Workout footwear. Some may not put much thought into it. For others, it’s really important. As for me, I straddle the workout-shoe fence. Why is there a fence in the first place? It is the fashion versus function argument.
I err on the side of function at best, but let’s take a quick look at the topic.
“Sneakerheads” is a term used for people who have a passion for shoes, specifically buying them for a collection. It doesn't necessarily relate to sports, as musical artists have come out with different lines, but it typically relates to brands behind big names in sports like Jordan.
In 1984, Michael Jordan signed a sneaker deal with Nike for $100,000 per year. Today, the Jordan Brand is worth billions. Now, the biggest basketball stars have deals worth millions per year. Same goes for the biggest names in football, like Dak Prescott who signed with Nike as the highest paid NFL player with the brand just last year.
There is even a Twitter account that chronicles every shoe Luka Doncic wears in an NBA game. Shoe deals are a big deal.
I doubt kids today even know who Chuck Taylor is. He was even before my time. It’s amazing though that the Converse All Stars remain a popular brand with every generation. Every gym you go to you’ll see somebody wearing them.
Still, you don’t have to be a sneakerhead to care about what you put on your feet.
Can we just establish something? Wear socks.
I don’t know how, where, or why this became a thing but please wear socks. At the very least it is to keep a boundary between the foot and the shoe that can be washed to promote a cleaner condition.
Moisture can breed bacteria and you want to keep your shoes dry. Let socks absorb most of the sweat and wash them. Outside of training, there may be “sockless” shoes out there you find are comfortable and breathable, but the shoes themselves are often designed to be washable.
Secondly, whatever shoes you do wear for training, tie them correctly. Think back to John Wooden. A properly tied shoe should not come untied. Even if that means you need to double knot, get it done.
For the life of me I also cannot understand why kids show up to workout thinking they are “ready to go” with a shoe that is loose with laces just hanging.
Wait, should I even wear shoes when I workout?
Amazing that this is now a discussion question in the weight room. Yes, wear shoes.
When I say wear socks, I don’t mean “just socks.”
I am going to start with, as always, the basics. Safety first is more than a slogan.
In the weight room, even if you are standing still, you do not want to kill a toe. I know you have at least on one occasion just moving around the house you’ve stubbed a toe.
Kicking a bench or something metal accidentally or dropping anything – or somebody else accidentally dropping something – on a toe or foot can happen. Some say, “dude, you're in a weight room. A shoe isn’t going to protect you from an injury like you just mentioned.”
Not the point. A shoe certainly lessens the injury and prevents a more serious cut or smash. Of course, you can dismiss this if you think anyone that clumsy shouldn’t even be in the weight room. Regardless, follow gym rules where many today require shoes or don’t join that gym.
Some will look the other way since they understand that it is a cult type of activity, and they leave it alone. No harm, no foul, right? But in a coaching setting, we are still responsible for educating and encouraging our kids the right way.
From the training standpoint, the shoeless approach usually centers around the squat rack and deadlift platform and seems to have recently picked up a little more notoriety and interest. Because of the nature of a weight room, going shoeless looks serious and hard core. There are true believers in it. And why is that? Reasons vary.
They believe barefoot gives you a firmer base on the platform and more stability. Others take it to proprioception and the touch sensation helping you direct the lift. For others it's a minimalist approach that is more natural (since we were born naked, right?). That is literally the short answer.
Thanks to (or no thanks to) social media, barefoot running is becoming a thing for some of the same reasons. With all due respect, you don’t play sports barefoot for a reason. We don’t train barefoot for that same reason.
The last piece of research out of Australia that I read said that the numbers in testing did not give the edge to either style. Therefore, it becomes the world's oldest source proof and reasoning: it works best because I THINK IT DOES.
Yessir, the placebo effect. A positive manifestation of the psychosomatic element. I believe it works so I feel stronger or I feel faster. I agree that we need to win the mind game, but let’s do it with socks and shoes on.
Now that it’s clear I am pro-wearing shoes, the next immediate question is, what type?
I’m going to the end and working back. A common objection is “good shoes are too expensive.”
Maybe. It’s up to you to believe in the value of something no matter what it is. We all know budgets are a little tighter these days. If cheaper shoes work for you, then have at it. If you can afford to have the full gamut of necessary training shoes, then more power to you.
Back to the whole function thing. It is critical and it does follow logic. Forget the cool, fashionable or trendy thing and pay attention to details.
There are basically four categories of shoe:
There are weight lifting shoes that are not intended for running in any way – and it doesn’t matter if it’s bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or general circuit training. A weightlifting shoe needs to be stable, not running-shoe cushiony. Stable means that it fits, you can lace it up snug, and your foot does not wobble.
They essentially have an elevated heel, whether it be for landing during the catch phase of an olympic lift or just normal squatting. The heel lift is to accommodate lack of ankle mobility. The spectrum is broad, but you can refer to this as a “flat.” Basketball and tennis shoes are a nice compromise because obviously you can run in them even though they are ideal for court.
Running shoes are typically referring to a light shoe ideal for longer distance, linear running like in cross country or track work. Though proper track shoes have spikes and would fit in the cleat category, the point is a shoe that would not provide enough support for lifting.
Cross-trainers are the shoe that meet in the middle obviously to accommodate an athlete who trains strength and speed in a single session. There are plenty of great brands out there putting out a good shoe in this category.
This type of shoe will have better ankle support for lifting but can work on most surfaces for speed training.
Cleats obviously are used typically in competition for field sports but it’s wise to train in cleats on grass or turf when possible for speed training, especially doing agility work with cones. A cross-trainer will simply not give you as good of traction on a field as cleats will, but obviously you cannot lift in cleats.
In a perfect world, you would at least have one of each for any given session, but at the very least a versatile cross-trainer can get the job done. Anything but flip-flops or a sandal.
I know as a coach you have seen it all.
On more than one occasion I have seen a kid come in from class and violate a serious training requirement. He forgot (bad F-word!) his workout shoes so he was left with his penny loafers for lifting.
When that happens, count to three and remain calm. Let mercy triumph.
There you have it. Wear shoes, but make sure the shoe fits.