Gym Shoes: Find the Shoe That is Best For Your Training Style

What shoes are best to lift in the gym in?

So far the shoe conversation has been centred primarily around straight line running, but what's the best option when it comes to lifting shoes?

Let’s start with Olympic lifting shoes

Olympic lifting shoes with a 3/4 inch elevation
Olympic lifting shoes with a 3/4 inch elevation

Olympic lifting shoes with a 3/4 inch elevation

These have two key benefits; The first is an elevated heel that artificially increases your dorsiflexion, allowing you to get into a deeper squat position. This does have the tendency to make you a little more quad-dominant with your squatting*.

The second benefit for the Olympic lifting shoe is the solid firm sole. When you try to lift something heavy or create power, having a soft, squishy cushion under your foot makes it really hard to generate that force.

*If your goal is weightlifting then that’s great, but for most team and ball sport athletes chasing extra knee flexion and the extra quad load is rarely the goal (these athletes tend to lack glutes, not quads).

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 2.21.00 PM.png
Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 2.21.00 PM.png

Chuck & Van

Another great option to provide a firm base and remove the squishiness of a normal sneaker is something like a Converse Chuck Taylor or Van’s shake shoes. These guys as a bonus to being solid and stable are also pretty close to zero drop, so they’re a great option for Corelifting and deadlifting or just as a general all-round gym lifting shoe.

The Minimalist

Another option in the zero drop category is a barefoot or a minimalist shoe, something like the Vivo barefoot. Just like a Chuck Taylor and the Olympic lifting shoe a minimalist shoe doesn't have foam or cushioning to squish around on your foot. Most of them also have super thin sole, which allows you to feel and grip the ground allowing the intrinsic muscles of your foot to go to work. The other benefit is the wide toe box allows your toes to spread, increasing stability and control.
Because Vivo’s are so lightweight and flexible, they won’t get in the way of natural or unusual movements like crawling and Turkish Get-Ups either.

Vivo’s are not the only option, however, there are heaps of brands that do a minimalist shoe with a wide toe box (we just happen to like them the best).

Cross Trainers

One brand that's not currently technically doing a barefoot shoe, but probably will very soon is Nike. In the Nike free range, they have a 1.0 (1.0 is a measure of heel to toe gradient, we wrote about that here) in women’s at the moment but it still has a pretty narrow toe box. In the men’s range, the lowest you can get is a 3.0 (about 4-6mm of heel to toe drop)*.

In saying all that Nike Free’s are still a pretty good gym shoe, they have a flat sole, there’s not a huge amount of cushioning so it’s not going to squish heaps under your foot (compared to other sneakers), and they’re super lightweight so they’re pretty comfy without being overly controlling or pillow-like under the foot.
A Nike Free or something similar is also a great versatile option if you're combining your lifting with what we call track time; agility, jumping (plyometrics), or sprinting work as part of your workout (Reebok Crossfit sneakers are actually great in this department as well, as are Inov8's).

*If you have motion control, or any foot based injuries/problems at the moment, switching to barefoot or taking out your orthotics like I’ve said before is probably not a smart idea right now.

The Bulky Sneaker

The last shoe I want to discuss today is a traditional running shoe. For the majority of gym-goers, this shoe is okay, but it’s far from perfect.
If you’re lifting light to intermediate type weights (below 1x bodyweight on the squat, deadlift or corelift as a rough guideline) you’re really not going to notice the difference no matter what shoe you lift, but as you start to lifting more, any squishiness under the foot is going to interfere with your ability to produce force.

The other effect of a cushioned bulky shoe is it blocks your proprioception and ability to feel the environment so you won’t be able to grip the ground or get any sensory feedback from the feet.

So what's the best shoe to train in?

For your track time, plyometric, sprint, and agility work first place goes to the shoe you play your sport in. It’s got a solid controlling upper, a good heel lock, and it’s what you’re going to play in so you want to replicate that and be comfortable in your playing shoes (just don’t go doing sprints on synthetic grass or rubber in footy boots!).
Second place goes to something like a Nike Free, tied with a minimalist shoe (only if you’re making that transition) or even the structured running shoe.
For your strength training, if you’re going to Olympic lift or front squat, I’d probably you use an Olympic lifting shoe (always be sure to ask the question; is a knee dominant squat what you need to be doing? We are much more in favour of a glutey squat that de-loads the knees). It’s going to provide the extra range of motion so you can get into a deep position easier (if that is your goal).

