When people come into Industrial Strength they are often surprised that we won’t let them lift weights in their normal workout shoes. Most of them want to know why, which is a reasonable enough question. I typically respond with the criteria we want footwear to meet, which is generally three things:
- It must be non-compressive.
- It must be flat soled, or close to “zero drop” (unless for squatting or Olympic Weightlifting)
- It must be reasonably thin soled.
Of course, most people come in wearing shoes that are squishy, have a thick sole, and have a noticeable heal lift to them, thus meeting a whopping zero of our three criteria. So, why do we look for these three things?
Let’s start with the compressive aspect. When we are strength training, we are generally trying to apply as much force into the ground as possible. If you are standing on something squishy, it is not possible to apply maximum force into the ground because some of it is dissipated into the compression. To use an extreme example, you would never deadlift while standing on a mattress, right? I certainly hope not. Trying to deadlift in your running shoes is effectively the same thing. Make sure you choose footwear that allows all the force your muscles are producing to be applied directly to lifting the weight, and you are not being robbed by compressive soles.
Another aspect to consider is the amount of heel lift in a shoe. Unlike sprinting where you want to be on your toes, for lifting weights you want both sides (front and back) of your arch firmly on the ground, which of course requires the heel to be planted. If your shoe has a noticeable heel lift it makes this very hard to do, and may result in you losing your balance forward. I find this to be especially prominent in “hinging” exercises like the deadlift and kettlebell swing, where you really want to be focused on pressuring through the heel.
On similar note, your body gets feedback from sensing pressure in different parts of your foot. Your gluts fire better when your body senses pressure through your heel. Try an experiment. Stand up on your tippy toes and try to “pinch a coin” with your gluts. Next, stand flat footed and “pinch a coin” again. Finally, stand only on your heels, with your toes in the air, and “pinch a coin” for the third time. You should notice that on your tippy toes is by far the weakest glut squeeze. You should feel fairly strong flat footed, and probably a little stronger when on only your heels. When lifting, try to find a good compromise of having pressure on your heels to maximize glut strength, without overdoing it and compromising your balance.
The third thing to note is how thick the sole of the shoe is. My most recent pair does not even have a midsole, so it is very close to the ground. The closer to the ground you are, 1) the better stability you have, and 2) the less distance you need to cover when performing exercises like deadlifts, or the first rep of a kettlebell swing. If you are too high up, it will probably result in you leaning forward to get down to the bar or kettlebell, thus resulting in your balance being forward on your toes, the pressure coming off your heels, and you losing glut strength.
So, what shoes do we generally suggest here at Industrial Strength? We do not really have a preferred brand, but here are a few options of ones that our members use that work well:
- Chuck Taylors
- Vibram 5 Fingers
- Merrell minimalist shoe
- New Balance Minimus (certain types)
- Nike Free Bionic
- Inov-8 Bare 210 (this is my current shoe, and probably my favorite I have used)
Please note that just because something is branded as a minimalist shoe or a training shoe does not make it appropriate for strength training. When in doubt, we suggest checking with your coach as to what he/she suggests for your training.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog and happy lifting!
– Tony Gracia | Co-Founder / Head Coach @industrialstrengthgym