Trainer Tip Thursday: Which shoes do I wear when I lift??
It’s the special Trainer Tip THURSDAY edition 🙂
This week, by request, the topic is how to choose which shoes for which athletic endeavors and fitness activities.
The question I got was:
“I’ve been realizing that shoe choices are not just important for running, but possibly for lifting as well. Could you do a Trainer Tip Tuesday in the future about how to figure out what to look for/what is important in the shoes you wear for lifting? So far I just wear cross trainers which has proven not the best choice but lifting shoes confuse me right now. “
Such a great question, and an important one, too! So, I’ll give a long answer and a short answer. If you’re interested in the ‘whys’ of the situation, keep reading; if you just want the shoe recommendations, skip to the bottom 🙂
Many of us do know that we need certain kinds of running shoes depending on our running gait, mileage, our weight, our age, the kind of surface we run on (trail vs. street), and whether we overpronate (foot rolls inward) or supinate (foot rolls outward).
I always recommend going to a running store for a video or at least visual assessment of your running gait so you are better able to choose the shoe that fits your needs best. I can’t even tell you how much pain I caused myself and money I wasted guessing which shoe would work before I started going to running stores to tap into their expertise. And runners LOVE to talk about running, so the salespeople are usually really passionate about helping you find the right shoe. Bonus: once you find the right shoe, you can order it online (maybe even for a discount) from then on!
But the weightlifting shoe issue isn’t one that’s as well known in general fitness circles. So here goes!
I lifted weights, and even did aerobics classes, in running shoes for YEARS.
It wasn’t until after I’d had my PT certification for about 9 months and really started to get into the mechanics of movement patterns that I realized my running shoes weren’t the best choice for lifting.
The trouble with running shoes is a) they usually have a larger heel lift, b) the soles are thick and often highly cushioned and c) don’t necessarily fit the foot snugly.
a) Having a heel lift, where the heel is significantly higher than the ball of the foot, changes the standing posture.
It unevenly distributes the weight on the foot to the front of the foot, and shifts the position (the tilt) of the pelvis forward. This can both lend to a more pronounced curve, or ‘sway’ in the low back, and it also puts more of the work of standing into the quads/front of the leg.
*Check it out: stand up without shoes and feel what muscles are active when your feet are flat on the floor. Now lift your heels up off the floor slightly: What did you feel change?*
b and c) For most ground-based exercises, being perched more on your toe is not a great way to perform these exercises. It puts a little too much work on the front half of the body, and takes some away from the back half–which is usually the half we need to train a little harder!
Lungeing is less stable, deadlifting is harder (on the spine), standing overhead exercises require greater knee and pelvis position changes to avoid adverse pressure on the low back, and the landing aspect of lateral movements and jumping activities is MUCH less stable.
The exception? Squatting. Squatting is one of those exercises where having a heel lift *sometimes* helps, or is advantageous. This is where those special ‘lifting’ shoes come in.
The mechanics of the squat require that there is flexion (bending) happening in three main joints: the ankle, knee and hip. When someone is really stiff in their ankles (often from very tight soleus or gastroc muscles/facsia), they are not able to bend enough in their ankles to allow the knees to travel forwards enough to allow their hip to then lower into a full squat position.
The lack of ankle mobility translates into having a harder time achieving optimal depth (parallel and below), which often translates into someone compensating for their inability to move the knee more forward/sink into the squat by rounding in their lower back to sink their hips lower….which is a story that will never end well, especially when higher weights are being used.
So many people, especially those who are more into lifting heavy or powerlifting, will opt to use lifting shoes to give them a heel lift while also giving them a flat sole with lots of ground contact.
BUT not everyone who lifts heavy NEEDS to have them! Some people do, some people like wearing ‘the right gear,’ and some people think it gives them an advantage. **BTW, I made sure to double-check my assertions with a local powerlifting champion and trainer, Rob Powell of CrossFit Ansbach, because while I understand the mechanics, I’m not a powerlifter and it’s always best to ask a seasoned pro when you need specific and expert advice**
Bottom line on the lifting shoes recommendations:
*Try to get shoes that have a flatter sole and less cushion. Many people who are hardcore lifters wear low-top Converse 🙂
*Make sure the shoe has enough arch support, if you have super high arches, but not too much extra padding inside.
*Try to get shoes that are ‘zero drop’ or only have a small drop, like 4mm. (Drop refers to the amount of height change between the heel and ball of foot)
*Make sure the width of the shoe is a good fit for your foot. Too wide means sliding around and can cause further foot discomfort/issues–trust me on this one!
*If you’re lifting and doing HIIT or Metabolic Conditioning in the same workouts, make sure the soles have enough flexibility and just enough cushion to make movements such as sprinting, jump squats, box hops and any other impact activities comfortable.
My preference (so far) are the New Balance Minimus shoes. They come in multiple widths, aren’t outrageously expensive, have just enough cushion and either 4mm or zero mm drop.
They’ve been a fantastic shoe for heavy lifting and for conditioning workouts of all kinds, AND my last pair lasted me two years (no cushion means not needing to replace them as often as running shoes!).
Other people who train at CrossFit Ansbach wear INOV8 and love them, some the Reebok line of ‘CrossFit’ or lifting shoes (trendy or a great fit? No answer there), as well as just the classic Converse, or just lift barefoot.
Merrell also makes some great minimalist shoes that might fit the bill, too.
And my very last recommendations:
–>Go a try a bunch of them on. Walk around in them, so squats in them, do side lunges in them. See how they move and feel!
–>Look for people who are built and train like you at the gym, and ask them about their shoes (I did that when I wanted to know more about the Inov 8 shoes!).
–>Make sure that whatever you choose meets YOUR particular training wants and physical needs.
And, PLEASE, don’t do deadlifts in running shoes or shoes with big heel lifts–that means you, soldiers at lunchtime wearing your uniform boots!!!