For all the other heavy lifting I think first place goes to the minimalist shoe because you’ve got a wide toe box, not much cushioning under the feet and you’re flat from heel to toe so you can feel and sense the ground. The second place I would say goes to the Chuck Taylor or the Van, and then third to something that's not overly cushioned, and reasonably lightweight (like the Nike Free range or similar).

for more of our videos on shoes and feet check out the Shoesday playlist

Download Our Free Jumping Resources

We've built free resources to help athletes around the world improve their vertical leap.

Sign up to get access to:

  • A warm up and cool down guide for maximising jump ability
  • The key to making vertical leap gains in the gym
  • All our vertical leap training tips and tricks for strength, mobility, technique and plyometric power development
Thanks! We've just emailed you access to our free resources, they should arrive in a few minutes.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Learn more about Velocity Based Training with VBTCoach.com

Velocity Based Training, or commonly known as VBT is a fantastic way to inform us about the quality of our training, adding an objective velocity value on the quality of every rep. At VBTCoach.com, Jacob delves into how you can improve performance, build power, strength and muscle, and allow for auto-regulating training in real time. ⁠

More posts

Compensatory Patterns
April 25, 2017

Compensatory Patterns

The Invention of Jogging
April 25, 2017

The Invention of Jogging

How Not to Interview: A Lesson for Fitness Professionals
November 10, 2016

How Not to Interview: A Lesson for Fitness Professionals

The Problems with a Heel Strike
October 5, 2016

The Problems with a Heel Strike

Rehabilitation
July 30, 2015

Rehabilitation

How to book your workouts at Core Advantage
June 23, 2020

How to book your workouts at Core Advantage

Training When Injured, the Ultimate Guide
August 9, 2019

Training When Injured, the Ultimate Guide

Our Combine Infographics
May 23, 2019

Our Combine Infographics

Bulgarian Split Squat or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?
May 21, 2019

Bulgarian Split Squat or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?

Medicine Balls, Wall Balls and Dead Balls, what's the difference?
May 27, 2019

Medicine Balls, Wall Balls and Dead Balls, what's the difference?

A Coaches Guide to Keeping Your Team Fit Over Christmas
December 22, 2018

A Coaches Guide to Keeping Your Team Fit Over Christmas

The Athletic Combine Part 3: Results, The Most Important Thing in Athletic Performance Testing
May 9, 2018

The Athletic Combine Part 3: Results, The Most Important Thing in Athletic Performance Testing

Three Supplements for this Winter
June 5, 2018

Three Supplements for this Winter

The Athletic Combine Part 2: Interpreting your Athletic Testing Results
April 30, 2018

The Athletic Combine Part 2: Interpreting your Athletic Testing Results

The Athletic Combine Part 1: The Tests and Why They Matter
April 11, 2018

The Athletic Combine Part 1: The Tests and Why They Matter

5 Do's and Don't for Surviving the Holidays
December 28, 2017

5 Do's and Don't for Surviving the Holidays

Maximise Performance, Reduce Injury and Improve Your Running Technique all before training starts
December 11, 2017

Maximise Performance, Reduce Injury and Improve Your Running Technique all before training starts

5 Elite Habits Every Athletes Can do Now (for free)
November 8, 2017

5 Elite Habits Every Athletes Can do Now (for free)

Taper Like a Boss
September 13, 2017

Taper Like a Boss

9 Reasons Humans were Born to Run
August 23, 2017

9 Reasons Humans were Born to Run

Mailbag - How Can I Dunk in Two Weeks?
June 21, 2017

Mailbag - How Can I Dunk in Two Weeks?

Neutral Spine? How to Deadlift and Squat Without Hurting Your Back
May 22, 2017

Neutral Spine? How to Deadlift and Squat Without Hurting Your Back

Rockstar Muscles: Multifidus
August 30, 2017

Rockstar Muscles: Multifidus

Workout Soreness: What Causes DOMS?
August 16, 2017

Workout Soreness: What Causes DOMS?

