Do My Shoes Matter in the Weight Room?

November 14, 2012 | Lee Boyce

Weight Lifting Shoes

You wouldn’t play basketball in hiking boots or go running in baseball cleats, so why would you perform Squats and Deadlifts in high heels?

“But I’m not,” You say. “I’m wearing my gym shoes.”

Well, news flash: Your “gym shoes” are probably the wrong shoes for lifting weights. And if you’re hitting the gym in thick-soled shoes designed for basketball, running or “cross training,” it’s not that different from working out in a pair of red pumps–you know, the kind your mom wears to work.

As much as you love her, you don’t want to look like your mom in the gym. Here’s how to find the right type of footwear for your weight room workout and avoid lacing up with kicks that can hamper your strength routine.

What to Avoid

Take a look at the side of your shoe. See that line of foam between where your foot rests inside the shoe and the ground? That’s the midsole. In many shoes, midsoles can be 30 millimeters thick in the heel, meaning your foot is more than an inch off the ground.

Elevating the heel decreases the amount of muscle activation your lifts produce in your lower legs and feet. During big standing movements like Squats, Deadlifts and Presses, the muscles in your feet are especially important. Your feet need to grip the floor, and for them to do so, you need to engage the muscles in your calves, hamstrings and gluteals. By placing your feet off the ground in cushioned shoes, you restrict that muscle engagement.

Having a larger cushion underfoot can also create a slightly unstable surface for your body, placing you off balance as you lift. So when you’re looking to lift, steer clear of footwear with thick or wide midsoles.

What to Try Instead

When it comes to weightlifting shoes, less is more. The more ground contact you have with your feet, the more force and muscle stimulation you can generate. So it’s a good idea to invest in a pair of “minimalist shoes” (see Minimalist Shoes: A Beginner's Guide), which bring your feet closer to the ground. Many professional weightlifters train in Converse Chuck Taylors, ultra-thin New Balance Minimus shoes, or Vibram’s FiveFingers—those “toe shoes” you may have seen your hippie friend running in. Some lifters even train with no shoes at all; but not every gym allows barefoot training. (Read "Barefoot" Training: Proceed With Caution.)

Another option: professional weightlifting shoes. They're a little harder to find, but they provide only a slight elevation of the heel, a subtle upward tilt that can improve your performance in exercises like Squats and Cleans without throwing your body off balance or reducing muscle stimulus in your lower legs.

The bottom line: the right shoe for your workout is the one that provides protection from the ground without over-cushioning the underside of your foot. You want to be comfortable and mobile enough to handle all of the movements in your workout. Don’t be afraid to shop at several stores until you find the footwear that’s right for you. (For reviews of top training shoes, check out STACK’s Lifestyle page.)

 

Lee Boyce
- Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto who works with strength, sports performance and conditioning clients. He contributes to many major magazines, including...
Lee Boyce
- Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto who works with strength, sports performance and conditioning clients. He contributes to many major magazines, including...
Must See
Michael Jordan: Mind of a Champion
Views: 546,186
RGIII Talks About His Legacy
Views: 25,217,362
Brandon Jennings: "Always Improve"
Views: 4,033,431

Featured Videos

A Day in the Life of NBA D-League Star Seth Curry Views: 66,647
Kevin Love's Cone Hop Basketball Shooting Drill Views: 5,931
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Views: 124,090
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step
Views: 1,308,506
What Ryan Hall Eats for Breakfast
Views: 795,206
STACK Fitness Weekly: How To Do a Muscle-Up
Views: 778,488
Greg Nixon's Hill Training Program
Views: 705,633
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,559,831

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

New iSlide Athletic Sandals Help Athletes Recover

SNEAKER ALERT: Jordan Announces Super.Fly 3

New Balance Baseball: Behind the Cleats

Form Meets Function With the DZR Marco Bike Polo Shoe

Turkey Bowl Gear Essentials: Nike Free Trainer 5.0 Training Shoe

adidas Releases New Golden Adizero F50 FG Messi Cleat

How to Choose the Best Running Shoe for Yourself

The Best Basketball Sneakers of 2014

SNEAKER ALERT: adidas Introduces Supernova Sequence Boost

Check Out Under Armour's Alter Ego Highlight Cleats

Air Jordan Releases the Flight Flex Trainer

adidas Unveils New Ultra Boost Running Shoe

Treat Your Feet Right: When to Replace Your Worn Out Shoes

The ASICS GEL-Kayano

Yes, Snoop Dogg Designed a Custom Football Cleat With adidas

Check Out These FIFA Women's World Cup-Themed adidas Cleats

Puma Fass 500 S Running Shoe Offers a Cushy Minimal Ride

adidas Previews the FIFA World Cup Battle Pack Collection

Jordan CP3.VII Out This Week in 4 Colorways

A Closer Look at Stephen Curry's Anatomix Spawn Silver PE

Post Your Next PR with the Reebok CrossFit Lifter Plus

adidas Unveils the D Rose 4

SNEAKER ALERT: Reebok Retro Runner, the GL6000

The Reebok ZQuick Is a Racing Tire for Your Foot

adidas Teases New Soccer Cleats With Awesome Video Spot

Reebok CrossFit Nano 3.0: An Ideal All-Around CrossFit Shoe

How to Find the Perfect Running Shoe

SNEAKER ALERT: First Look at Air Jordan's 2014 Playoff Pack

Nike Drops 3 New Football Cleats With a Focus on Speed

Jordan Brand Reveals Flight Runner, Its First Running Shoe

SNEAKER ALERT: Nike Officially Unveils Hyperdunk 2014

Under Armour Introduces the SpeedForm Apollo Running Shoe

Who Wore the Best Tennis Shoes in History?

The Best Commercial You Won

The Best Non-Basketball 'Player Exclusive' Kicks

Quick Review: The Reebok Nano 4.0 Is Great for CrossFit

adidas Terrex Fast R Mid GTX Hiking Boot

Will Johnny Manziel Get His Own Signature Cleat?

Sneak Peek: Puma evoPOWER Soccer Cleats