I only started working on those lifts three months ago, and have found that weightlifting shoes – lifters, as we call them – are incredibly beneficial, particularly for snatching. The raised heel gives more ankle mobility, which lets you get a deeper squat and stay more upright. When snatching, you want that upright position. If you receive the bar and you’re too far forward, physics says you keep going forward. The heel height varies and is a personal preference. I don’t like a lot of heel – I like feeling that floor – but others prefer a higher heel for depth. I’m currently hunting for the right pair of lifters, and will share more once I’ve had them and have lifted in them for a bit.
In my personal opinion, having the right shoes for running is of the utmost importance. Running puts a lot of pressure on the joints as it is. If your shoes don’t fit correctly, you’re setting yourself up for other issues, such as joint pain and shin splints. Things to look for when buying running shoes include space around the toes – you may even end up a half size or full size bigger than your street shoe size – enough width, especially around the toe box, a heel that feels snug but doesn’t rub, and a good flex point, which is where the shoe bends when you press your toe into the ground. The shoe should bend in the same place to ensure a natural stride.
I highly recommend being properly fitted for running shoes. Do NOT buy for looks. Despite what I like to think, cute shoes don’t make you run faster. And a final piece of advice – don’t skimp on cost. You don’t have to spend $200, but good running shoes are worth the price tag. They will save you the cost of fixing whatever problems poorly fitted shoes cause down the road.
It didn’t take me long to realize my Converse weren’t right for CrossFit WODs. They didn’t give me the support I needed during more explosive exercises like double unders and running in them was miserable. So, I started to search for a good training shoe – something low profile, but supportive and lighter in weight than my running shoes. A zero drop sole – no difference between toe height and heel height – was a must. A quick Google search will tell you Nike MetCons and Reebok Nanos are fan favorites.
I tried the MetCons first. I admit it – I bought based on looks. I wore them for exactly one workout and returned them. They were too narrow across the foot, and after a few rounds of double unders, my calf muscles were so tight I couldn’t do box jumps the next day, and I LOVE a good box jump. The Nanos and Inov8s by Reebok were highly recommended to me, but I went with the dark horse in the CrossFit game – the No Bull.
No Bull is gaining in popularity among CrossFitters, including elite athletes, and with good reason. I love mine. They are featherlight, wide enough across the top, have plenty of toe room, the zero drop sole I was looking for and, total bonus, they look good. I might even try their lifters.
What if you like to do a little bit of everything during a casual gym session? Look into a solid all-around cross training shoe. New Balance in particular makes a great cross trainer, and I recently tried on a pair of Adidas that would be a dream for cross training. You want something supportive and well-fitted. Again, don’t buy for style. Buy for fit.
Regardless of what your workout of choice is, go with the overarching theme of this post – buy shoes that fit properly. Style comes second. Good shoes provide a literal foundation for not only a good workout, but a pain-free workout and in turn, a pain-free day-to-day.
What shoes are you wearing in your workouts? Have any questions about shoes? Leave a comment below, or send me a note – I can talk about shoes, workout or otherwise, for at least half a day.