48,360 hours of muscular creep
June 9, 2017

48,360 hours of muscular creep

Mini Desk Workout: Fix a Slouched Posture
June 28, 2017

Mini Desk Workout: Fix a Slouched Posture

How to do a Chin Up & Pull Up Properly: The Problem and Solution
May 11, 2017

How to do a Chin Up & Pull Up Properly: The Problem and Solution

The Push:Pull Ratio
May 11, 2017

The Push:Pull Ratio

Reinventing the Shoulder
May 9, 2017

Reinventing the Shoulder

Anti-Desk: Hips and Pot Belly Edition
June 14, 2017

Anti-Desk: Hips and Pot Belly Edition

Why is My Back Sore? The Reasons We Get Lower Back Pain
May 3, 2017

Why is My Back Sore? The Reasons We Get Lower Back Pain

Biomechanics of the Spine - How Posture Influences our Structures
May 16, 2017

Biomechanics of the Spine - How Posture Influences our Structures

Are Sit Ups Bad for You?
June 3, 2017

Are Sit Ups Bad for You?

Why Can't I Jump High? The Science Behind Vertical Leap
May 3, 2017

Why Can't I Jump High? The Science Behind Vertical Leap

Olympic Lifting vs Plyometrics
April 26, 2017

Olympic Lifting vs Plyometrics

Instant Strength: Push the Ground Away
April 11, 2017

Instant Strength: Push the Ground Away

Front Side vs Back Side Mechanics: What makes Better Sprinters
April 18, 2017

Front Side vs Back Side Mechanics: What makes Better Sprinters

What is Fatigue? Causes of Fatigue
April 19, 2017

What is Fatigue? Causes of Fatigue

Drills to Improve your Knee Drive for Sprinting and Acceleration
April 9, 2017

Drills to Improve your Knee Drive for Sprinting and Acceleration

Two Cues for Better Acceleration
April 10, 2017

Two Cues for Better Acceleration

Four Reasons My Brother Beat Me Over 50m
April 5, 2017

Four Reasons My Brother Beat Me Over 50m

Taking off the Athletic Handbrake: The World's Greatest Most Important, Best Stretch
April 5, 2017

Taking off the Athletic Handbrake: The World's Greatest Most Important, Best Stretch

Anti-Desk: Fixing Texting Neck
April 2, 2017

Anti-Desk: Fixing Texting Neck

High Protein Breakfast: Homemade Baked Beans
March 28, 2017

High Protein Breakfast: Homemade Baked Beans

How to Run Faster: Tips for Injury Free Effortless Running
March 27, 2017

How to Run Faster: Tips for Injury Free Effortless Running

Calf Raises: An Easy Home Workout to Jump Higher and Run Faster
March 26, 2017

Calf Raises: An Easy Home Workout to Jump Higher and Run Faster

Why aren’t shoes shaped like feet? A history of shoes: Part II
March 22, 2017

Why aren’t shoes shaped like feet? A history of shoes: Part II

Toga - Yoga for Your Toes
March 21, 2017

Toga - Yoga for Your Toes

Running Program for Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes (Minimalist/Zero Drop)
March 15, 2017

Running Program for Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes (Minimalist/Zero Drop)

ISOMETRICS: A POWERFUL WORKOUT TOOL TO INCREASE STRENGTH AND REHAB INJURIES
February 21, 2017

ISOMETRICS: A POWERFUL WORKOUT TOOL TO INCREASE STRENGTH AND REHAB INJURIES

The #1 Factor in Ankle and Hamstring Injuries (Hint: it's the same for both!)
February 2, 2017

The #1 Factor in Ankle and Hamstring Injuries (Hint: it's the same for both!)

Does Cardio Kill Your Gains?
February 2, 2017

Does Cardio Kill Your Gains?

The Conditioning Continuum: Is it possible to get 400m fit without running further than 50m?
February 2, 2017

The Conditioning Continuum: Is it possible to get 400m fit without running further than 50m?

