What are the best gym trainers or footwear for lifting weights?

If you’re looking to get the most out of your workouts, then having the right footwear is something it’s worth thinking about. Look around any gym and you’ll notice a whole range of trainers in use; from tired old runners, to heel elevated squat shoes and even plenty of bare feet on the floor. So, what are the best gym trainers? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each option…

Running shoes

If you came to the gym to run miles, then running shoes are what you need; they have soft, cushioned soles that help to decrease the load and stress going through your body with each step. However, if you’re in the gym to lift heavy then running shoes are far from optimal for a number of reasons.

When you’re going for the big lifts, like Squats and Deadlifts, then a stable base and the ability to generate power are two huge factors in the amount of weight you will be able to lift. Unfortunately, the cushioned sole that makes running shoes so comfortable when pounding the pavements, limits your body’s stability, whilst also absorbing some of the force you try to create as you drive through the floor, therefore reducing the power you can exert on the lift. Furthermore, as most running shoes tend to have quite thick soles; they change the mechanics of the Deadlift by increasing the range of motion required through the posterior chain, making the movement itself harder. When it comes to lifting weights, running shoes are definitely not the best gym trainers!

(If you are a runner, then read more about why and how you should be lifting weights HERE)

Weightlifting / Squat shoes

Weightlifting shoes have an elevated heel built into the sole. A deep Squat requires good ankle mobility but, by elevating your heel, you reduce the range of motion needed at the ankle, allowing a better range of motion for anyone with limited ankle mobility. A raised heel also allows your body to stay more upright throughout the Squat, which puts you in a more advantageous position to lift heavier. As well as the heel, weightlifting shoes also have a very firm sole, which means none of the force you exert is absorbed, helping you to maximise strength.

But, whilst Weightlifting shoes sound like they must be the best gym trainer to lift in, it’s important to understand that they are designed for ‘weightlifting’ (specifically, lifts like the Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Overhead Squat) where your feet are planted solidly on the ground; as a pose to general ‘weight lifting’ where you may do more dynamic movements. And, just like running shoes, weightlifting shoes will change the mechanics for all movements (making some easier, but others harder) and so, for the majority of people (aside from powerlifters or Olympic lifters), you would be better off working on your mobility and technique than masking issues with shoes.

Cross-training Shoes

Cross-training shoes are designed for people doing a range of activities in the gym that includes cardio, HIIT and weight training. They offer enough stability and support for multi-directional movements, but use a denser foam through the sole that absorbs less force for heavier lifts.

This hybrid design makes them the perfect choice for someone moving quickly between different styles of training, but does mean they don’t offer the full benefit for any one discipline.

Barefoot Training

To generate power when you’re lifting, you need to start by creating tension from the ground up. The best way to do this is to think about screwing your feet into the floor by driving them down and your knees out. This creates a strong and stable base and helps to fire-up muscles further up the chain. Being barefoot maximises the contact you have with the ground and therefore the power you can exert on any lift.

However, there are certain lifts, such a Calf Raises and Bulgarian Split Squats, where the position of your foot can become quite uncomfortable without any shoe on; meaning remaining barefoot throughout a workout isn’t always ideal.

What we recommend for lifting weight shoes…

At The Fitting Rooms gym in London Bridge, we tend to favour going barefoot for the big compounds like Squats, Deadlifts and Lunges; and moving to a cross-training shoe with a relatively flat sole for the rest of the workout. We love Nike’s range of Cross Training shoes, in particular the Nike MC Trainer which offers good stability and comfort for a reasonable price!

For Squats where ankle mobility is limited, we like to elevate the heels with a wedge, whilst building mobility work into our programmes to improve the body’s range of motion over time.

Let us know what you’ve found to be your best gym trainers…