Selecting Proper Gym Shoes: All You Need To Know

Gym Shoes

Gym Shoes

There are so many choices out there when it comes to gym shoes.  You have running shoes, cross-training shoes, zero-drop shoes, track shoes, basketball shoes, etc.  You get the idea.  Now I have something to confess, when it comes to gym equipment, I am a cheap bastard.  I will usually buy the cheapest products that I can get my hands on.  With shoes, however, I am the polar opposite.  I will spend whatever amount of money necessary to get the proper footwear.  How does one go about selecting proper gym shoes?  What do proper gym shoes look like?  In this post, we are going to go into great detail to go over these topics and more.    

Why Is It So Confusing Selecting Gym Shoes?

Let’s face it, selecting fitness apparel is not an easy process.  This is especially the case regarding gym shoes.  There are plenty of companies out there making gym shoes that are fighting for your money every single day.  With all of these choices, they are all perplexed.  They have analysis paralysis and as a result they do nothing.  This causes them to have horrible foot mechanics and bad form on all of their exercises. 

When it comes to exercise and athletic activities, footwork is unbelievably important.  I have discussed in great detail how the feet are the foundation of the body when I talked about Morton’s Toe.  Take arch support as an example.  If the arch collapses then the knee caves in and the hip goes into external rotation.  This places stress on the lower back and causes thoracic kyphosis.  As you can see, one little problem can cause a pretty big ripple effect all the way up the kinetic chain. 

Now that you are aware of how important footwear can be, it only makes to process of selecting gym shoes that much more difficult.  The greatest fear when it comes to selecting gym shoes ultimately comes down to the cost of the shoe.  What if I accidentally get the wrong size?  What if I don’t like them?  If I spent $130 on these new cross training shoes, what if I feel as if I got ripped off?  These questions all bring up a good question, how do I select proper gym shoes?

How Do I Choose The Proper Gym Shoe?

Running Shoes

Proper gym shoes are not that hard to find, well as long as you know what you’re looking for.  I have placed this list in the order of most importance.  So here is a brief list of things to consider when selecting gym shoes:


When it comes to selecting gym shoes, functionality is the most important thing to consider.  If you were an obstacle course racer would you buy basketball shoes?  If you are a stay at home mom who likes to do a little cardio at the gym, do you buy $120 cross training shoes?  Things like this are the most important to consider.  Any shoe that you buy is only as good as the activity it is meant for.  This is the essence of functionality. 

Too often most people fall victim to the marketing hype of the newest next best thing.  Nowhere is this more true than in the fitness/sports industry.  Why is that?  Well, for starters getting your body in great shape is really hard.  Likewise, becoming a great athlete is also really hard.  In any area of life where things are really hard people are always going to be looking for an easy way out.  This is just a natural fact of nature, for example pressure traveling from high to low resistance. 

The irony in all of this is that the easy way out is an illusion.  It does not exist.  Now in regards to gym shoes, I’m not saying that people are expecting their shoes to make them loose 100 lbs in 1 month.  That’s just absurd.  I’m merely suggesting that people believe the shoes will give them an advantage in their battle on the field or on the scale.  With that said, if you are preparing for a battle, make sure you are aware of the type of terrain you will be fighting on.       


I have put comfort as number 2 on our list not because it isn’t as important as functionality, but because it is kind of a no brainer.  If your shoes do not feel comfortable, then you should not wear them period.  Imagine yourself competing as an athlete or working on your body composition as a fitness model.  Would you be able to focus on your training if your gym shoes have an annoying nag in them?  Of course you wouldn’t.  You would be focused on not hurting your feet.  It would also deal a huge blow to your motivation if you get blisters on your feet as well.  Do yourself a favor and make sure you try it before you buy it.    


Practicality may sound a lot like functionality, but it is not.  Think of practicality as “can it work”.  Are these gym shoes going to work or are they going to lose function if they spend one day in the mud?  This is especially true for runners and cross-trainers.  These two sports involve a lot of impact.  Running in particular.  Sure these shoes may be designed for running, but are they going to last or will they start to break down after the first 100 miles?  These are examples of practicality.

Again, you need to be very sure about what you’re goals are.  Whenever I ask people what their goals are I don’t want them to speak it to me, I want them to write it down.  This is important, the brain has a very specific way of remembering things.  We remember most of what we write down.  This is backed by scientific research as well, when we write things down we are literally hardwiring it into our brain.  The belief is because of the amount of muscles used in writing compared to typing. 

