Ever thought about the shoes that you wear
to the gym? Of course you have. You've actually spent some time
thinking about which shoes to wear, and you probably have a pair
designated as your 'gym shoes'. How did those shoes earn that
illustrious title and serve such a noble purpose? Suitability
for the task? Performance enhancement? Safety? Not usually. Comfort
and looks seem to be the main criteria associated with gym shoe
choice. This is a problem if your training includes any free
weights at all. Most of us would never consider wearing a pair
of Bruno Magli's to play racquetball. They are built to look
good, not to perform well on the court. While this may be obvious
to some, many of us will make an equally poor footwear decision
and wear running shoes to the gym to lift weights.
Proper footwear in the gym is important, especially if you
are lifting free weights. When we lift weights, we want two things
to happen: (1) all the force our body produces under the bar
should contribute to moving the weight and (2) the weight needs
to be controlled in a safe manner. If we lift in a running shoe,
it's akin to trying to lift while standing on a giant marshmallow.
The soles of the running shoes, the marshmallow, will absorb
and dissipate a large amount of the force generated against the
floor that should be directed towards moving the weight. A gel
or air cell shoe is a great thing for reducing the impact shock
that causes the repetitive use injuries associated with running.
But in the weight room, shoes should provide for the efficient
transmission of power between the bar and the ground. You can't
lift as much weight in the wrong shoes.
The second issue is control of the weight - and your body
- while standing on an unstable surface. A compressible medium
placed between the feet and the ground will behave inconsistently
enough during each rep to alter the pattern of force transmission
every time. This means that the subtle points of consistent good
technique on any standing exercise are impossible to control.
And there is an increased chance for a balance or stability loss-induced
injury while lifting heavy weights, since perfect balance cannot
be assured on an imperfect surface.
Weightlifters and powerlifters have known this for more than
50 years, although the shoe choices available for their purposes
were formerly quite limited. Until the 1970's, combat boots,
Chuck Taylor's, and even patent leather oxfords (see old photos
of Paul Anderson) were the shoes used for lifting weights. To
be stable and perform optimally, a weightlifting shoe needs to
be snug fitting, provide exceptional support, and have a noncompressible
wedge sole with neoprene or crepe for traction against the floor.
Most will lace all the way down to the toe for adjustment to
individual foot width, and will have an adjustable strap across
the metatarsal area for added lateral stability. When Adidas
from Germany and Kahru of Finland became available on a limited
basis in the US, weightlifters finally had the opportunity to
use equipment specifically designed for their activity. High
topped and not especially stylish, these shoes had minimal appeal
to the fashion conscious, but lifters loved them because they
But there was a scheduling problem:
the gym and fitness club industry had just been revolutionized
by the simultaneously-evolving exercise machine industry. Having
removed the factors of balance, coordination, and technique from
the equation, exercise machines temporarily sidelined the development
of weight training shoes. Over the past two decades, free weights
and the benefits of their use have crept back into gyms and fitness
clubs everywhere. The need for weightlifting shoes re-emerged
without a supply beyond the stalwart Adidas corporation's Power
Perfect, Equipment, and Adistar models. Other major shoe brands
like Nike, Puma, and Reebok began to experiment with weightlifting
shoes. A number of foreign brands such as Do Win (China), and
Power Firm (Canada), as well as the American company Safe-USA
have also competed for a share of the growing US market. All
these companies offer shoes that are designed for competitive
weightlifting or powerlifting, but that are good for all basic
lifts, especially the squat, given their exemplary support and
incompressible heel design. A variety of powerlifting shoes with
essentially flat soles and no heel lift, much like track flats
or wrestling shoes, are also available from powerlifting equipment
houses like Inzer (USA), and also work for basic exercise purposes.
These shoes are less suited for squatting, since they require
that you have better than average flexibility to squat in them,
but they are excellent for floor work and standing exercises.
Another pair of shoes to buy? Is it really worth it? Yes.
Effective training yields superior results. Safe training yields
fewer training injuries. The logic is inescapable. For as little
as $40 for a pair of old-school Chuck Taylor's or as much as
$170 for the state of the art Adidas shoe, you can have the right
shoe for the right job. The right shoe is important for performance
and safety, and for as little as half the cost of a premium running
shoe, you can look and lift like a pro.
Solid sole design and micro-adjustable arch support make todays
economy lifting shoe perform on par with more expensive, stylish,
and sought after premier shoes but the old standbys still work.
Top Left - Adidas Adistar ($170).
Top Right Inzer Pillar ($115).
Center Left Werksan lifting shoe ($99).
Center Right . VS Athletics lifting shoe ($50).
Bottom The most economical choice, the Converse Chuck
Taylor® All Star ($40)