What Are The Best Training Shoes?

Best Shoes For Weight Lifting

If I had a nickel for each time someone asked me about the best shoes for training, I’d be a rich man. For some reason, I’m the guy that everyone asks about training shoes. Yet, whenever I receive a shoe question, I assume that whoever is asking hasn’t seen my old Converse Chuck Taylors. They’re probably older than some of the people reading this blog. If anyone ever saw them up close, I’d never receive another shoe question again.

Unfortunately, shoe questions have been flying into my inbox faster than a toupee on a windy day. I only have myself to blame though as I recently posted a jump rope video without shoes. In the short time since, I’ve received one shoe question after another. With that in mind, I’ll use this entry to share my opinion about barefoot training and the best training shoes.

The Best Shoes For Training

Before diving into the specifics, I’ll first share the video that I referenced above.

This short 15 second clip has led to countless shoe questions. A few of them include the following:

  • Is it safe to train without shoes?
  • What are the best shoes for lifting weights?
  • What’s the best running shoes for training?

Before I answer these questions, I’ll start with one of my own. How did a short jump rope clip lead to so many questions about everything but jumping rope?

I’m still trying to figure that out.

I. Barefoot Training

Moving right along, let’s begin with barefoot training. Despite the fact that I occasionally skip rope barefooted, I’m not here to suggest that you throw away your training shoes. I certainly believe there are benefits to barefoot training, but such work must be approached with caution. Most people have very little experience doing anything without shoes. As a result, many feet are poorly conditioned for any type of stress.

Therefore, the fact that I do something shouldn’t be mistaken as a universal recommendation for everyone to follow suit. Unless you’ve walked in my shoes (or lack of), what I do might not make sense for you. It just happens that my feet have been conditioned for impact over many years. As a young boxer, I grew up skipping rope on concrete floors with old boxing shoes that offered no more protection than a wet paper bag. My feet had no choice but to become conditioned for jumping and running without expensive shoes.

Old School Boxing Training

Ironically, despite my background, I never once considered hopping on the barefoot running bandwagon. Even during the Vibram running craze, I always ran in shoes. I grew up running on roads where you’d never want to be barefooted. My feet may have been conditioned for impact, but not for broken beer bottles and trash. Years later, I now run in the woods. I’d much rather wear shoes than step on sticks, rocks, and scat from animals such as deer and coyote.

Thus, while I’d love to run barefooted on a beach or grass field, doing so on a regular basis isn’t an option for me. Instead, I perform a variety of lower body calisthenics without shoes. Squats, lunges, and calf raises are a few examples. Most athletes can safely perform these movements without shoes. I’m also a big believer in barefooted walking. If I’m outside in the yard, I rarely wear shoes. The same is true when I’m inside. If you are in your home, take off your shoes and let your feet breathe. Barefooted walking and calisthenics can help to condition the feet over time.

As for justification, the reasons should be obvious. Our feet are the only part of our body that make ground contact when transmitting force through countless actions. The feet serve as our foundation for movement. To overlook the importance of improving strength, mobility, and balance throughout the feet is a huge mistake. Just be sure to ease into any barefoot training if it is new to you. You can’t reverse years of coddling the feet in a week or two. Patience is a virtue.

II. Lifting Shoes

What are the best shoes for lifting weights?  

When it comes to choosing a lifting shoe, I’m also a fan of simplicity. Arnold Schwarzenegger did much of his lifting without shoes so I never thought I needed anything fancy either. I’ve had the same pair of Chuck Taylors for longer than I can remember.

“As far as shoes go, Converse Chuck Taylors are best. Don’t have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat.” – Louie Simmons

When selecting a shoe, my needs are quite simple. I want the heels flat and my feet as close to the ground as possible. Chuck Taylors suit my needs for most lifts. An old pair of wrestling shoes have also been handy over the years. Like my Chucks, the wrestling shoes are flat and lightweight. I hardly notice them, which is exactly what I want from my shoes.

Barefooted lifting is also excellent. I particularly enjoy barefooted deadlifting. In fact, I’d probably spend more time lifting without shoes if it didn’t get so cold in our gym. When I lift in the morning, the floors are quite cold during much of the fall, winter, and early spring. As a result, my shoes and socks are used for warmth more than anything else.

As for more expensive lifting shoes, I’m not here to suggest that there aren’t quality brands available. My point is that most people aren’t in a position where they need anything more than a cheap pair of Chuck Taylors. I’m sure that millions of dollars are wasted each year on shoes that offer nothing in return from a performance enhancement standpoint.

The best shoes for weighit lifting

III. Running Shoes

Naturally, not every exercise enthusiast lifts heavy weights, so there’s more to shoes than my old pair of Chucks. I’m a terrible judge of running shoes however as my feet are already well conditioned. After years of skipping rope on concrete, I can run in almost anything without noticing much of a difference.

Whenever I’m asked about running shoes or cross training shoes, my response is always the same. I either use shoes that have been given to me or I purchase an inexpensive pair that’s on sale. My only prerequisites are that the shoes are light and wide enough for my feet.

New Balance tend to fit my feet the best, but I’ve trained in almost every brand at one point or another. I’m fortunate that so many companies have sent me pairs to sample over the years. I’m still not sure why I’m the guy that is given shoes to test though as my feedback is usually the same. I never have anything exciting to say as I don’t put much stock into shoes. Once again, I’m just looking for a shoe that I don’t notice.

Best running shoes for training

In addition, I’ve also adapted to training outdoors in heavier boots. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy outdoor training. We get loads of snow in the winter though so I need a shoe that will keep my feet warm and dry. The Timberland boots that I wear certainly weren’t designed for activities such as running and rope skipping, but I’ve adjusted to them accordingly.

