One of our first blog posts was on recommended footwear for strength training. It has been a couple years since that came out, so it is a good time for an update including product reviews on a few new shoes.
The 2014 article stated that the footwear chosen for strength training should have three main features:
- It should be non-compressive
- It should be zero-drop, or at least close to it*.
- It should be relatively thin soled.
The first and third items above do not need much explanation. The idea of a zero-drop may be unfamiliar to some, so it warrants a quick explanation. For many lifts done in the gym such as deadlifts or kettlebell swings, it is important to have the heel firmly planted on the ground and the weight of the body balanced over the mid-arch or heel (rather than the forefoot). Many athletic shoes have a heel that is higher than the forefoot, effectively giving the shoe a “drop” and directing the athlete more towards the toes. This is not a bad thing if the chosen activity has lots of running, cutting or jumping, however it makes it hard to “root into the heels” for lifting purposes. For the weight room, a shoe with equal heel and forefoot heights is suggested, thus a “zero drop” from heel to toe. I have used shoes with up to a 3mm drop and had good success with those, however anything higher typically disrupts balance. One important note is that if the shoe intended for use in weightlifting (often incorrectly called “Olympic Lifting”) or otherwise for lots of barbell squats or front squats, it is a good idea to invest in a solid pair of weightlifting shoes such as the Nike Romaleos or Adidas Adipower.
One other item to consider is that of the toe-box of the shoe. Ideally the shoe should allow the toes to spread wide with space between them. Unfortunately many shoes are quite narrow in the front, resulting in squishing the toes together. This can lead to issues such as the arch of the foot collapsing, which can then lead into valgus collapse of the knee and other problems. When trying on training shoes, be sure there is “wiggle room” for the toes, not only up and down but also side-to-side.
Next, I want to review a few pairs of shoes I personally own and discuss pros and cons to each. I have listed them in order of my most to least recommended.
Inov-8 Bare-XF 210
These have been my go-to training shoes for the past several years. They have held up extremely well, and I got over two years out of a single pair even as my daily training shoe. The shoes meet all the criteria noted above, and are one of the thinnest and lightest shoes on the market. I use these shoes for everything except barbell front and back squats (for which I have a pair of Romaleos). In addition to being zero drop and non-compressive, they are only 3mm thick, which give me great feel for the ground and adds no appreciable height to deadlifts. Due to the thin sole, it is easy for me to feel if I have let my balance shift to an undesirable position, or as a coach, I can see it on my lifters more easily. This pair is also flexible enough to do some foot & ankle stretching in, which is rare for most training shoes.
Overall, this is an outstanding pair of strength training shoes that are perfect for deadlifts, presses, all the hardstyle kettlebell movements, and various accessory movements such as lunges.
These are a brand new pair from Vivo that debuted less than a month ago. Mine just arrived yesterday, and I haven’t taken them off yet! This shoe is the closest thing to the Inov-8 model (above) that I have found. They remind me of the Inov-8 Bare-XF in every way, except that the Vivos do not have an insole, which gives even more ground feel. Just like the Inov-8 pair above, these are also a flexible shoe that allow for some stretching of the feet and ankle even while being worn.
Just like the ones above these are an outstanding pair of strength training shoes that are perfect for deadlifts, presses, all the hardstyle kettlebell movements etc. I can not comment yet on durability/longevity since they are brand new, but my initial impression is that they are well made and will have good life to them.
In my opinion, the Inov-8 above and these Vivos are largely interchangeable. The fit is similar and the features are nearly identical. Both are excellent choices for strength training. The only thing I can say about the Inov-8 is that I KNOW they are durable because I have had them for years, as opposed to the Vivos which are brand new (but feel well made). Basically, you just need to decide which you like the aesthetics of and go with that one!
Nike Free Trainer 1.0
Nike came out with this model with the tagline “chalk for your feet” and marketed it as a gym shoe for lifters. This is one of Nike’s first zero-drop shoes, with most of their previous “training shoes” being geared more towards team sports (running, jumping, cutting) rather than lifting. It is super exciting that Nike is really getting into the strength training culture and building products designed to support it.
