What footwear should I wear when exercising?

This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; personal trainer and fitness writer – Adam Willis

Walk into any gym and you will see a vast array of different footwear being worn. 

Some are chosen for functionality.

Some are chosen for comfort.

Some are chosen based on appearance. 

…and some are chosen based on current fashion trends. 

When it comes to training footwear, functionality, comfort, and appearance should all come into it. You want to wear footwear that is designed to withstand the training you’re putting it through. You want that footwear to be comfortable before, during and after your training… and as for appearance, I’ve never met someone in the gym who wore a pair of shoes they didn’t like the look of.

But what footwear is the best to train in?

Does it even matter?

Is it CrossFit style shoes? 

How about canvas shoes like Converse or Vans? 

What about minimalist shoes like Vivo Barefoot? 

Or perhaps you should be training without any shoes on at all?

Well, like so many things in the fitness industry, it depends. It depends on what type of training you’re doing; it depends on your budget; it depends on the shape of your foot, and it depends on your personal preference as well.

Note: These brand examples are chosen purely to help you identify what I’m referring to when I reference each type of shoe using current popular brands and lines of footwear, other brands are available within each shoe type.

What footwear is most suitable for certain training activities?

…and the winners are?

For weightlifting [snatches & cleans]:

Most people who perform snatches and cleans perform the movements better with the addition of a heel in the shoe. Combine this need with the dynamic nature of the lifts being performed and a solid shoe that provides a great and stable lifting base is a must. So although the movements can be performed in other styles of shoes, Weightlifting shoes are the superior choice for this type of training. 

For squats & deadlifts:

For Squats, Weightlifting Shoes offer the biggest advantage with their raised heel and the flat, wide sole creating a solid and stable base to lift on.

For Deadlifts, any shoe with a flat sole and minimal drop from heel to toe are great options, so CrossFit style, Canvas, Minimalist shoes and barefoot would be the go-to’s.

For free weight training:

Very much like the answer above for Deadlifts. Any shoe with a flat sole and minimal drop from heel to toe are great options so CrossFit style, Canvas, Minimalist shoes and barefoot would be the go-to’s again.

For plyometrics:

Sure, you can hop, jump, bound, skip, and sprint in any of the shoe examples provided, however having some form of cushioning in a shoe is a good idea when dealing with the forces that plyometrics can create. So, my recommendations would be cushioned running shoes or CrossFit style shoes.

For MetCons & HiiT:

Due to the mixed modality approach used with MetCons in particular, a shoe that can cope with the rigours of lifting, jumping and cardio, like running and rowing, is needed. 

The CrossFit style shoes ticks the boxes for all of these thanks to them being relatively flat and offering some cushioning 

For endurance training:

There are various types of modalities when it comes to endurance training. Cycling typically sees people use cycling cleats, rowing you can kind of get away with any shoe as there’s no real impact, so to find a winner for this category I decided to focus on running. 

Now, when it comes to running shoes, you’re going to find 2 groups, those that recommend cushioned running shoes and those that recommend minimalist shoes. 

Whilst I understand the minimalist perspective that the lack of cushioning can force you to run correctly, I think most people would benefit from some cushioning to help support their feet, ankles, shins, knees, hips and lower back from the forces and impact of running. If you’re curious and want to try,, a very gradual transition to a minimalist shoe would be your safest option – perhaps alternating runs between your usual shoe and minimalist shoe.

So, the winner here is the cushioned running shoe.

Now, I’m sure, like me, you don’t want to have to carry multiple pairs of shoes around the gym every workout. You want something that is a good all-rounder and allows you to get 90% of your training done without having to constantly be changing footwear.


For best all-rounder:

The best all-rounder is the CrossFit style shoe. 

They’ve a minimal drop from heel to toe so are great for lifting in and they’ve enough cushioning in them that you can perform plyometrics, MetCons, and do short distance endurance work and protect your feet from the high impact forces.

What footwear you choose to wear in the gym does matter and can have a big impact on your training and your body. 

When it comes to picking the right footwear for your training think functionality over fashion so that they’re up to the task required.

Your feet will be incredible thankful that you did.

What footwear should I wear when exercising? was last modified: April 24th, 2022 by Adam Willis

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