Your Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Gym Shoe

One of the most common questions I get asked is: “What shoes should I get?” And rightfully so! There are endless options for types of shoes and specialty shoes, brands and colors, minimalist shoes and heavily cushioned shoes. There’s new research being done every single day on the shoes that are best for certain activities and terrains.

There are shoes at all ends of the spectrum, for every possible activity. No one wants to invest to buy shoes for every different activity all at once. That’s a lot of money and definitely not necessary if you’re just starting to train. So, what shoes do you need to buy? Let’s take a look at my personal shoe collection and find out!

the training shoe

If you’re looking to purchase one shoe, this is the one to get. It doesn’t have to be the one pictured, specifically. But, if you’re looking for an all-around gym shoe, I would recommend something like this.

Rebook Nano 9 Flexweave
Reebok Nano 9 Flexweave

The “training shoe” has a flat sole and is supportive enough for cross-training activities as well – jumping, running, biking, etc. The flat sole here is KEY. It allows us to have a stable base as we perform a variety of different exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. It allows for stability, as opposed to a more traditional walking/running shoe, which we’ll talk about later, is designed to reduce impact and rock smoothly with each step.

Perhaps the most popular training shoes are Nike Metcons, Reebok Nanos, and No Bull Trainers. Personally, the Nike Metcons were my first and I recently made the swap for Reebok Nanos. I don’t have experience with the No Bull trainers, but I know fellow coaches who speak highly of them. Ultimately, you want to find a shoe with a flat, supportive sole to provide a stable base while giving you the ability to still run, jump, and move during your training.

Should you invest? Absolutely. If there’s one gym shoe you need, it’s something like this. It’s versatile, you can use it for a multitude of activities, and they last for years.

the minimalist shoe

Most recently, minimalist shoes are all the rage… and for good reason! Training barefoot, or as close to barefoot as possible holds a host of benefits. When we train without shoes, we allow the foot to do what it is designed to do – support and stabilize. Without shoes, we’re able to utilize a more active foot connection with the ground.

Pedestal 4.0 Socks
Pedestal 4.0

Although barefoot is great for ground connection, it’s not always possible. Especially in today’s world, many gyms have rules around wearing shoes and no one really wants to walk around a gym barefoot – unless you’re the one responsible for cleaning the gym, and you know it’s clean! Enter: Pedestal socks and other minimalist shoes.

Grip pattern on the Pedestal 4.0
Rubber grip pattern on the bottom of the Pedestal 4.0 Socks

I started using Pedestal socks about a year ago and I love them! They have a grip pattern on the bottom that allows me to connect with the ground barefoot, while also providing stability with the grip of the sock. Another brand I’ve see is Vivobarefoot for minimalist, barefoot-like training shoes; though I haven’t taken the plunge to invest in my own pair quite yet!

Should you invest? Maybe! As much as I love barefoot training, I think a lot of it can be done in the socks that you already own! Until you want to commit to fully training barefoot OR your gym has a rule against working out in socks, I would tread carefully here. You may need to look into a Vivobarefoot or Vibram model to fulfill the “Shoes required” rule at your gym AND allow you to fully participate in all gym activities.

There are some activities that simply aren’t conducive to barefoot or sock-footed training. If you’re going to be outside and on trails, you may need some protection. (Check out Vibram shoes for all your outdoor, minimalist shoes you may need!) In the gym, it’s nearly impossible to push a heavy sled in socks; they just keep slipping off of your feet! In these cases, we may need to rely on a training shoe or other minimalist shoe with some grip and laces to get us through!

the running/walking shoe

This is the OG. When I first started getting into fitness and it started to become more popular in the last few years, everyone was training in something like this. Heavily padded, lots of cushion, arch support galore, etc. The shoe was supporting the foot through any and all activity.

Saucony Guide 10 Running Shoes
I’ve had Nike versions of these shoes, but currently I run in Saucony Guide 10’s.