The most expensive running shoes in the world won’t help when there’s a few feet of snow and arctic temperatures. I can either adapt to the environment or succumb to the elements. Opting for waterproofed boots is an easy decision to make. It isn’t nearly as difficult as some people believe to train effectively in boots. Most people just aren’t used to it.

As I’ve said before, first we make our habits and then our habits make us. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way.

Final Thoughts

I’m not writing this article in hopes that everyone follows my approach to shoe shopping (or lack of). Instead, I can only share what has worked for me over many years. I’m a firm believer that many athletes spend far too much money on shoes that offer little in return. Shoe manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating the performance enhancing benefits of their product.

Furthermore, I don’t deny that there are many foot injuries and ailments that make barefoot training all but impossible for certain individuals. I do however believe that many of these ailments could have been prevented if it wasn’t the norm to baby the feet as soon as a child can walk. Most kids have their feet shoved into shoes as soon as they take their first step. The feet are then covered and (supposedly) protected throughout the remainder of their life.

Is it really any surprise that most feet aren’t conditioned for anything but an expensive shoe?

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“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” – Carl Jung

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11 comments:

  1. I also live in a place that gets plenty of rain and snow, so going barefoot isn’t ideal during bad weather. Also, as you mentioned areas that should be litter-free often aren’t likes parks and beaches. It’s a real shame. We should be able to take our shoes off when in a park but broken glass and what have you is too freely found. That said, sometimes i just take my chances and go barefoot in grass areas and try to be observant. Last week, a friend and I played catch barefoot. It was the first time he had done so since he was a kid. He loved it! He felt a sense of freedom and connectedness to the earth. However, he did say he felt some slight pain in his feet and ankles, but understood it was only because he was doing something he hadn’t in a long time.

    Someone who hasn’t done calisthenics barefoot will definitely notice certain differences in difficulty (though also perhaps some ease). For instance, if hanging from a high pull-up bar, while wearing shoes it is easy to just drop to the ground, but when barefoot, you must survey where exactly you plan to land and be much more prepared in terms of how you will absorb the impact upon landing, after all you don’t have the sole support or ankle support when landing.

  2. I Always train barefoot, summer, winter, the whole year. I started this way because training with shoes did not feel good. Running I do just on the same simple All Stars.

  3. I love your postings & videos. They always inspire me. I love ‘simple’ anything, especially training. Just moved back to Maine & preparing for backyard trainings. Love this.

  4. Walking Barefoot may also have other positive effects on health.
    There is an emerging science documenting how conductive contact with the Earth, which is also known as Earthing or grounding, is highly beneficial to your health and completely safe. Earthing appears to minimize the consequences of exposure to potentially disruptive fields like “electromagnetic pollution” or “dirty electricity.”

  5. Ha ha….Chuck Taylors. When I was into gym life and lifting….old school 20 rep squats, Dead lifts etc, good ole’ Converse Chuck Taylors were my first choice. Fancy well cushioned sneakers only throw off your balance. Good old Converse….nice!

  6. Unfortunately, the days of training barefoot in a commercial gym are over. Thank you, insurance companies!

    I use to train with Chuck Taylor’s however last year I developed plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonosis. My orthopaedic doctor put me in a good pair of Skecher’s for the arch support. When I asked him about training with Chuck Taylor’s I got an emphatic “NO!” from him.

    Skecher’s it is.

    1. I have always had “great arches,” never had a problem with military hikes, climbs, jumps, runs, dancing, or yoga….. ever. Hiking “barefoot” on the beach, the same thing happened to me: plantar fasciitis & achilles tendonosis. My Orthopaedic and both of my Physical Therapists emphatically recommended “workout shoes with arches.” Don’t believe the Barefoot BS anymore.

  7. I heard that exact Louis Simmons quote when I first asked about shoes for lifting, which meant the shoes I was already wearing were good enough. Some people I know do wear actual weightlifting shoes, but in terms of performance or injuries, they don’t seem to be a factor among anyone I know.

    When I was young I read that Marvin Haggler wore combat boots, and since I figured so does everybody in the Marines and the Army they’d work well enough. With running I wish people would think about form before blowing more money on shoes. Running outside in the winter taught me to keep my center of gravity low so I’d be more stable if I hit a patch of ice. Turns out the same technique is good for minimizing impact. I’ve got the boots and some New Balance shoes that I’ve had for about 10 years I use when I run on an indoor track, and so far I’ve been lucky without any problems with my feet even though (by some standards) the shoes should be worn out by now by mileage.

  8. Great article! When I began training many years ago, my old man told to get out and run in boots as that’d toughen me up. At the time I was an apprentice engineer and we got issued with steel toe-cap workboots. I wore them everywhere, and trained in them. Running on roads and off-road, through woods, up hills and along the local pebbled beaches. Never had any issues with injuries.

    Like Ross I also spend most of the time at home barefoot, including the garden. My neighbour always cringes when he sees me walking outside barefoot. Again, as Ross says, our feet adapt.

    Anyway it’s saved me a ton of money in training shoes, my work boots are good enough for running, and weights etc plus I don’t train a commercial gym so i don’t have no worries about footwear regulations.

    Stay strong!

  9. I have tried Chucks, but I find Adidas Sambas to be the best minimalist shoe, since they give me better arch support. I have used them for martial arts, weight training, and the occasional run.

    I have also used combat boots for running in winter and back in the day when I was part of a Taekwondo club that trained outside year round.

    I have stuck with these two options for the last 15 years and never felt the need to change. Only difference now is that I use Sof Sole inserts in my boots.

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