Training Shoes: My Recommendations and Why

When you are training, one of the decisions you make before you start each session is whether you will be wearing training shoes. While training barefoot certainly has its advantages, both physically and neurologically, there will be certain times when wearing the proper shoe is paramount to your training success.

If a person is not training barefoot, then there are several shoe options to choose from. At the SFL Certification and SFG Certification, I frequently get asked what kind of training shoes to wear. Most of you know that I used to compete in the sport of powerlifting prior to playing American semi-pro football. As a result, over the years, I have gathered various shoes for training and each has its specific purpose, both for powerlifting and for general training.

In this article, I will discuss each of my training shoes in detail.

My Old Safe Squat Shoes

My Old Safe Squat Shoes

These shoes have been with me through thick and thin. Scott Safe, who used to make these shoes at his facility in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, sold the rights to these shoes to Titan Support Systems, located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Titan is a huge supporter of the sport of powerlifting, so if you need any powerlifting gear, from raw to fully equipped, they are the people to call.

Titan is currently making these shoes and they are the best out there when it comes to powerlifting. They are a bit pricey, costing between $210-350 per pair. However, this cost is well worth it for the proper support during a heavy squat training session or a powerlifting meet. Plus, you will probably wear them one to three times per week for one or two hours per training session. It’s not like you are wearing them every day for work or going out to the clubs at night! So, while these shoes probably won’t last literally forever, they will last you a long time.

What I like about these shoes:

  1. Heel counter: Very stiff and hard. When you put these shoes on, you realize your heel will stay where it is. If you supinate or pronate while squatting, this shoe will help decrease that. That said, I would suggest you still locate your nearest health professional to help you correct that issue.
  2. Sole of the shoe: Very hard and non-compressible. When using a shoe during squatting, the last thing you need is a sole that gives while you are pushing up a tough fifth rep at 85% of your 1RM.
  3. High top: This will help support your ankle in addition to the rest of the foot.
  4. Strap: The strap will lock down the shoe even more than the shoelaces. Trust me, you want the shoe to feel as if it is part of you. No moving around allowed.

These shoes would work well for the barbell trainee, whether he or she competes in powerlifting, weightlifting, or not.

Note: This article is for every trainee, from the beginner to the world-champion competitor in his or her respective sport, and we’ll talk about which of these shoes work for kettlebell and bodyweight training, too.

My Adidas Lifting Shoes

My Adidas Lifting Shoes

Adidas weightlifting shoes have the same qualities as the Safe Squat Shoes, but with two distinct differences:

  1. Low top: A greater forward shin angle is possible with this shoe because of the low top. In addition to squatting, I have also used these shoes to bench press. The shoes allowed me to increase the amount of forward shin angle and get my heels farther back toward my head, allowing me to generate more tension anteriorly, all the way to my upper body.
  2. Heels: They are at bit thicker than the Safe Squat Shoes, elevating your heel higher.

I have competed in the squat with these shoes and did very well with them. Of course, they can be used for the Olympic lifts as well.

My Adidas Wrestling Shoes

My Adidas Wrestling Shoes

Why do I have a pair of Adidas wrestling shoes? Is it because I am thinking of getting back into wrestling? Nope. It is for deadlifting.

When you deadlift, the center of the bar travels a certain distance off the ground. If anything is under your heel, that means you are actually moving the bar a further distance than if you were barefoot. A wrestling shoe has a very thin bottom. It allows me to have something on my feet, but something that is very thin and with a flat bottom, too.

Of course, you could deadlift or train barefoot, but I like to “dig” my foot into the ground prior to deadlifting. I cannot do this properly barefoot. Plus, when competing in the sport of powerlifting, you must be wearing something on your feet.

This shoe can be used for sumo and conventional deadlift stances. It is also a very good shoe for training indoors if you should desire to use it for this.

On the flip side, I will warn you: when you want to purchase these type of shoes, think ahead. Most sporting goods stores stock them during the late summer all the way to near the end of March. If you decide to buy these during the off-season, good luck. Most stores do not keep them in stock, so you may need to order them online which can make sizing challenging.

My Adidas Samba Shoes

My Adidas Samba Shoes

These Adidas Samba shoes were originally designed to be indoor soccer shoes. While they are still used for this purpose, many people purchase them for general wearing and use. I have now bought at least eight pair in the last ten years and mainly used them for training.

I started using these shoes when I retired from powerlifting and decided to start another chapter of my life, semi-pro football. These shoes were used for sprint and agility training on asphalt and track surfaces in addition to indoor gym surfaces. I’ve worn them for deadlifting, squatting, bench and military pressing, and all sorts of barbell and kettlebell training. I have also worn them for teaching at SFG and SFL Certifications during the last five years. These shoes have served me well.

A few notes about these shoes:

  1. They are a good, virtually flat-bottomed shoe.
  2. I have used them for barbell training with what I consider lighter weight, meaning up to 60-65% 1RM. Anything heavier and I switch to my aforementioned lifting shoes.
  3. I find that these shoes need to be replaced almost yearly, if not sooner, when you’re doing consistently weekly training for two or more sessions per week.

