If I Was In Your Shoes, I Wouldn’t Be.

When it comes to workout clothes, I’m not a picky man. “Can I move in it?” is about all I care about. When a question of shoes comes up, I’m a bit more selective… Some might say snobbish. But those people just aren’t on my level, really. **snobby chuckle**. Kidding aside, I think shoe choice is more important than most realize. So when I got this question about the best model shoe for strength training, I started my reply with, “Mother nature, really.”

And that may sound sarcastic, but hear me out. I train barefoot as often as I can. I’m fortunate to have my own gym at home as well as access to a few gyms that allow it and promote it. I am afforded the opportunity to do so more than others as most larger/chain gyms have policies against it. And understandably so. I’ve seen people do some pretty nasty things during my time working in chain gyms. Let’s keep them covered as much as possible, please. 

So let’s talk about the benefits of barefoot (or close to) strength training. When it comes to weight/strength training, I think it’s best summarized as using your body to control the space between 2 pieces of mass; The Earth and the barbell/dumbells/kettlebells. You practice putting your body between these 2 (or more) objects while moving through biomechanically sound shapes. As you do this over time, your neuromusculature develops to get better at doing so. You get stronger, more resilient, and In layman’s terms: GAINZ, BRO!

Now, if we look at the opposing ends of your body and how they interact with the mass they’re responsible for, a firm maintainable contact at both ends is desired. For example, if you are doing a barbell overhead press you want a solid, symmetrical grip on the bar. And at the other end, you want your feet firmly connected to flat ground. Most people don’t think about shoes with a lot of uneven cushions on them as a disadvantage because they’ve been wearing shoes like that their entire lives. In fact, most will look to those as the preferred option. But consider this; If you were trying to press a bar overhead, would you want to do so wearing thick, cushy “Mickey Mouse” like gloves? Obviously not. You can understand how that would diminish your control, limit applicable strength, and open you up for potential injury. Just the same, when you strength train, you are producing force into the ground to move objects. If you are standing on cushions you are losing acceleration when you initiate movement and giving up stability as you continue to drive, hold, and lower the weight. You can see how this is not ideal. 

When I am in a gym that requires shoes, I prefer to wear Converse Chuck Taylors for a few reasons. They’re reasonably priced (I buy them from Ross or Marshall’s at around $15-$20 a pop), “Chucks” last a long time, they’re very close to barefoot training, and they have a clean and simple style. The last part is the least of my concerns for a workout, but I can wear them to dinner afterward if necessary. I do spend as much time as possible barefoot (around the house, working in the yard, etc) but I’m known for rocking my Chuck Taylors whenever a lack of shoes would classify me as “That guy” or “The suspect”. The last decade has brought many options for “minimalist shoes” to consumers but with most of them, you’re paying more for marketing and brand name over substance. When compared to Chucks, they’re usually WAY more expensive, don’t last as long, and will have negligible (if any) benefit over C.T.s.

The next subject to cover is “lifters”, or competitive weight lifting shoes. These are very hard-soled shoes with slightly elevated heels. The design here is intended to put the lifter at a mechanically advantageous position from the floor to perform very specific movements, namely the Olympic lifts. I do have a pair of Reebok lifters. They were gifted a few years ago by a friend who swore by them. I most likely would not have bought them on my own, but I do use them occasionally if I am working up to a max effort Oly lift. There is an argument to use these shoes for the squat and deadlift patterns too, but in my opinion and personal practice, barefoot or minimalist footwear is the best option for general strenth and practical application as that’s how I will be working in the real world. 

Weirdest. Threesome. Ever

I do have a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers that I bought a few years ago. Yup, those weird “toe shoe things”. They can be useful, but they are more expensive, you have to buy special socks or go sockless, and you run a higher risk of getting interrupted in your workout when people ask you about your crazy looking shoes. If I’m going to use the V5Fs, it’s on a trail or obstacle course where it may get muddy and boots are less than optimal. Chucks do not do well on muddy trails and boots can get heavy, quickly. 

Over the years I have converted many-a-trainees to Chucks as their “go-to” workout shoes when barefoot isn’t an option. It’s really easy once they try it and instantly feel more stable in their movement and can add a few more pounds to the bar. Give a minimalist shoe option a try and let me know how you like it!

I hope this helps!