training & exercise Apr 07, 2022

Sets, reps, exercises, tempo, rest…all variables we discuss when talking about periodizing training. We can also have long chats about rotating various pieces of equipment, and exercises as well.

Angles, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, specialty bars, the selections can be endless. Supportive gear like the Super Ram, Slingshot, and reverse banded lifts. We’re really spoiled for choices these days.

One variable that people don’t often talk about is varying your footwear. Like all of the above, the amount of supportive gear for the feet is also fairly endless. And just like the above, footwear can be used to create different training adaptations. Footwear can also be disastrous if you’re wearing the wrong shoes to the gym.

Before I delve into the detail, one thing I really need to get off of my chest is this:


…at least when you train the lower body.

When you wear running shoes, they can cripple your gains. Very soft, squishy soles create poor transfer of the load into the ground. They also change the mechanics of lifts like the deadlift and the squat. They are, in fact, potentially dangerous to lift in, especially if they are specialized running shoes. Please, just stop, and get some proper weight training shoes.

Ok, now that is out of the way let’s get back to the original discussion.

I’m often asked, “Luke, what type of shoes are the best to lift in?”.

It really depends on what lift you’re doing, how you’re doing those lifts, and what you are wanting to get out of it. Weightlifting shoes are great for squatting, but not so great for deadlifting. Metcons are great for sessions where you might be doing something “Crossfitty” and need a more pliable and bendy front sole, but they might not be optimal for stability and force transfer. What about lifting barefoot? What about the more flat-soled Converse?

All are great choices. All can be periodized. And like any question I’m asked, the answer is always going to be…it depends.

Use the right gear for the job, but don’t use the gear as a crutch. Weightlifting shoes can help you work around poor dorsiflexion in the squat, but they can also, over time, create foot issues. So use them on big squats if you need to, but consider switching to a different shoe, like minimalist shoes, for other lifts. If you have a home gym, consider training barefoot for some lifts.

Consider rotating through different shoes through different phases. Personally, I like using zero-drop minimalist shoes for structural balance phases and then switching to Weightlifting shoes for phases where I’m going for a big lift.

Here are some exercises and what I consider the proper footwear for the job:

  • High bar squatting:  Weightlifting shoes
  • Low bar squatting:  Converse or minimalist shoes
  • Lunging, step ups, split squats: Minimalist or barefoot
  • Cleans & Snatches: Weightlifting shoes, obviously
  • Crossfit: Metcons
  • Running: Here’s where you use your running shoes, but personally, I prefer barefoot or minimalist shoes, but they take a while to get used to.

Oddly enough, barefoot/minimalist shoe walking and running has been a massive help for my lower back. Your hips and lower back are, in a sense, a slave to your feet. If your feet don’t function well, then everything up the chain won’t work well. Barefoot training, I’ve found through experience, can really help reduce pain and dysfunction in the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. I highly recommend it but be advised that it needs to be eased into.

Okay, so I’ve waffled quite a bit. There is so much that can be discussed about this topic, but I’ll leave you with my personal recommendation:

For the majority of your training, train with as little supportive gear as possible, and leave the specialized footwear for when you have a specialized job. Don’t always wear supportive shoes, even for big lifts.  Your feet need to move, they need to bend and contract and feel the ground, so let them. You’ll thank me later.

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