Barefoot?  Raised heel?  Minimalist?  Lightweight?  Toe shoes?  Weightlifting shoes?

So many options and so much clutter to try and decipher.  After all, in any given Performance360 class almost all of them can be represented.

The fact that footwear is a serious topic of conversation these days means fitness is at an all time high with innovation and attention to detail.

I liken footwear to Oktoberfest in Munich or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  It’s really easy to say, “nah, I’m good” from a distance, but you really have no idea what you are missing unless you actually take the plunge.  When you’ve  never experienced the benefits of what an upgraded shoe brings to the table, it’s easy to cast it off as a “want” vs. a “need”.

I’m going to keep this list short and sweet and not be too technical.  I am an operator of these shoes, not a shoe maker so I can only speak to feel of use.

Here are some good training shoes for all around work.

New Balance Minimus Trails, $69 – $109

This is a very solid shoe for all around circuit training.  I’ve worn a pair of these off an on for over two years, so they are very durable.  They are thin enough to keep you grounded but thick enough to be proficient in most heavy lifting to a certain level.

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Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Good for short distance running
  • Affordable
  • Good for wider feet
  • Good for deadlifts (you are close to the ground, bar travels shorter distance)

 

Cons

  • Not very protective of toes in heavy lunges
  • Not great with box jumps
  • Limiting for squats, cleans, jerks and snatches (due to flat heel)

 

Other comparable brands are Merrell and Vibram’s.  I have never used the Five Finger shoes but I have heard they don’t support a heavy lunge or explosive box jump all that well.

 

Inov-8s, F-Lite 195 & Road X-233, $69-$119

I have both models and frankly, I can’t tell the difference at all.  I love these shoes and can tell they will always be the staple of what I wear to the gym.

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Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Better with toe protection in heavy lunges
  • Good for narrow feet, tight secure fit
  • Good for deadlifts
  • Good for box jumps

 

Cons

  • Limiting for squats, cleans, jerks and snatches
  • Expensive
  • Stain very easily 🙁

 

A comparable brand would be Reebok’s Nanos but I believe this shoe is unmatched.

Training Barefoot?

Training barefoot has its supporters, I am not one of them.  At least not on a full-time basis.  I don’t see anything wrong with it for deadlifts, bodyweight workouts and casual movement around the gym, I’ll mix this in from time to time, but if you are placing any external load in an axial loaded fashion or jumping with any respectability then training barefoot is not ideal.

In fact, it sucks.

The lack of raised heel on any type of respectable weight for overheads, squats, cleans and jerks will limit you greatly.

Feel connected to the earth, but lose strength gains.  If you’re fine with that then that’s your call.

The Inov-8’s and Minimus are lightweight, grounded, durable and will allow a solid performance in heavy lifting, plyometrics and short to middle distance running.

However, minimalist shoes are all flawed in that they will never allow you to truly maximize your squats, Olympic and overhead lifting.  If you are serious about really developing your squat, clean, jerk and other overhead lifts then I highly recommend you get a pair of weightlifting shoes.

Weightlifting Shoes

Once you squat in weightlifting shoes, you will kick yourself in your male or lady parts for not having made the purchase sooner, like I did when I first bought them.

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One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is attempting to get a big squat without the assistance of proper footwear.  Squatting barefoot is just not going to cut it.  Sure, you might engage a few more muscles at first (which is why bodybuilders will use it) but ultimately you are limiting the primary movers.  Greatly.  The angle of your ankle when squatting barefoot or with thin footwear sets off a chain reaction to the rest of your body that naturally inhibits the amount of weight you can lift.  You won’t be able to squat as deep, get proper push off the floor and your back has unneeded torque on it.

By switching to the hardened, raised heel of weightlifting shoes, you will stabilize on overhead lifts, no more falling forward or backward, you will squat deeper, get more push off the floor and maintain a healthier back (the latter was the single biggest improvement I felt squatting).  And, you won’t lose any force or balance in the soft foam heels of running shoes.

If you want to run a quick test on yourself, squat with your heels raised on 10# steel plates next time you are in the gym and you will feel an immediate benefit.

DO NOT get caught up in the whole minimalist movement when it comes to powerlifting and Olympic lifting.  We have not evolved to lift two or three times our weight with natural anatomy, so frankly, we need the assistance on our feet.

If you are serious about increasing your strength in these lifts, buy a pair (this means you, Power Hour folks).

The most popular are:

  • Addidas AdiPower
  • Nike Romaleos
  • Rogue Do-Wins
  • Pendlay Do-Wins
  • Adidas PowerLift Trainer — this would be a good shoe to wear in a Daily Challenge class.  It will provide assistance with the heel while not slowing you down and will allow you do other movements with acceptable proficiency.  However, it’s not a proper weightlifting shoe because the hell is 0.60″ and not the standard 0.75″.

 

(Side note: I have long been a believer in deadlifting as minimalist as possible, but there are more folks using weightlifting shoes to help with lift off. I have not yet deadlifted in weightlifting shoes but I am very excited to try it so I can judge it against barefoot/minimalist deadlifting.  Renowned strength coach Mark Rippetoe has always supported this because he feels it brings the quads into play on the lift off.  As someone who has no issue locking out weight but struggles mightily off the floor, I am excited to try this.)

 

If you don’t care about elite levels and you simply want to get pretty strong in the regular classes, you can do without these.

Run the rims vs. horsepower test on yourself.  While it’s easy to say EVERYONE should lift in weightlifting shoes, that’s not practical and I will always believe you can get by without them.  If you are a male/female and your squat is over 250#/165#, it’s time for some weightlifting shoes, in my opinion.

If you ever want your overhead Olympic stuff to be great, then they are a must.

Nike Frees

Everyone has them, so they must be okay, right?

No, they are terrible and I urge you to immediately donate them to the homeless.

Let me explain this purely from an observational coach’s perspective and as a past offender.

There is no shoe on the market that allows for a more unstable heel.  When you lift heavy weights, all lifts, doesn’t matter which, you must plant the hell firmly into the ground.  If your plant is not stabile, your lift will be shitty.

This is most evident in the squat.

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When I coach beginners I look for one thing in the squat.  Weight placement in the heel and when people have Nike Frees on I have absolutely no idea what their heel is doing because it is sliding all over the place like an octopus on a ice skating rink.  There is no stability and it’s almost guaranteed inversion of the knees as a result of your heel becoming ungrounded.

It’s okay.  I used to own them and trained in them for a year before I knew any better.  Don’t make the mistake I did of thinking fitness activities are transferrable with footwear. Running shoes were not made for weightlifting.

A basketball player wouldn’t wear football cleats, right?

While Frees are the worst offender, any type of raised foam heel is ultimately restricting your progress so if you have a question regarding whether or not your shoe passes, just ask.

Final Verdict

Can you get by in Frees or soft foam heel?  Sure.  Hell, the deadlift record at the gym was set in them.  But they are greatly limiting and anything worthwhile  is accomplished in spite of, not because of them.

Get a good minimalist shoe from the above list and if you are very serious about your strength, get a pair of weightlifting shoes.

Make the proper investment and you’ll be rewarded for it.

Feel free to ask us any questions next time you’re in class, as we want to be of service.

 

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