By 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 sometimes but they are NOT the best options due to how narrow they are. They do not allow for proper toe splay or the spreading of how your toes are made to spread. They compress your toes at the tip of the shoe which makes your stability weaker. However, I know a lot of people still like them and I do wear them when I’m not doing lower body days. They do offer a flatter surface and more flexibility but if you want better shoes for lifting, keep reading.
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. Shop Xero shoes here: Xero shoes
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. I currently own 3 pair of these and if I’m lifting at a gym that isn’t my own, these are what I grab to lift in. They have a large toe box, zero drop support and allow my feet to work the way they’re suppose within the confines of a shoe.
Again, a shoe with a wider toe box and a flat, no-cushion sole (zero drop) 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.
Society has taught us that the very shape of our own foot is not appealing and that we need to thus cram them into these tiny toe box shoes that then go on to cause bunions, plantar fasciitis, alignment issues and SO much more.
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 IF you even need to change back. I personally have started running in my zero drop shoes and have better proprioception, balance and no knee pain after running. It’s well worth it in the long “run” to give these a try.
I will add that there can be a transition period and Whitin shoes (mentioned above) offers a great transition zero drop shoe if you’re wanting to try it out but aren’t wanting to take the full leap yet.
As always, please consult your doctor before starting any exercise. If you are diabetic or have any other condition and need certain types of shoes for your feet, please consult your doctor first. Education is key, however, stay informed do what works for you!
What shoes do you lift in?
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