I wrote an article a while back on training in socks over training in shoes (Socks-n-Barbells). I wrote that article because it’s typically easier (and cheaper) to explain to someone the benefits of lifting barefoot and have them remove their shoes when lifting, rather than having them purchase new workout shoes. However, working out in socks isn’t for everybody. There’s also a good chance that depending on the facility you’re at, unless you have special privileges or permission, lifting without shoes would be frowned upon.
Different shoes can affect loading patterns when training in different ways. This is why we have shoe categories such as running, cross-training, powerlifting, etc. This makes it even more important that when you go to train, you consider what kind of training you’re about to do and avoid grabbing whatever shoes are nearby.
For example, running shoes are made for forward movement and to give stability as you move your foot through the running gait. Since the shoes are constructed for the running gait efficiency and for comfort of doing so, added gel or air cushion is typically present. This extra cushion is nice for when you run, but when you train, it can cause a lack of stability and force of production into the ground. This reduced impact and downward force ability are both needed when lifting. Training with running shoes could be viewed as trying to lift while standing on pillows/marshmallows. Lastly, running shoes change how the heels and ankles absorb the force being put into them (see again the marshmallow statement). This is why you wouldn't choose running shoes for lifting (due to construction) or playing a basketball game (lack of lateral stability).
One of the most important factors when looking at training shoes is the heel height (aka how flat the shoes are). I often tell clients to take their shoes off because the heel of the shoe they have on is causing dorsiflexion or plantar flexion issues in their ankles. Or in turn, it is throwing off the movement pattern we are trying to achieve altogether. This can be exacerbated when heel height is added to their already limited ankle mobility and stiffness. With flatter shoes, there’s no extra cushion getting in the way of you putting force into the ground, instead of into the shoe. Additionally, flatter shoes tend to have more mobility in regards to the shoe itself, rather than having no movement capability.
When looking at flat soled shoes, you should still buy something that is comfortable and fits well. Don’t read this article and think ‘now I have to buy the shoes that were in his pictures because he said so!’ Your shoes should fit well and snug as to avoid excessive movement as you move. Some shoe designs may not be ideal as they may also be restrictive in nature when flexing or extending the ankle.
Flatter shoes I encourage individuals to lift in:
Shoes I discourage people to lift in:
Much like the Socks-n-Barbells article states, jumping from shoes to barefoot training may not be the best decision for the body. You should apply this to training footwear as well. Jumping from a 10mm drop heel to a 0mm drop heel may cause the body to start aching around the hips, knees, and ankles if done with high intensity, rather than easing into it.
Hammer, M., Meir, R., Whitting, J., & Crowley-McHattan, Z. (2016). Shod versus barefoot effects on force and power development during a conventional deadlift: a pilot study. Journal Of Australian Strength & Conditioning, 24(6), 38.
Josefsson, A. (2016). The kinematic differences between a barbell back squat wearing weightlifting shoes and barefoot (Dissertation). Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-31201.
Legg, H., Glaister, M., Cleather, D., & Goodwin, J. (2017). The effect of weightlifting shoes on the kinetics and kinematics of the back squat. Journal of Sports Science, 35(5), 508-515.
Sato, K., Fortenbaugh, D., Hydock, D. S., & Heise, G. D. (2013). Comparison of back squat kinematics between barefoot and shoe conditions. International Journal Of Sports Science & Coaching, 8(3), 571-578.
Sinclair, J., McCarthy, D., Bentley, I., Hurst, H. T., & Atkins, S. (2015). The influence of different footwear on 3-D kinematics and muscle activation during the barbell back squat in males. European Journal Of Sport Science, 15(7), 583-590.
Southwell, D., Petersen, S., Beach, T., & Graham, R. (2016). The effects of squatting footwear on three-dimensional lower limb and spine kinetics. Journal Of Electromyography & Kinesiology, 31111-118.