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