Workout of the Day

The Right Shoe for the Job


Let’s take a moment to look at footwear. A multi-billion dollar industry, the world of athletic footwear is full of both incredibly innovative technology and incredibly full of overblown claims. But as with any task, there are better and worse tools for the job. In our fitness endeavors, there tend to be three types of footwear that may have a place in your arsenal: weightlifting shoes, running shoes, and “cross-training” shoes.

Weightlifting shoes were originally designed for very specific use in the sport of weightlifting (the competition lifts of snatch and clean & jerk), but have since branched out in their application to be used in most any type of lifting.
Weightlifting shoes have three primary unique qualities: a lifted heel, a very solid sole, and a relatively firm and supportive upper.

The lifted heel on the weightlifting shoes serves to effectively increase ankle dorsiflexion -- in other words, it makes it easier to squat deeper and with a more upright torso. By allowing your knees to travel further forward in deep knee/hip flexion (i.e., in a squat, particularly in the bottom of a clean or snatch), your torso is able to stay more upright, a massive advantage in the clean and snatch. Heel stack in weightlifting shoes generally ranges from half an inch up to a full inch. This elevated heel can serve to work around stiff ankles (think of how your heels want to lift in the bottom of a squat), or simply to increase squat depth and ease of maintaining an upright torso.

Generally made from hard plastic, rubber, or wood, the solid sole on the weightlifting shoe allows for most effective transfer of force. Imagine standing on a soft mattress and attempting to jump as high as possible. The cushioning of the mattress would absorb a huge amount of the force generated from your legs and hips, and you would not jump nearly as high as if the same force had been transferred to a solid surface such as concrete. The same goes for shoes: if you are squatting wearing shoes that effectively have small mattresses for soles (such as cushy running shoes), you are bleeding out force output all over the place. On top of the this, the firm sole of a weightlifting shoe allows for a stable surface, guaranteeing that any change in foot/ankle position is from the action of the lifter, not from your feet shifting around on a soft surface.

The supportive and generally stiff upper of a weightlifting shoe, often complete with a strap across the top of the foot, allows the lifters foot to stay securely in the shoe. This again ensures that any movement in the foot or ankle is due to movement from the lifter, not from shifts in foot position within the shoe.

Running shoes, though they can have highly variable qualities (minimalist vs. maximal running shoes), tend to have qualities that are very different from weightlifting shoes. Running shoes primary qualities are a flexible and often heavily-cushioned sole, a flexible and unobtrusive upper, and often some supportive structures within the shoe. There will be considerable differences between supportive/heavily cushioned shoes and minimalist running shoes -- a subject worthy of another post entirely -- so I will focus on the qualities of more minimal running shoes and qualities shared by both minimal and supportive running shoes.

The sole of a running shoe must be flexible to allow the foot to bend and shift while running, and is designed not to restrict the movement of the runner’s foot. These soles tend to be made of pliable rubber and/or foam compounds, and often include a fair amount of cushioning, particularly in shoes meant to be worn for longer distance runs. This cushioning is designed to reduce the blunt impact forces of repetitive foot striking and to contribute to comfort. In addition, proper running shoes are designed to allow the toes to naturally splay with each stride, meaning that there will be a slightly wider than usual toe box and some flexibility to allow for the foot to move freely. The soles of running shoes generally have some texturing as well, dependent on their intended use (trail vs. road), to allow the runner to maintain traction with the ground.

The upper of running shoes is designed to be both flexible and to secure the shoe to the runner’s foot. The upper of the running shoe should not restrict natural movement of the foot, but should form closely to the foot to prevent the runner’s foot from shifting around too much within the shoe. Running shoes will also often include supportive structures or insoles, designed to guide the foot’s movement in running. A subject that garners plenty of controversy, the supportive structures of a shoe -- generally some form of arch support -- are generally designed to limit dysfunctional movement patterns such as a collapsed arch or valgus ankle in runners with movement dysfunction.

Finally, our “cross-training” shoe is effectively a hybrid between a lifting shoe and a running shoe. The shoe is designed to be useful and effective for both lifting and running (and many other movements), but compromises some features for both. It tends to have a flat and semi-flexible sole, minimal to moderate cushioning, and a fairly flexible and versatile upper design.

The soles of cross-training shoes tend to be far less cushioned than a typical running shoe, allowing for effective force transfer when lifting, but are also designed to be flexible enough for running. The sole tends to be flat, or have very minimal heel stack, meaning that the shoe will not lend the same advantages to the deep squat position that a weightlifting shoe would, but this also allows them to be used for running without interference with foot strike position or stride.

Cross-training shoes tend to be somewhere between minimal and maximal, providing some cushioning and support, but airing on the side of unobtrusive design to allow for versatility. The shoes tend to be designed with fairly pliable uppers, and also often include specific design features to allow for use and durability in movements like rope climbs.

This hybrid quality means compromise in both departments, but the cross-training shoe is versatile enough to be worn for heavy snatches, sprinting or jogging, jumping, and just about everything in between.

The ultimate question is: which shoes do I need? The answer is that each shoe has it’s unique purpose that it best serves, and it will, of course, depend. Do you need a pair of each? Absolutely not. Everything we do in the gym could be done in a pair of Chuck Taylors (and you’d get major style points, too). But if you have some cash to dispose of or want to up your game a bit, a pair of each type of shoe will serve you well. There are undeniable benefits to having a pair of weightlifting shoes for heavy squats, cleans, and snatches, a pair of running shoes for longer runs, and a pair of cross-training shoes for general use or workouts that call for a little bit of everything. Will weightlifting shoes make you stronger? No, but they will allow you to more effectively lift more weight. Will running shoes make you faster? No, but they will allow you to more safely and effectively move for longer distances and at greater speeds.

The best starting place for everyone is likely a cross-training shoe. It is versatile enough to be used effectively in most any task you’ll encounter, and most are designed well enough that the advantages and versatility far outweigh the disadvantages. But for the athlete interested in specializing some more -- diving deeper into weightlifting or running, or simply having the most effective piece of equipment -- there’s certainly something to be said for having the right tool for the job.

- PS


  • 1 mile run

  • 6 min EMOM

    • Max strict chin-ups

Rest 2 mins

  • 6 min EMOM

    • Max strict toes to bar