We get this question a whole lot. There are like a bajillion options available for footwear, and picking the best shoes for the gym can be bewildering. And much like everything else health related, there’s a mountain of conflicting information about what’s best for your feet.
Should you look for a shoe with lots of cushioning and arch support? Or is that a recipe for injury?
Should you pick a that’s as minimalist as possible? Or is THAT going to leave you broken and injured?
As always, the answer is “it depends.”
We lean toward a “less is better” philosophy for shoes, but what’s right for you is going to depend on the strength and fitness of your feet.
As a rule of thumb, elevated heels (of any height) are a recipe for injury—plantar fasciitis, and knee and back pain, namely. Humans evolved barefoot, and our feet are adapted to bearing weight (that is, arches are meant to be used), and moving through all kinds of positions.
That said, if your body is used to a lot of cushioning and support, you can’t quit that stuff cold turkey. There are lots of tiny muscles in your feet that have barely been used for a long time, and you’ll need to treat them in the same way that you’d train any muscle—intentional, progressive loading.
Well we’ve got you covered. Here are 5 shoe recommendations to get your footwear choices off on the… ready for it?… right foot.
Nike’s Free TR 6’s are a great cross-training shoe to start with
You’re going to want a shoe that’s designed for a variety of exercise types.
Your average running shoe is too cushy for lifting weights. When you’re squatting a heavy barbell, the last thing you want is for your feet to be wobbling all over the place, and a running shoe is going to do just that. Ditto that for any kind of side-to-side exercises.
A cross-training shoe like the TR 6’s are going to have enough cushioning to offer some support, but will be stiff and flat enough to provide a pretty stable base when you’re lifting.
Adidas Powerlifts are a budget-friendly weight lifting shoe
When you’re ready to take your lifting to the next level, it’s SO worth investing in a pair of weightlifting shoes.
I know, it seems silly to shell out for a shoe that you’ll barely even walk in, and I resisted getting a pair for the longest time, too.
But when I finally did get a pair, I was an instant convert.
Weightlifting shoes have a really hard, flat sole. This provides a stable surface for lifting, which will give you to a LOT more confidence under the bar. That translates into safer lifts, more reps, better reps, and higher PRs.
(Yes, the link is for the men’s version of the shoe. We’ve found they’re usually $10 or $20 cheaper than the women’s models, and the sizing goes small enough to work for most women. And they still come in some fun colors, for those of you who want to coordinate).
Try Merrell’s Vapor Glove if you want to start exploring the benefits of barefoot shoes
You might want to ease your way into these, depending on how much of your life you’ve spent wearing a lot of foot support.
Worn correctly, barefoot shoes can resolve all kinds of problems—plantar fasciitis, knee pain, and back pain, just to name a few. But you’ve got to do it right.
How do you do it right?
Progressively. Start with the Nike’s I recommended above, and when you’re getting close to wanting to replace them, get a pair of these Merrells. As you start wearing them, pay attention to when your feet start to feel fatigue. When that happens, switch back to the Nikes for the rest of your workout.
Gradually, you’ll be able to go longer and longer in the barefoot shoes, until you can finally make the transition entirely.
A pair of Vibrams is hard to beat if you want ALL the benefits of a barefoot shoe
When you’re ready to go full barefoot (without literally going barefoot), Vibrams are hard to beat.
Sure, some people think they’re super weird. If you’re one of them, no problem. There are a ton of great minimalist options like the Merrells I listed above.
But if they don’t bother you (and they won’t make you feel self-conscious), They’re definitely worth a try.
Converse Chuck Taylors are a budget friendly, minimalist classic
Finally, never underestimate a good pair of Chucks. They’re the original all-purpose, minimalist athletic shoe. They’re great for just about any exercise you throw at them—including heavy lifting—and stylistically, they’re timeless. You might not want to wear them for running, but other than that you’d be good to go.
Not to mention you can’t beat the price.
If you need a cheap, all-around awesome fitness shoe, Chucks are your best bet.
The bottom line? Only use as much cushioning as you actually need, and gradually work your way toward less.
A relatively minimal cross training shoe is a great place to start if you need an all-purpose gym shoe.
When you’re ready to level-up your lifting, it’s time to grab yourself a good pair of weightlifting shoes. They’re really flat, really stable, and will give you more confidence under the bar.
If you’re interested in the health benefits of barefoot shoes, you’ll probably want to ease your way into it. Keep your old gym shoes on hand and change back into them when you start to feel your feet fatigue.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with a pair of Chucks. They’re great for just about everything you could throw at them in the gym, and they have an old-school badass charm that the cutting-edge footwear just can’t compete with.
Do you have a shoe you love that didn’t make it into the article? Tell us all about it in the comments!
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