But, again, I love these shoes. They have withstood the test of time.

My Vibram Five Fingers

My Vibram Five Fingers

Vibram Five Fingers are a very interesting pair of shoes. I originally purchased them because I had a lot of patients and students buying them or thinking of buying them and asking me questions. In my opinion, they are the nearest thing to training barefoot without being barefoot.

I personally prefer to not wear a sock with them. It feels weird to me and I feel a little slipping while wearing them. But based on what others have told me, it seems to be a personal experience on whether to wear a sock or not.

I have barbell squatted, sprinted, done bodyweight and kettlebell training sessions, and even deadlifted in these shoes, all with good results. I have nothing but good things to say about them. They are also easy to care for. I usually throw them in the washer and line dry them after two or three training sessions.

One note about these: if you wear orthotics and/or a heel lift, they will not fit into some of the different types of Five Fingers.

Which of These Training Shoes Is for You?

Each and every shoe mentioned above has its own purpose. Decide which one, two, or more that you need and wear accordingly. Everything from the Vibram Five Finger minimalist shoes to the heavy-duty Safe/Titan shoes can be worn by the weight-room trainee for different purposes and results. If you buy quality training shoes, they will last you for years and serve you well during your sessions. Happy strength-shoe wearing!

Dr. Michael Hartle
Chief SFL, Master SFG
Dr. Michael Hartle is not only a chiropractic physician, but he is also the Chief SFL and a Master SFG Instructor with StrongFirst, a board-certified Clinical Nutritionist (DACBN), a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (CCSP), a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and an Active Release Technique (ART) provider since 1995.  

Raised in the frozen tundra known as Minnesota, he once lived in Hawai'i while his father was stationed at Pearl Harbor during Vietnam. He has been practicing in Fort Wayne, Indiana for the last seventeen years.

A nationally-ranked powerlifter, who has won several national titles with USA Powerlifting, Dr. Michael is also the Chairman of the Sports Medicine Committee of USA Powerlifting (USAPL). He was the Head Coach of the USAPL World Bench Press Team for eight years, winning the 2004 World Championship Team Title. His best competition lifts are 705lb squat, 535lb bench press, and 635lb deadlift with a best combined total of the three lifts of 1,840lbs in the 275lb weight class.  

For the last seven years, he has been playing semi-pro football, defensive tackle, and loving it! His football team, the Adams County Patriots, won the National AA Semi-Pro Football Championship in 2008! He treats, trains and advises to all kinds of patients, from babies to the elderly, from youth athletes to NCAA student-athletes to professional athletes. He also coaches junior high football and track and field, volunteering his time for the last twelve years. He has three sons who keep him busy with their personal endeavors, including hockey, baseball, football, lacrosse, track, and field and of course, academics.  

5 thoughts on “Training Shoes: My Recommendations and Why

  • Gentlemen,

    Great comments. This article was about if you wanted to use shoes with your training, then this was a great guide for you.

    Please remember this statement at the beginning of the article: “While training barefoot certainly has its advantages, both physically and neurologically, there will be certain times when wearing the proper shoe is paramount to your training success. If a person is not training barefoot, then there are several shoe options to choose from.”

    As a physician, I am well versed in the benefits of barefoot training, even participating in it myself. However, there is a time and a place to use shoes for bodyweight, kettlebell and barbell training. This article was about each shoe and its benefits.

    Thank you!!

  • Hi, I absolutely agree that heeled shoes can improve performance in squat and weightlifting but people take it for granted like it was that nature has to be improved or in someway corrected.
    Have people wondered why we are supposed to need them?
    Not because bare feet are faulty in some way but because usually shod feet require shoes in a vicious circle.
    You can’t achieve such shin angles because of stiff Achille’s tendons, calves, messed up ankles and toes out of alignment…a real disaster that shoes silently provoke upon our feet and the entire kinetic chain. Thus, in light of that isn’t it better to make a step back and working on fixing the root problem instead of fixing it with tools?
    Wouldn’t it it better to get rid of the issues that plague our elder life?
    I believe that squat, snatch, clean and jerk can be performed in bare feet if you train them to recover their natural skills.
    I don’t want to criticize, far from it, but I like a constructive path.

    • Alessio- you are SPOT on.

      I think where the confusion lies is the intent. If your intent is to move better, shoes are not part of the discussion. But, when the intent changes the requirements change. Everyone should be able to run barefoot, but I’m never going to send a sprinter out to their sport without their track spikes. At some point footwear is necessary equipment for sports. Squatting with a lot of weight is different than squatting with bodyweight – at that point it moves towards the side where footwear plays into the safety of a lift. The last thing you want at the bottom of a squat is a little wiggle of foot probation – the weight on the bar will magnify that and it becomes a catastrophic error.

      But before squatting heavy, squatting well should be achieved. Before squatting well is achieved, the squat archetype should be achieved (I can keep going, but I’ll stop here).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Training Observations: Every Rep Is a Chance to Learn