So if our goals our hardwired into our brain, then we will know right away if our shoes are right for us.  This will help us to judge the practicality of our shoes.  When you are aware of the practicality of the shoes that you are selecting, then you will not let your emotions get in the way of your decision making.  It will also help us avoid placing too much value on gym shoes that are in reality of little practical value.  This is our fourth biggest concern.     


I placed cost as our fourth most important factor, let me explain why.  I know that we live in times where people are struggling financially.  But just for one second think of all the money that we spend on useless trivial bullshit.  I mean I spend money on luxury items just like everyone else, but do you really need a flat screen television in every room?  Ironically, the things we do need to spend money on, we don’t.  Things like food, car maintenance, investing, etc., are some examples along with gym shoes. 

If you examine human behavior we like to think that we are sentient beings capable of rational thinking.  Well I hate to burst your bubble, were not!  That’s right, we are completely irrational.  Most people are complete slaves to their own emotions.  They will do anything possible to avoid pain and seek pleasure.  Things that give us pleasure will take purchasing precedent over anything else hands down.  To change this gym shoes need to be perceived in the mind as a source of great pleasure. 

If you can develop the mental toughness and emotional discipline necessary to alter your perceptions, then you can literally change the way you feel.  If you stop seeing gym shoes as a liability and more as an asset then you will feel more pleasure when shopping for them.  Cool right!  It is almost like a superpower.  If your shoes cost a lot of money but are well worth it, buy them.  If you need a specific shoe for a specific sport but they cost a lot of money, buy them.  You can spare yourselves the latte for the next month.

Going Barefoot?

What about going barefoot?  Is that ok?  Well I would say that the answer is up to you.  Some coaches frown upon barefoot training, others downright encourage it.  In my opinion, I take a more neutral approach.  I see it as both good and bad.  On the good side, going barefoot helps to build a solid foundation in the foot that will help to strengthen the arch and build a solid base of support.  On the down side, too much barefoot training too soon can lead to foot pain and even plantar fasciitis.  Especially for larger athletes.

I don’t think it should be praised or looked down upon.  Instead, I would tell you to merely try it and see how you like it.  If it feels good for you then by all means continue doing it.  One of the biggest problems that new trainees face is the need for approval in everything they do.  Now if you are working with a trainer or very experienced coach, then seeking approval should obviously take precedence.  However, if you are by yourself and are not sure about a new training paradigm, then just do it and see what happens. 

My piece of advice, after trying it myself, is to make sure you roll out your foot  every night after training.  I have trained barefoot before and the first thing I noticed was how tense and beat up my plantar fascia were.  I wasn’t even running, I was doing squats and deadlifts barefoot.  These are not exactly high impact activities.  Also make sure to roll out your calves because they are going to get tight as well.  The plantar fascia is really just an extension of the achilles tendon.  If one gets tight then so will the other.

What About Zero-Drop?

What do I mean by zero-drop?  Zero-drop shoes are simply shoes that have a heel that is just about even with the height of the toes of the shoe.  So to get a good visual perspective, just observe how high the heel is relative to the toes.  If there is a big difference in the height from the heel to the toes, then the shoe has a high heel drop.  If the difference is minimal, then the shoe has a low heel drop or zero-drop.  The lower heel drop allows for less stress on the knee and leads to more foot stability. 

However, people who are not used to this kind of footwear can cause their feet quite a lot of pain.  When the foot is flat on the floor there is a greater stretch to the plantar fascia.  When the plantar fascia becomes stretched, the more likely it is to tear.  This is the cause of plantar fasciitis.  Not to mention the arch of the foot gets quite a workout as well.  Some people even claim that their arch cramps up.  So if you are used to arch support the guideline is to make sure that you gradually adjust over time. 

In the end, I do believe that a zero-drop shoe is well worth the potential stress on the foot.  This doesn’t apply just to gym shoes, but to any shoe as well.  The low heel drop gets our posterior chain firing and gets our bodies working the way they should be working.  But in the end the choice is up to you.  Just remember, like I said in the very beginning of this post, I am very cheap when it comes to most gym equipment.  I am not, however, cheap when it comes to gym shoes.  So if you really want to take you’re performance up to the next level, spend the money and get some zero-drop shoes.     


Instant Performance Enhancer

Cross Training Shoes

As mentioned earlier, the proper gym shoes can be an instant performance enhancer if you know what you’re training for.  So to make it easier for you, here are some examples of shoes and their corresponding brands that I recommend.  These are shoes that I myself have personally used.  Just like my list above, I always place form above function.