Nike was a big leader in this movement. They pioneered the shoe industry; leading the charge in new technology, ways of padding the sole of the shoe, and advances everywhere in between. And all their work wasn’t negative; it was often necessary. There are times when we do want a more cushioned, supportive shoe. However, we also need our foot to have the ability to stabilize without the aid of a shoe. (See the barefoot and minimalist training information above!)

The other big issue with these types of shoes in a training setting is the cushioning. They’re designed for heel-striking running. Meaning, when you take a step, your heel hits first and you glide into the next step. If it was a flat-soled shoe, similar to the training shoes I discussed earlier, you would almost have a “slap” effect when you hit the ground; it wouldn’t be as smooth. So, it can be great for running and walking long distances, especially if you’re not used to walking in a minimalist shoe quite yet.

However, for strength training, the cushioned bottom and heel drop doesn’t provide a stable base. It often throws us off balance and we don’t feel as anchored as we perform the lift, especially of it is a lower-body focused movement.

Should you invest? Sure, if you’re going to use them for walking, running, or an everyday type shoe. However, if you’re looking for a strength training shoe, I would go with one specifically meant for that with a more stable base or a minimalist shoe.

the everyday shoe

We all have those shoes. The ones that we throw on to walk around, run errands, go for a walk on a nice day… you know the ones I’m talking about. For me, they’re usually an old pair of training or running shoes. However, since I spend a lot of time on my feet coaching, I need to put some thought into the shoes that I choose.

Reebok Print Her 3.0 Shoes
Reebok Print Her 3.0

I would classify “the everyday shoe” as the one that doesn’t fall into a specific category. They’re made for walking around and everyday wear. Personally, I have the Reebok Print Her 3.0 for when I’m coaching. Although they’re technically classified as “running shoes” on the Reebok website, for me, I don’t think they would be great for that.

I chose these because they’re lightweight and flexible. I don’t want to coach in socks or in a Vibram Five-Finger shoe, so I wanted something that would allow my foot the space to move and stabilize on its own, without the protection that a my running shoes provide. I sometimes will wear a Reebok Nano, but they’re more supportive than these and don’t allow my foot to move as much.

Should you invest? Probably not, unless you’re spending some serious time on your feet during the day in a job that allows you to wear gym shoes to work. You may also consider these if you want something less supportive than a running shoe and you walk a lot during the day. For everyday errands and walking around the neighborhood, an old training or running shoe will work!

the specialty shoe

Now, we’re getting into the specialty shoes. These are the ones that we put on for 1-2 exercises, but then take them off and change back into a training shoe, barefoot, or other type of shoe. Specifically, I’m referring to lifting shoes, but there are other specialty shoes out there as well.

Adidas Powerboost Shoes
Adidas Powerboost Lifting Shoes

Lifting shoes have a hard, non-bendable sole. They’re designed to transfer force and give a stable base. They also have a heel drop that eliminates the need for deep, end-range ankle mobility in different squat variations. When we’re lifting maximum weight, this can be the difference between making and missing a lift.

Should you invest? Probably not! Unless you’re training for an event, such as a powerlifting or weightlifting meet, it’s not likely that you need this specialized of a shoe. I would stick with the traditional training shoe for your sessions.

There you have it. A look into my gym shoe closet, if you will. These are the shoes that I use in my training. However, it’s important to keep in mind that I’ve invested in them over the years. Running shoes were my first big purchase in 2011; I’ve always run in a Saucony Guide. Then I bought a variety of training shoes. I bought my Adidas lifting shoes when I wanted to improve my weightlifting (clean & jerk and snatch). Most recently, I invested in my Pedestal socks and coaching shoes.

It wasn’t that I went out and spent hundreds of dollars on shoes overnight. Think about what you do for the majority of your training and choose the shoe that fits there. Then, as you become more experienced, branch out and invest where you need a different shoe.

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