Sometimes what you wear in the gym can dramatically impact the amount of weight you can use in all of your lifts, the contraction you feel in your muscles, and even provide stability and safety. It is important to wear the correct shoes if you want to put the most into your workout and doing so can dramatically increase the amount of weight you can use on certain lifts.
Avoid: Running Shoes
Running shoes are obviously okay when performing most upper body exercises, but the gel insoles and padding (which is made by design to reduce impact and protect joints while running on hard surfaces) are not ideal for performing lifts like squats, deadlifts, power cleans, etc. The main disadvantage would be a lack of stability, usually a result of the increased cushioning in the sole. I’ve worn running shoes with a thick gel insole and by doing so, I’ve come close to rolling my ankle while squatting and by doing so, a hurt ankle would be the least of my problems, considering there’s also the weight on my back to be considering once I take a fall.
Along with the safety problems of wearing such shoes, you will also notice a decrease in power. The soles of these cushioned running shoes will prevent you from generating force, such as in the squat and deadlift, which may impact the amount of weight you can use on most exercises. Since I’m a huge advocate of using heavy weight to build muscle, this may be a small piece in a much bigger picture.
Not all “running” shoes are terrible though, although I would not generally choose them over other superior lifting shoes. If you only have running shoes, try to use a pair that has as little of a sole as possible for better stabilization.
Shoes for Squatting:
I’ve personally used a lot of different shoes for squatting, and I believe that for this particular lift it all depends on how you squat and how your body is built in terms of structure. Many powerlifters have seen an advantage in using shoes with an increased heels, whereas some may prefer minimal shoes that resemble squatting barefoot. This is how I personally see it:
High Bar Squats:
When squatting with the bar higher on the back, hence the name “high bar squats”, it is ideal to use shoes that have an increased heel, such as Adidas Adipower, Nike Romaleos, etc. The torso is generally more upright when performing a high bar squat to prevent an unnatural forward rolling, and these shoes make it easier to increase depth.
I’ve done some experimenting with this type of squat, where the bar is positioned lower on the back, the torso is positioned further forward, and the lift generally resembled a deadlift with the bar on your back. I’ve tried Adidas Adipower weightlifting shoes with this type of squat, and it just didn’t work out. It didn’t really make sense in terms of leverage, either, for these shoes to improve this lift. I’ve tried doing these squats barefoot and noticed a HUGE improvement in the amount of weight I could handle, the stabilization, and even noticed my tear-drop being activated more in my quadriceps. So, minimalist shoes such as converse (Chuck Taylor’s), Vibram finger shoes, or even barefoot squatting is my recommendation for this method.
Shoes for Deadlifting
The shoes you want to wear for this lift are pretty straightforward. You’re at the biggest advantage in terms of leverage to be as close to the floor as possible. Going barefoot is the best way to accomplish this. If you can’t go barefoot, then wear some Chuck Taylor’s or another thin sole shoe. I would also recommend these shoes be flat and hard to avoid compression, allowing more force to be delivered into the lift. Wrestling shoes may also be a good fit and are used by many bodybuilders to deadlift in.
All-Around Best Shoes for Weight Training
Unless you have a lot of money and a large gym bag that you can carry around with specific shoes for every single exercise (which I HAVE seen people who do this), you’ll most likely be best off wearing flat, non-compressible and thin-sole shoes such as Chuck Taylor’s or something similar. You can find knock-offs for as low as twenty dollars in outlet stores. Vibram-styled finger shoes are also good too. Remember though, this is a general recommendation for the majority of WEIGHT LIFTING exercises, and may not be a wise selection for cardio.