Training Tips to Increase Strength on the Bench Press
January 16, 2017

Training Tips to Increase Strength on the Bench Press

The Fat Burning Zone Myth and 11 Other Ways High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Improves Fitness
January 16, 2017

The Fat Burning Zone Myth and 11 Other Ways High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Improves Fitness

Increase Strength and Hypertrophy with these Plateau Busting Gym Program Ideas
January 11, 2017

Increase Strength and Hypertrophy with these Plateau Busting Gym Program Ideas

Split Workout: Is it worth the extra effort?
January 3, 2017

Split Workout: Is it worth the extra effort?

High Intensity Interval Training: Repeat Sprints for Sport Specific Fitness
December 20, 2016

High Intensity Interval Training: Repeat Sprints for Sport Specific Fitness

Game Fit - The Best Training Method to Improve Fitness During the Preseason
December 20, 2016

Game Fit - The Best Training Method to Improve Fitness During the Preseason

Sweet potato or White? And a Killer Baked Potato Recipe
December 15, 2016

Sweet potato or White? And a Killer Baked Potato Recipe

The World's Best HIIT Workout: How To do 8:12 Intervals on a Spin Bike
December 14, 2016

The World's Best HIIT Workout: How To do 8:12 Intervals on a Spin Bike

Summer time Oats & Yoghurt
December 7, 2016

Summer time Oats & Yoghurt

Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio: Managing Errors in Training Load
December 7, 2016

Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio: Managing Errors in Training Load

Rules for Buying Sneakers
November 30, 2016

Rules for Buying Sneakers

Are Roches Killing Your Athleticism?
November 23, 2016

Are Roches Killing Your Athleticism?

The Power of Placebo
November 16, 2016

The Power of Placebo

What is a Trigger Point/Knot and How do They Work?
November 14, 2016

What is a Trigger Point/Knot and How do They Work?

Is Sleep Deprivation Killing your Athleticism?
October 31, 2016

Is Sleep Deprivation Killing your Athleticism?

Sprint Unification Theory
October 30, 2016

Sprint Unification Theory

Ankle Sprain/Ankle Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Training
November 14, 2016

Ankle Sprain/Ankle Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Training

An Effective Solution for Treating Shin Splints
December 14, 2016

An Effective Solution for Treating Shin Splints

Become Instantly Stronger: Creating Bar Tension/Picking Up the Slack
November 10, 2016

Become Instantly Stronger: Creating Bar Tension/Picking Up the Slack

Anti-Valgus Training Tips: Gluteus Medius
December 20, 2016

Anti-Valgus Training Tips: Gluteus Medius

Warmup 2.0 For Every Body
August 30, 2016

Warmup 2.0 For Every Body

Mailbag: General nutrition advice
May 19, 2016

Mailbag: General nutrition advice

Saturation Vs. Deficiency: Fill your empty buckets
March 31, 2016

Saturation Vs. Deficiency: Fill your empty buckets

Intent to Move: The secret of explosive athletes
April 12, 2016

Intent to Move: The secret of explosive athletes

Easy steps to increase your vertical Jump
April 5, 2016

Easy steps to increase your vertical Jump

Breakfast for Dinner? Science says yes!
April 21, 2016

Breakfast for Dinner? Science says yes!

Training the core for performance
October 29, 2015

Training the core for performance

Do you need protein shakes to improve performance?
October 22, 2015

Do you need protein shakes to improve performance?

Increase Your Vertical Jump in Less Than 10 Minutes a Day
October 27, 2013

Increase Your Vertical Jump in Less Than 10 Minutes a Day

Sports Specific Fitness: You're probably doing it wrong!
August 18, 2015

Sports Specific Fitness: You're probably doing it wrong!

The Magic of Foam Rolling
February 25, 2014

The Magic of Foam Rolling

Hydration Strategies for High Performance
January 23, 2014

Hydration Strategies for High Performance

One Muscle to Rule Them All: Gluteus Maximus
March 22, 2014

One Muscle to Rule Them All: Gluteus Maximus

Loading the Glutes: The power of the squat
April 2, 2014

Loading the Glutes: The power of the squat

How to Maximise Tournament Performance
May 19, 2014

How to Maximise Tournament Performance

The Perfect Pre-Game Meal
August 27, 2016

The Perfect Pre-Game Meal