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I'll be honest, I'm a fitness shoe enthusiast. Having the right shoes for the workout I'm doing helps me feel like I am "official" or whatever. Sometimes, proper footwear is crucial for safety, sometimes it just helps you do the sport better. I'm going to explain a bit about different types of shoes for strength training.

Quick disclaimer: I'm a personal trainer & strength athlete. I am NOT a physical therapist, podiatrist, or other shoe expert. You might require different footwear based on your own individual biomechanics or past/present injuries. This is intended to be a quick primer on footwear, because folks ask me pretty regularly.


Barefoot training can be a good option. If you're training in a shared space (like a gym) this may or may not be permitted, and it is probably a good idea to keep socks on because it's just kinda gross to walk all over a public gym in your barefeet. Some folks love barefoot training because you can get a good sense of the ground under your feet, and you can really anchor actively through your feet. Barefoot training also helps strengthen your feet. One downside to barefoot training is the risk of dropping shit on your feet, so if you opt to train barefoot, I strongly recommend not dropping shit on your feet. I like bare for certain movements, because I can better access the full range of motion in my feet. I also like bare feet because it removes the barrier of needing to find and put on socks and shoes, and honestly, sometimes that is the thing standing between me and moving my body. You can learn more about the benefits/risks of barefoot exercise in this article from Self magazine. Sometimes people act like barefoot training is really revolutionary, but people have been doing activity in bare feet since, well, since people have been peopling.

Running Shoes

Don't lift weights in running shoes.

Running shoes are made for moving forwards, so they tend to have a bit of curve to the soles. This is great when you're running, but terrible for squatting or deadlifting. Running shoes also have some cushion (even if you buy the low cushion style, they still have some), and cushion isn't what you want for lifting. Keep your running shoes for running.

Squat or Weightlifting Shoes

Weightlifting shoes are made with a stiff sole and some heel. The heel is helpful in squats because a bit of heel will help you to be able to squat deeper with a little less range of motion in your ankles -- think of the heel lift as a helpful boost for less mobile ankles. Weightlifting shoes are great for squatting, Olympic lifts, and some folks like them for bench, but they aren't very good for deadlifting. Lifter & coach Heidi Dehnel has a great podcast episode that briefly explains some pros & cons for using weightlifting shoes.

Chuck Taylors

Chucks can be a good option if you like them. They aren't the greatest shoes on the market for lifting, but if you find them comfortable (personally, I do not), they are inexpensive and hold up reasonably well for lifting. They have very little cushion and no drop, which makes them a better option than running shoes, but won't give you the benefits of weightlifting shoes for squatting. That said, if you like Converse shoes, they can be a good option.

Bearfoot Shoes

I'm a big fan of Bearfoot brand shoes for deadlifting & other gym lifts. They have a very thin sole, and the top being fully suede means they accommodate my feet well. They have a nice spacious toe box, so I can really spread my toes out to grip the ground. I don't wear mine outside because they're really thin.

No Bull Trainers

No Bulls are super popular in Crossfit boxes because they are built for versatility. They're pretty minimalist, but with enough support to do higher impact movements in. A lot of folks really love them. If you want one shoe that works for all your movements, they might be worth looking into!

Factors to Consider

When picking your shoes, here's a few questions that will help you narrow your options down.

  • Where do you lift, and what is appropriate footwear there?

  • Are you willing/able to wear different shoes for different lifts/types of workouts?

  • How is your ankle mobility? Would weightlifting shoes potentially be beneficial for your squats or other lifts?

  • How much is the drop in the shoe options you're considering? Drop is a measurement of the difference in heel to forefoot height.

  • How much cushion is in the shoes? Cushion may be comfy in some movements, but in lifting, it decreases your connection to the ground and your power in driving up through your lifts.

  • Do you plan to compete? If you plan to compete, you may want to seek shoes that will be allowed by whatever federation you're competing with.

What shoes do or do not work for you? Drop me a comment with your favorite shoes for lifting!

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