Walk into any gym and you’ll be confronted with a barrage of different shoes – from fluorescent runners to funky Vibrams. With so many options, how does one decide which option is best for them?
As with anything, there is more than one variable to consider…
- What is my primary type of training?
- Is it general strength, Powerlifting or maybe Olympic Lifting.
- What are my goals?
- Am I aiming to get a bit stronger or set world records.
- What is suited to my morphology?
- Am I fairly flexible or, despite my best efforts, I still can’t touch my toes!
This helps to set the framework for the footwear which you require. Like buying specific equipment for a given sport, specialised footwear is required in the gym setting to ensure best results.
Important Considerations –
As an individual pursuing strength, keep these 3 factors in mind:
- Proper fit – Arguably the most important consideration. The most well-designed shoe, selected for your specific needs is worth nothing if its a poor fit. Here are some tips to ensure it fits well…
- Try the shoe on! If you plan on buying online, go to a good old-fashioned brick and mortar store and test them out first.
- When trying the shoe on, use the same socks you would be wearing to the gym. As an added bonus, you won’t have to use the crusty in-store socks!
- Non-compressible sole – A firm sole is ideal as it limits the energy lost during the specific movement or lift. This means the majority of force is used effectively in shifting you or the load.
- Traction – The last thing you want when a significant amount of weight is sitting on your shoulders is your feet sliding around like they’re on ice. A grippy sole ensures stability.
“Andrew, I’ve been getting buy with my old pair of runner’s for years, what gives?!”
Admittedly, the humble sneaker is very versatile. For the recreational gym goer who combines a basic weight regime with cardiovascular training, a pair of Asics works well. However, they lack some significant qualities to make them a good choice for those pursuing strength…
- Soft, shock absorbing sole – For running and walking – yes, for squatting and deadlifting – no. As elaborated on earlier, this type of sole blows off a whole lot of energy meaning a reduced ability to lift heavy loads.
- Lack of rigidity – While this is not the case for all sneakers, many, particularly the recent range of ‘Free Runs’ for instance, are far too flexible to provide any meaningful support.
What Does History Tell Us?
History would suggest there are two shoes types most suited to strength training – the Olympic Lifting shoe and minimalistic footwear.
As the name suggests, originally designed for Olympic Weightlifters, benefits of this shoe include:
- Elevated heel – This is the most noticeable feature. A raised heel improves the quality of a squat in particular, as it reduces the need for gymnast-like ankle and hip flexibility.
- Firm sole – Improved force transference.
- Straps – Fitted with straps, allowing you to lock the foot in place, preventing it from slipping around the shoe searching for traction.
Ideally suited to squatting type movements, as well as pressing. It’s weakness lies in deadlifting, as the elevated heel increases the total distance required to complete the lift.
When I talk about minimalistic footwear I refer to the likes of; deadlift slippers, wrestling shoes and Chuck Taylor’s or variations thereof. These bare bones shoes offer a very thin sole – minimising loss of force, and this is their main draw card. In terms of stability, it varies – deadlift slippers don’t offer a whole lot, whereas wrestling shoes are high cut, allowing you to lock in the ankle
This shoe is most suited to deadlifting, but can be used quite comfortably with accessory exercises, like barbell rows for instance. Squatting is possible, though the lifter must have very good ankle and hip mobility for it to be effective.
So there you have it! I hope this allows you to make an informed decision on which shoe you decide upon. Any comments or feedback, leave them below.
By Andrew Cammarano