Types of Gym Shoes to Wear. Does it Matter?

If your goal is to gain lower body muscle mass or if you have chronically unstable ankles, then yes, it does matter what shoes you wear, and I’m not talking about the color!

The best type of shoes to wear to the gym is going to depend on your workout, your body, and your goals. At a glance, here are some suggestions in the major categories.

Running Shoes

Generally most people may consider lace up athletic shoes as ‘tennis shoes.’ For whatever reason the name just stuck. However, referring to any sort of athletic shoe as a running shoe is usually acceptable.

It’s a fair assumption because running is the most prolific form of recreation today. Everyone has some sort of running shoe in their closet. These are the shoes most people are going to lace up when they hit they gym.

First, we need to understand in broad terms what makes a running shoe a running shoe.

Squishy Heels.

The mid-sole is squishy. The sides are often vented and flex all over the place. All because these shoes are meant to absorb impact and help you to press off for your next stride. But you know this already.

What Should Runners Wear in the Gym?

Well, when we are in the weight room we want stability. When we squat we want to feel grounded and steady.

We don’t want our heels to feel like they are squishing through our soles. We don’t want excessive pronating or supinating. Same thing with deadlifting or overhead pressing.

Let’s say that you are into the group exercise scene. You’re not lifting really heavy weights and instead you’re probably doing a fair amount of calisthenics and jumping, hopping, crawling, all that good stuff.

Wearing a running shoe probably isn’t going to make all that big of a difference because you aren’t necessarily trying to control large body weight percentage weights.

Stability is King.

What Should Weight Lifters Wear in the Gym?

Well, if you are lifting barbells and dumbbells for the purposes of growing bigger muscle or a shaping a sexy butt, I think you can benefit from a more minimalist inspired shoe.

One that is going to maintain rigidity and not encourage a lot of movement at the ankle when you’re trying to manipulate weights. A running shoe that is designed to be springy may cause you problems when you’re trying to lift something heavy.

Lifting shoes are most predominant among the Olympic weightlifting community. They have a stiff sole and a heel lift to facilitate stability in the big power lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk.

But that heel lift has another purpose: It helps a lifter to achieve a lower squat. A lower squat is of importance to Olympic weightlifters because as the weight gets heavier and heavier, the second pull isn’t going to get that bar very high for a lifter to quickly get under it.

So what’s the next best thing? It’s getting your body lower such that you can sneak under. And a heel lift facilitates this by giving you a little help with your range of motion. Specifically, it eliminates the need for a large bend at the ankle (ankle mobility).

Alternatively, if you have tight ankles, you will most likely compensate farther up in the kinetic chain. But don’t think that you have to perform regular clean-and-jerks and snatches in order to wear these shoes.

Minimalist Shoes

This category is really a catch-all for any lightweight, minimal structure and highly flexible shoe. From a weightlifting perspective, minimalist shoes are pretty great.

There’s little to no arch support, they aren’t clunky and there isn’t normally a big squishy heel that’s going to crush under the weight of a heavy barbell and throw you off balance.

They usually have a big toe box too.

Powerlifters Wear Slippers or Barefoot

Take a look at the deadlift. You drive through the heel and power through with your hips. And so ideally, you don’t have anything between your heel and the floor.

This is why some of the real big lifters will be seen wearing socks, slippers or nothing at all, on their feet that is. Have you ever seen some of the old images of Muscle Beach or Arnold lifting at Gold’s Gym?

There are a lot of big dudes walking around barefoot and lifting heavy things. Now it isn’t wise to extrapolate a group of genetically blessed men to the general population, but it should serve as a wake up call that as humans, all that we really need for physical fitness is our body.

However, good luck finding a gym that will let you walk around barefoot. And you may want to have a disinfection plan ready to go too. Of course the elephant in the room is that you need to be very careful not to drop anything on your feet!

But then again, unless you’re wearing steel tipped work boots, anything you drop on your feet is going to hurt! An 80-lb dumbbell will do damage.


If you have healthy feet and your body’s biomechanics are pretty solid, I would encourage you to start looking at training in minimalist shoes when you’re in the weightroom.

Before you decide always consult with a healthcare professional first.

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