While many think of kicks as a fashion statement, when choosing workout footwear, you need to be considering function first. Finding the best gym shoes can not only give you a better workout, but up your performance and even prevent injury. Check out the below mini-guide on the best gym shoes and when you should choose each option.
Characteristics of the Best Gym Shoes
Regardless of what you’re training for or which of the below discussed options you end up choosing, there are a few things you’ll want to consider when picking out your best gym shoes. First is the sole. You’ve been told for years that your shoes need to have adequate cushioning, but that’s not always the case.
If you’ll be using the same shoes for lifting that you will other athletic activities (e.g. – cross training), then this might be the case. But more often than not, you’ll want a hard, flat sole if strictly lifting heavy is going to be your main gig. Next, you’ll want proper traction.
This probably goes without saying, but you’ll need to have adequate footing for whatever type of training you’re doing. If you don’t, then you risk injury. Lastly, make sure your shoes fit properly. Every brand and style are a little different, so make sure you have the right pair for the individual shape of your feet. If nothing else, going to someone knowledgeable to have them properly fit your shoes is never a bad idea.
They might be the most popular selling basketball shoes in history, but Chuck Taylors are also some of the best gym shoes you can get if you’re into strength training and powerlifting. This is because they have sides that don’t give and an absolutely flat sole.
This is good for squatting and deadlifting for a few reasons. Firstly, very heavy squatters tend to use a wider stance, low bar, powerlifting type squat. Chucks’ side construction not really having any give to it supports the foot and doesn’t let it continue to slide out wider. They almost act as a “block” you can push your feet into.
Their flat soles make Chuck Taylors virtually perfect for deadlifting (or rows or other similar movements). The first reason is because the sole has no “give” to it. While you might think you’d normally want a softer sole for more cushioning, this can hinder heavy deadlift efforts as you end up not having very solid footing when you pull.
At the same time, Chucks’ flat sole puts you closer to the ground, which reduces your ROM (range of motion), therefore making you not have to pull the bar as far off the ground. This might seem like a virtually inconsequential difference, but when you’re deadlifting 500-600 pounds or more, even the slightest amount helps. If you’ve ever wondered why you see really strong guys deadlifting bare foot or in socks, this is why.
Olympic Weight Lifting Shoes
If Chucks are the best gym shoes for powerlifters, then Olympic weight lifting shoes are the best for Olympic lifters. In fact, they’re pretty much necessary if you’re even remotely serious about your Olympic weight lifting efforts.
This is because first, these shoes have a rubber, non-slip sole that gives you incredibly sure footing. Since your feet come off the ground so often during the Olympic / “quick” lifts, and you’re often on platform that might not have much traction, you need a pair of shoes that won’t let you slide.
These shoes also have a solid heel that raises the back of your foot by 0.5-1 inch. Elevating your heel more easily lets you get into a fully squatted position with an upright torso, which is needed for getting deeper into the “catch” position of a quick lift.
Cross trainers used to be considered the best gym shoes, and still can be for trainees who won’t be lifting serious amounts of weight, or are planning on doing fairly athletic workouts overall. In other words, if you’re planning on not just lifting, but doing conditioning, plyometrics, calisthenics, or the like as a part of your routine, then cross trainers can still be a good idea.
However, if you’re getting to the point that you’re lifting significant amounts of weight, Chuck Taylors or Olympic shoes might end up being a better option. If nothing else, you could lift in your flat soled shoes while using your cross trainers for everything else.
“Barefoot” and Minimalist Shoes / Actually Going Barefoot
There are some who consider “barefoot” shoes (such as Vibrams Five Fingers) or minimalist options (such as Nike Frees or New Balance Minimus) the best gym shoes. This is because this is as close as you can get to actually being barefoot while still wearing footwear.
The idea behind these kinds of kicks is to actually give your feet as little support as possible. This not only forces your feet and ankles to get stronger, but can improve biomechanical efficiency, proprioreception, and more. The whole idea is supposed to be a sort of “throwback” to when man didn’t have shoes, and even mimicking certain cultures that still don’t wear them. When shoes aren’t taking the brunt of the abuse, you’re forced to use your feet and legs more efficiently.
If you decide to go this route, go with minimalist shoes before trying out any “barefoot” type options. These can take a long time to get used to and your feet / ankles will require quite the adaptation period so as to not suffer even a minor injury.
You’ll also want to seriously limit any activity that sends ballistic shock through your lower body in the beginning. This includes running, jumping, and even calisthenics. If you don’t break your feet / ankles in slowly, you could cause small stress fractures in the foot, heel, or shin.
If you really want to go all-in with this, you can eventually work yourself to the point that you’re actually training barefoot. Just know that in addition to everything above, you’ll need to toughen up the bottoms of your feet as there won’t be anything there to protect them from small objects you might step on. However, keep in mind, that most commercial gym facilities likely won’t let you train in bare feet for liability reasons.
You don’t see many people working out in these, but they are actually some of the best gym shoes you can wear. Wrestlers need shoes that give them excellent traction, allow the foot and ankle to be very flexible, are light, yet still provide quite a bit of support. Really, they’re almost sort of a best mix of everything above and something you might want to at least think about trying on.
There really aren’t a singular pair of best gym shoes on the market, as it really depends on what type of training you’re doing. In some instances, you’re going to want sufficient support to keep your feet / ankles stable and healthy. In other instances, you want as little support as possible to strengthen your feet and improve their efficiency. Regardless of what you end up wearing, ease into new choices slowly to let yourself adapt and ensure that your new kicks fit properly.