You’ve started lifting weights- that’s AWESOME! Today I’m going to talk about one seemingly small thing that when fixed could possibly change your game dramatically for the better.
What’s on your feet?
Here’s the thing- when we’re looking for a cool all-purpose “gym” shoe, a lot of individuals will default to picking up a shoe specifically designed for running. It feels good on the foot and it looks athletic. All set, right? Well, maybe not so much.
A running shoe is designed to keep your feet moving with ease and support in the forward motion. Its shape and engineering are specifically developed to push your body forward.
However, for the majority of movements involved in effective and safe lifting involve the need to “root” your feet (often times your heels) into the ground to create a solid base for the rest of your body. And trying to do so with a running shoe on your foot adds all sorts of challenges to your base and coordination and intended muscle group activation that you don’t need- and it actually could be hurting your lifting game.
For example, while squatting and deadlifting, a huge focus is put on driving the weight through your heels. This main cue is what makes the exercise safe and without heel drive, these exercises aren’t even themselves. If you can’t root your heels, you’re not even really doing a squat or a deadlift. You’re just sloppily moving weight around. If you’re wearing a running shoe on your foot, that shoe is trying to propel your body forward. It cares not that your main goal is to push through your heels, and your body is actually fighting against your shoes to perform the exercise correctly. Even standing exercises such as overhead press and barbell curls will depend on your feet’s ability to be rooted and still on the ground.
So, with that said, what the heck should you wear for safe, effective and efficient weightlifting? Let’s talk options:
Crosstrainers are going to give you the ability to drive your heels and root your feet better than running shoes can. You’ll also find them in similar styles and price points as the running shoes you were tempted to (and maybe did) buy when you first started lifting. They’re called Crosstrainers because they’re designed to give you decent support during lifting but are also versatile enough to support short runs or sprints, jumping, be-bopping around and Crossfitting and stuff.
They’re certainly a step up from lifting in running shoes, and not a bad option for someone who needs a diverse shoe on a budget. You can search specifically for models of Crosstrainers to find the name of one you’d like to try- or you can be very clear to the people in the shoe store that you know exactly what you want, and that’s a Crosstrainer.
Reebok actually makes a few good models designed for good transition from lifting to running and jumping and back again, and you can find them under the Crossfit brand.
2. Chucks or barefoot
Moving up from the Crosstrainer towards a shoe which is less designed for running or jumping and more designed (okay it’s a coincidence, they just happened to be this way) for flat footed rooting into the ground, Chucks have a thinner sole so you’re literally closer to the ground and they don’t try to shape your foot at all, making it easy to feel like you have great contact and control. They’re also super budget friendly and happen to last quite a long time.
You could run and jump in Chucks because although the sole is flat, it is also flexible but there is literally zero ankle support- so take it slow and ease into it before going crazy.
Another alternative here would be to lift barefoot. If you train in a safe environment free of debris, it’s worth a try. You might thing you’d want protection in case you drop something on your foot, which is fair, but honestly dropping a 45lb plate on your foot with or without shoes on will probably cause about the same amount of damage (just don’t stub your toes on a rack or something!).
3. Lifting shoes
I could re-write the same blog on lifting shoes that’s already been written 500 times (let me Google that for you;), or I could just tell you this:
Lifting shoes are designed to stabilize your sole. The bottom of the shoe tends to be less flexible and more firm than the sole on the Chucks. When you put on a good lifting shoe, you immediately feel “heavier”, as in you couldn’t flex your foot without some major effort. These types of shoes also elevate your heel. Many body types will feel that these two features combined improve the posture and body position in their squat and their “sticking” or landing on Olympic lifts (the clean and jerk and the snatch).
The down side to using a specialized lifting shoe is that they are not designed for you to move forward (run, walk) or jump. If I’m wearing my lifting shoes, I have a hard time moving quickly from one side of the gym to the other.
Also- although some people *do* deadlift in lifting shoes, I don’t recommend it for beginners. The elevated heel means you’re moving the bar further to get it off the ground, and in general its best to learn the nuances of the deadlift with your feet in full contact with the ground.
These range in price from around $80-$200, so go ahead and Google around for those blogs I talked about to get a better feel of what’s out there.
Change what is on your feet and it could change the way you lift dramatically.
Any decent trainer will also be understanding and patient with you when you ask “What are we doing today?” or “Will I have time to change shoes between these events?”. They’ll also give you the time to do so. It’s respectable to be knowledgable about how the conditions in which your body works best.
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!
Looking for a little more guidance on getting going at the gym?
Check out my interactive manual What Do I Do At The Gym?