The Best Shoes for Strength Training
Expert-approved shoes to wear for whatever strength training workout you have planned.
Runners know that their shoes are extremely important to their sport. But the shoes you wear directly affect your strength training too.
Before you go out and purchase the latest trendy shoe that a celebrity (or let's be real, an Instagram fitfluencer) is wearing, you want to make sure the athletic shoe you invest in best supports your strength training needs. Think about it: CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and even your boot-camp classes qualify as strength training. But the exercises you're doing radically change what your feet are doing and what you need in a pair of strength training shoes. (See: What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights)
The most important thing to know: You should not be strength training in running sneakers. Running shoes typically have air-infused, bubbly, or springy-like soles, which disrupt your body's center of gravity. This causes loss of stability and balance, which could lead to improper form and injury. Cushioned soles can also wear down after a lot of use. (If you flip your running shoes over right now, one side may be more worn than the other. If you do your strength training in shoes with worn heels, one hip or one side of your body could be lower than the other, again creating an imbalance.)
Types of Strength Training Shoes
When it comes to strength training shoes, there are two key factors: stability and heel lift, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. "When you're lifting weights, you want to be as stable as possible. The heavier you lift, the more stable you need to be," he says.
Cross-training shoes: These are sufficiently stable for most strength training activity-and are typically comfortable enough to be worn on a run and on the cardio machines, too. That means they usually have a slight cushion for support and are also sturdy (without weighing down your feet). "Cross-trainers are a good option for hybrid-style training: If you're rowing and squatting moderate weight, doing burpees and kettlebells swings, and deadlifting moderate weight," says Wickham. They may look similar to running sneakers, but you'll notice that cross-trainers usually have little to no heel lift (the space between the floor and your heel), meaning they're usually completely flat or have a lift of 4mm or less.
Weightlifting shoes: However, if you're only going to be Olympic lifting, are a competitive powerlifter, are training specifically for muscular strength, or lift heavy very often, you should consider a weightlifting-specific shoe. "There's a reason you won't be able to find a competitive Olympic weightlifter who doesn't wear weightlifting shoes-they're incredibly stable," says Wickham. In part, that's because they're so heavy (which is why they're not great for something like box jumps or burpees). They also have a heel lift of about one or one and a half inches high, says Wickham. "This extra elevation helps people with poor ankle mobility squat deeper," explains Wickham. (That being said, you should be doing ankle mobility and strength work regardless: Here's how weak ankles and ankle mobility affect the rest of your body.)
The Best Cross-Training Shoes
You may have heard about Arnold Schwarzenegger walking around the gym training barefoot. What better way to get your heel as close to the ground as possible? Having relatively nothing between your foot and the floor allows for increased range of motion in your foot and leg muscles, which might be compromised with a more cushioned shoe. "Most gyms don't allow you to train barefoot, so these will give you a similar feel," assures Wickham.
The Reebok Nano has earned its rep as the best weightlifting shoe for CrossFit. They're stable enough to keep your weight in your heels during complex movements like the squat clean and snatch, but flexible enough to keep you moving during box jumps, burpees, and rowing. Just note: The shoe has a wider toe box, so you may need to go down half a size.
These bad girls are technically categorized as running shoes, but the experts say that they're also extremely durable (especially for a pair that weighs less than a bar of soap). While you won't want to one rep max or lift heavy in these, they're great for anything body- or light-weight like squats and lunges or box jumps and rope slams, says Greer Rothermel, a certified personal trainer with RSP Nutrition. (Related: The Perfect Strength Training Workout for Beginners)
The fully updated Nike Metcon 4 is the Nano's close rival. It too is best for athletes who need a shoe that can support them when they're going for a PR and when they're hitting cardio-based moves. Better yet, the shoe is on the narrow side, making it a great pick for cross-training athletes with a slim foot. (Here's the full story of how the Nike Metcon 4 was designed and tested.)
The NB Minimus is another great minimalist option (it only weighs 6 ounces). It has a Vibram outsole that allows you to both feel the floor and maintain the natural stance you need to lift some weights. "It's especially great for workouts that have light-weight, high-rep movements like kettlebell swings and goblet squats," says Chris Crowthers, a certified trainer and founding instructor at Brrrn in New York City.
This shoe is equal parts stable and flexible, according to Crowthers. "The shoe is able to expand in every direction, which allows you to really spread out your foot and get a solid foundation on the floor also while providing some stability for heavy lifting," he says. It's best for CrossFitters or HIIT exercisers who may have some short runs in their program but also need to feel grounded during exercises like thrusters, kettlebell swings, or wallballs. (Related: The Difference Between Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance and Why You Need Both)
Thanks to their flat sole, No Bulls are known for being incredibly stable. "Definitely the most fashion-forward and effective shoe I've found for all strength training, HIIT training, and indoor rowing," says Caley Crawford, director of education for Row House, a national boutique rowing studio. Bonus: They come in all different rises and colors (including camo).
The Best Weightlifting Shoes
Considered the OG weightlifting shoe, Chuck Taylors offer a thin, flat sole that enables the body to maintain great stability and control through your lifts. "They are about as minimal as shoes get, allowing you to really feel the floor which is great for when you're going for the big lifts-deadlifts, squats, cleans, etc.," says Crowthers. Bonus: You can pick up the low-top version for as little as $30.
Another great show by the No Bull brand is their Lifter shoe, which has a heel lift that can help folks with limited ankle mobility squat deeper (and therefore utilize more glute, hamstring, and hip muscles), according to Morgan Olson, certified trainer and CrossFit Level 2 instructor, founder of Babe, Go Lift. "Also, the style is pretty dope." True.
If lifting heavy is your top prio, but you also want to do the occasional wallball, kettlebell swing, or pistol squat, Olson recommends these. "The raised heel gives you an improved range of motion to keep your chest upright and spine safe in movements such as clean, jerk, snatch, and high bar back squats," she says. "But once broken in, it molds to your foot, making it super versatile for a shoe with a heel lift."
Another shoe for the heavy lifter, this shoe has a raised heel that'll give you an improved range of motion to keep your chest upright and spine in a safe position for squat cleans, back squats, and squat snatches, says Olson. "But as stable as they are, they're also light, quick, and snappy." Just note that the sizing for this product is considered "unisex," and women should size down one to one and a half sizes. (Want a full month of strength programming? Try this four-week strength training plan for women.)
"This shoe is great if you're trying to improve heel placement in your squat. It has a raised heel so you can focus on appropriate hip, knee, and foot placement during the eccentric and concentric phase of the squat," says Adrian Williams, training manager at Tone House in New York City. Also, hello Velcro!
Once you're geared up, check out these barbell exercises every woman should master. And the next time you're lacking motivation just scroll through these 11 major health benefits to lifting heavy. You're welcome.