By: Nicholas Soleyn, SSC

It’s important to have the right equipment when you workout. You are already working hard enough, there’s no reason to make things more difficult, uncomfortable, and less effective by wearing the wrong shoes or using the wrong gear. For barbell training, you don’t need a lot of personal gear. Wear clothes that allow you to move well. And wear lifting shoes.

Would You Run in Lifting Shoes?

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

A decade ago this month, I ran the Austin Marathon. I didn’t set any land-speed records, placing slightly behind the first half of 4000+ runners. This was the culmination of a lackluster running career that began with me waddling around the golf course adjacent to the library where I had been studying for the bar exam two years earlier. I don’t run anymore, but I’m glad that I put those particular 26.2 miles on my running shoes.

I almost didn’t get past my first few runs, though, due to a rookie mistake that is prevalent in almost every sport. I had constant leg pain every time I ran. I remember limping back to join a running group, my legs on fire, pretty sure I wasn’t built for moving beyond anything but a casual amble—unless I had occasion to dodge traffic or be chased by a rabid animal. A helpful running coach looked down at my feet and kindly informed me that I had the wrong shoes. She looked at my feet and ordered me new shoes blind; I didn’t try them on until the next time I went for a run. Amazingly, my shin splints and calf cramps were gone. The right piece of gear changed everything for me at the time.

In the sea of hype around training clothes and equipment, we sometimes forget that the gear or equipment developed for a particular sport actually serves a purpose. You CAN run in your everyday sneakers and you CAN squat in running shoes. But doing so is a little bit like taking a baseball bat to play tennis—you might still hit the ball but you’re more likely to frustrate yourself, not to mention terrifying the other tennis players.

It’s important to have the right equipment when you workout. You are already working hard enough, there’s no reason to make things more difficult, uncomfortable, and less effective by wearing the wrong shoes or using the wrong gear. For barbell training, you don’t need a lot of personal gear. Wear clothes that allow you to move well. And wear lifting shoes.

Lifting shoes are designed differently than running shoes or other casual shoes. They are built with a flat, non-compressible sole, usually made of hard rubber or wood. When you lift and your feet are on the ground, any force that goes into squishing the soles of your shoes down is lost to the compression of the soft material in your shoe. That force could be better used holding your body stable and moving the weight.

Equally importantly, that squishing down of the sole of your shoe is a small amount of movement exactly where you don’t want it. One of the challenges of barbell training is maintaining your balance, which you can also think of as maintaining your center of mass over the middle of your foot. If there is movement at the sole of your shoe, the base of support for keeping your balance isn’t very secure. As a result, you will spend extra energy trying to keep yourself balanced— energy that would be better spent lifting the barbell and building strength. (And getting stronger will actually make you better at maintaining balance throughout the rest of your life.)

As you may have noticed, one of the most difficult parts of lifting is keeping consistent lifting form from one repetition to the next, especially when you squat. Solid, flat lifting shoes help you maintain good form. In fact, most of the cues and techniques we use for teaching good form presume that you are shod correctly.

So, what about all those other people at the gym wearing running shoes and lifting weights? Most people are uninformed about good lifting gear. Just walk around your local big box store. You likely won’t find lifting shoes, but you will find lifting gloves, poorly designed belts, and mostly useless resistance bands in the strength training section. Most people buy what’s in front of them, not what’s best for them, settling for shoes that are “good enough.” While it’s true that $100 shoes won’t fix a ten-cent squat, the RIGHT shoe will make a good squat better, repeatable, and effective for strength training—and I’ve seen the wrong shoe add to lifters’ frustration just enough that they quit before experiencing most of the benefits that come from strength training.

How to pick a lifting shoe

You are looking for two things in a lifting shoe:

  1. A flat, non-compressible sole with a slightly raised heel. Heel height may vary a little bit but most weightlifting shoes will come with a 3/4 inch heel. This works for almost everybody.
  2. A high-quality synthetic or leather upper with a metatarsal strap.

Popular Brands: Nike, Adidas, Risto, Rogue Fitness, and Do-Win.

Best value: Adidas Powerlift

Watch Coaches Cygan and Krieg here for more information on lifting shoes

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