What kind of man gives a second thought to the brand of shoe he wears to the gym? Must be a wimpy, fashion-obsessed, pretty boy, you say.
Allow me to convince you otherwise. The shoes you wear while lifting weights actually have a huge impact on your performance. If you are a typical alpha male, you will surely want to take care to wear the right footwear to put yourself ahead of the pack. Even if you are not, picking the right shoes for you can mean the difference between pain and injuries versus joy and progress.
I respect the fact that many may not be convinced that the type of shoe one wears while working out matters. Think of it this way: every day you wear shoes to fit the tasks of that day. If you are going to work, you wear dress shoes in order to look professional. If you were going to the beach, however, you’d probably wear either flip-flops or sandals in order to be more comfortable. Notice the absurdity of wearing shoes during a task for which they are inappropriate–for example sandals to work or dress shoes to the beach. Such an action simply doesn’t make any sense.
By the same token, wearing regular shoes while weight training is completely absurd! When I say regular shoes, I am referring to the shoes that most people wear casually. This includes most casual shoes (e.g. Sketcher’s) as well as ‘so-called’ athletic or running sneakers (e.g. Nike).
I realize I may have offended some people with my last statement. Let me explain. I understand the Nike sports shoe has become synonymous with “athlete”; in fact, I acknowledge that Nike puts out a great product (as do Ascics, Adidas, etc). The problem with using an athletic shoe while lifting weights is that the design of the shoe doesn’t fit the nature of the task.
When you lift a weight, especially a heavy weight, the bottoms of the shoes tend to compress. A problem arises with running/ athletic shoes because the soles consist of highly compressible molds–it is as if you are lifting on a waterbed. As you lift a weight, the unstable platform of the shoe shifts and can cause you to lose balance. In addition to not being safe, lifting in the wrong shoes also decreases the strength you can display at a given time. This goes back to the waterbed analogy; try to push a heavy barbell over your head while standing on top of a waterbed and you’ll find that you simply aren’t able to. The shoes can only support so much weight before they deform and alter your center of gravity. If your center of gravity is displaced beyond the support base of your feet, you fall. I hope you can see that wearing running shoes while lifting is a liability that you cannot afford!
What are the right shoes for weight lifting, then? Essentially, the right shoes are the opposite of running shoes. Some features to look for:
1. Extremely stable sole
The bottom of the shoe should be very difficult to compress. To test a pair you should press on the sole hard from both inside and outside of the shoe. If it gives more than a little, you should look elsewhere.
2. Durable/ Long lasting
This is pretty much a given. You shouldn’t be wearing a piece of garbage to the gym. Buy a quality product that you are willing to stand behind. Your health and safety depend on it.
3. Extra Foot and Ankle Support
Although not absolutely necessary, this is a nice feature. Olympic Weightlifting shoes have metatarsal straps for precisely this purpose. If you do any Olympic lifting at all, you must buy them. If not, they are optional.
4. Thick heel
For lifters with less flexible hamstrings and/or quadriceps, shoes with a thicker than average heel can help get into a better starting position on squats, deadlifts, etc. What’s important here isn’t the heel height in and of itself but the difference in heel height from toe height.
There are countless options that fulfill these criteria. I personally train in Chuck Taylors, commonly referred to as Converse. They are extremely solid, and can be bought for ~$20-$30. Nevertheless, I encourage you to conduct a search on your own and find what works best for you. Just remember: Don’t wear dress shoes to the beach!