While, in my opinion, these are Nike’s best general strength training shoe, to me this first release from them does not fit what I’m looking for quite as well as the Inov-8 and Vivo models discussed above. My two suggestions for Nike to improve are 1) the insole and 2) the outsole. The insole is fairly thick and overly cushioned to be ideal for strength training. Obviously the buyer could just take the insole out, but it would be nice to have the default insole be a little thinner and more sturdy . The cushioning provides notably less ground feel compared to the models above, and also creates unwanted instability when performing heavy lifts. See the side-by-side pictures of the insoles compared to the Inov-8 for an idea on thickness. Note that the blue part of the Nike insole is the actual height of the insole, compared to the Inov-8 is curved at the edges so the actual thickness of it is at most half of what is pictured.
The outsole has some room to improve in the sense that it is significantly more stiff than the two models above. While wearing the Inov-8 or Vivo models, when I curl my toes in or arch my foot hard, the shoe tracks my foot and follows me. This gives great stability and feel for the ground. The Nikes have a stiffer sole that is not as responsive to movement of the foot, and again does not offer quite as good of “ground feel” as a slightly more pliable sole would.
Don’t get me wrong, these are definitely the best strength training shoe Nike has come out with (not including the Romaleos), and I do think they would do a nice job in the weight room. I bet when Nike comes out with a version 2.0 they’ll make some adjustments and have a really outstanding shoe for lifting.
I got one of the earliest versions of the MetCon when they were first released. I think it is important to point out that contrary to popular belief, the MetCon is not designed to be a strength training shoe. With that said, I know a ton of people do wear the MetCons for their lifting, so I figured I would offer what I view to be the pros and cons of using them for training. Before I get into it, please keep in mind one of my favorite sayings, “Don’t blame a fork for being a bad spoon.” What I mean by that is that while I do not suggest the MetCon as a strength training shoe, that is because it is not DESIGNED to be a strength training shoe – however, I do think they are a great product for what they are designed for.
With regard to strength training specifically, the MetCons do not meet my ideal shoe in any of the three primary criteria – they are too compressive for my liking, they feel like they have too much drop from heel to toe, and most notably they cause the foot to sit substantially higher off the ground than any of the three models above. Out of all four models reviewed, these definitely have the worst ground feel.
So, if they’re not good for strength training, then what are they good for? What I’ve told people is that if I got dropped into an action movie where I had to fight, shoot guns, run, jump, climb, lift etc all in one shoe, these would be my first choice. In particular if there was going to be a lot of running or jumping involved in the activity, the MetCons offer significantly better foot protection than any of the three shoes above. I would say that these are a “pretty good” shoe for many things, just not an “excellent” shoe for strength training. In my opinion, this is exactly what they were designed for anyway: the person who likes to workout and be ready for anything (including surprises) the coach throws at them, as opposed to a planned and periodized strength program. With that said, they could definitely work as a strength training shoe in a situation like traveling where it is too cumbersome to haul around multiple pairs. For example, someone who is flying does not want to bring Nike Romaleos for squats, Vivo Primus for deadlifts and kettlebells, and a third pair of shoes for running, and instead it is more reasonable to have the MetCons as the “swiss army knife” shoe that will cover all bases.
The only real knock I have on this original version of the MetCon is their (lack of) durability. I primarily wore these while coaching (only used these to lift in a handful of times), yet they are already falling apart enough that I recently got rid of them. Please see the attached pictures for the tear between the interior lining and exterior shell, as well as a spot near the right foot pinky toe that is almost worn completely through (despite only being worn indoors and to coach in, almost no actual training/lifting). Again, my pair is one of the earliest versions of the shoe, and they are now on the version 2.0, so there is a good chance that these issues have already been addressed and improved.
I hope you have found this information helpful! Please feel free to share with friends who you think would find it beneficial! – Tony Gracia Head Coach and Co-Founder