Obstacle Course Racing


INOV-8 Mudclaws

INOV-8 is/was a British company that specialized in running footwear specifically geared toward off-road running.  The company first started out with off-road runners in the United Kingdom and now is one of the best trail running companies in the world.  Aside from trail running they also make cross training shoes.  However, I think that any companies strongest asset is their roots.  For INOV-8, their roots is in off-road running and I think they do a damn good job.

The INOV-8 Mudclaw is a terrific shoe with plenty of traction for obstacle course training and mud running.  The shoes provide a high level of grip on slippery surfaces and are covered with a waterproof exterior.  Although keep in mind that if you are performing an extreme mud running event, then getting wet and dirty is probably not an issue for you.  They are also great for non extreme activities such as hiking.  The one thing I would advise against with these shoes is adding insoles.  The shoes are extremely shallow on the inside and have a hard time fitting insoles.



Reebok CrossFit Nanos

Now let me just say that I am not some kind of CrossFit nut, but I will say that I love the shoes.  In particular, the Nano 7.0.  They really help with cross training.  The great thing about them is how light they are and how stable they are when performing the Olympic lifts or power-lifts.  This wasn’t always the case though.  The first generation of Nanos were designed very similar to your average cross training shoe.  What made them so good was the functionality from all the high impact activities.  It was almost as if they helped your feet to grip the ground. 

There was a drawback though.  The shoes were tough to perform the barbell lifts in because the heel support was not strong enough or durable enough to both run long distances and perform repeated heavy barbell lifts.  Then the material of the shoe itself became a concern because the nano would start to lose its structure after some time.  So to innovate, Reebok made the Nano 5.0 with kevlar.  The problem with the 5.0 though then became the stiffness of the heel.  The newer generation of Nanos (6.0 and 7.0, respectively), have really came a long way since the first generation.  They are much more comfortable to wear.  In fact, I’m wearing nano 7.0’s right now.

Olympic Weightlifting


Adidas Adipowers

If you want to see a bloodbath in the weightlifting community, then just bring up a debate between Adidas Adipowers and Nike Romaleos 2.  I am not going to get into a debate here but I will say that I personally prefer Adipowers.  The key to both shoes lies in the raised heel on both pairs of shoes.  The specific height of the heel on both shoes is 0.75 inches.  This is the optimal height for a raised heel. 

The raised heel on the shoe is meant to make the knees go forward more during the squat.  This is extremely helpful for helping an athlete to achieve full squat depth with an upright torso.  An essential quality in weightlifting.  Now this comes at a downside.  When wearing the shoes, the majority of the load gets placed on the quads.  This is why olympic lifting is a quad dominant sport and also why so many weightlifters complain of knee pain.  Besides having tight quads and knee pain, most lifters who wear high heeled shoes suffer from the same problem as women who wear high heeled shoes.  They get a short and tight achilles tendon and tight calves.  So the shoes can become a crutch if one always wears them. 

It is not all bad though.  If you do wear the shoes, just remember to do a little extra mobility work for the lower leg.  In terms of the difference between the Romaleos and the Adipowers, it is usually just a choice of preference.  I myself prefer a more narrow fit when I lift, so I choose Adipowers.  If you like a wider fit, or you have a wide foot, then you may like Romaleos.




Converse All-Stars

There is a reason why most powerlifters wear these shoes.  They are excellent for performing the big three powerlifts.  The shoes have two primary designs, one is the classic high top design where there is a sleeve by the heel.  The other is the flat top design without the heel.  Either one is fine but I personally prefer the high top classic design because I feel the sleeves give my ankle some support. 

The Converse All-Stars were first brought out in 1917 by Converse.  They were the first shoes to be designed specifically for basketball.  One basketball player, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, wore the shoes and was an athlete for the Converse All-Star team.  In 1923, he found ways to improve the shoe.  As a result, Converse put his name on the shoe.  Now I am not a basketball player so I cannot speak for how these shoes are for playing basketball.  I can confidently say that Chuck Taylor made one hell of a lifting shoe. 

With a zero-drop heel, this shoe allows the body to properly engage the posterior chain and allow for big weight to be pulled off the floor.  With higher heeled shoes I often find that it is much tougher to engage the posterior chain when performing the barbell lifts.  If you are a veteran lifter then you are well aware of how important the posterior chain is.  Trying to move weight without it is probably not a good idea.  So if you like to lift heavy and don’t like lifting barefoot, then get a pair of All-Stars.  On a side note, they are actually kinds stylish as well. 



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