HOKA shoes are incredibly popular for both runners and general gym-goers. It’s pretty normal to see others working out and lifting in their HOKA shoes in commercial gyms, but is that optimal?
In short, it’s not optimal to lift in HOKAs. To be fair, it’s never a good idea to lift in your running shoes and this isn’t limited to just HOKA shoes. Doing things like squats and deadlifts in running shoes can severely hinder your performance.
If you’ve been lifting or doing CrossFit in your HOKA shoes this is not an article to make you feel like you’ve been performing sub-optimally or doing anything wrong. However, there are better gym shoes on the market and I’ll explain why HOKA shoes are “meh” for lifting.
Quick Thought 1 | Save Them for Running
Most HOKA shoes cost at least $100 and if you want to get the most out of your investment with your pair then you’ll want to save them for running, walking, and light workouts.
With most running shoes, you’ll want to keep their use case specific to running. This will prolong their outsole’s durability and midsole’s responsiveness.
Quick Thought 2 | Thicker They Are Worse for Lifting They Are
Most HOKA shoes are built to be thicker and more cushioned. As a general rule of thumb, the higher a shoe’s stack height is the worse it will be for lifting, and more specifically, deadlifts, squats, and other compound exercises.
Thick midsoles will compress the moment you start loading them with external weight and a HOKA’s toe spring and heel bevelling can greatly reduce balance and stability when lifting.
Quick Thought 3 | "Stability" Is Relative
On HOKA’s site, they discuss stability for various shoes. It’s important to keep in mind that “stability” in reference to running shoes will mean something different than the stability discussed in footwear for lifting.
Should You Lift In HOKA Shoes?
No, you should not lift in your HOKA shoes. They lack the stability needed for heavy strength work and their toe spring can pitch you forward during strength and power exercises. Let’s apply some context here, though, and dive deeper into what this means.
Reason 1: Midsoles Compress Compromising Stability
A key staple of good shoes for lifting is a stable and non-compressible base. This allows lifters to exert maximum force against the ground to produce more power while feeling stable and balanced.
Training shoes that are built to be more stable will typically have denser foam midsoles and lower stack heights. If we look at weightlifting shoes then you’ll see midsoles made out of high-density EVA foam or TPU.
HOKA shoes are built to limit the impact absorption that comes with running. That said, most HOKA shoes feature thicker midsoles built with softer and medium-density foam materials.
When you lift, these foam materials can compress which will hinder balance and stability thus making HOKA shoes a far from optimal pick when you’re focused on building strength and performing power-focused exercises.
Reason 2: Toe Spring Pitches You Forward
Outside of their inability to promote stability, another reason why HOKA shoes are not great for lifting is due to their toe spring — and heel bevelling — depending on the shoe.
Toe spring entails the curling of your shoe’s toe upward. When you look at your HOKAs and notice that the toe is angled up in relationship to the midfoot that is what toe spring means.
For running and walking, toe spring helps promote better performance. However, this isn’t the case for lifting. Let’s look at exercises like the deadlift and RDL.
When you perform these two exercises, you want a flat shoe so you can ground the toes. This will help you be more efficient with your lifting while also supporting a more “balanced” feel when working through reps. Toe spring can make it difficult to ground the toes.
If we look at power exercises like power cleans or kettlebell snatches, then you typically want less toe spring because as you pull the weights upward and move through triple extension you don’t want any form of additional pull forward as this will throw off your center of mass.
Reason 3: Inefficient Force Transfer Through the Midsole
In the context of power production, excess cushioning in HOKA shoes can significantly dampen the force transfer from your body to the floor. To produce more force, you need to be able to quickly translate power created through the body to the floor.
In thick HOKA shoes, this can be tough to do as the midsole is going to reduce how much force you can put into the ground. This is an analogy I love to use for anyone who asks about running shoes and power exercises.
Stand on the ground barefoot and do a vertical jump. Take note of the ground under the feet and how it feels to drive the feet into the floor. Now, imagine doing the same thing on your mattress or a couch cushion.
The softer surface is going to take some of the force you’re trying to produce and decrease it which will then translate to a lower vertical jump. This logic and analogy, while different than footwear, is somewhat similar in the context of force transfer.
Reason 4: Thick Soles Can Impair Proprioception
When talking about stability and footwear, I conceptualize it through two different lenses. The first lens is through the physical feeling of being stable due to dense midsoles, and this was discussed in point one.
Another element of stability in footwear involves the proprioceptive angle. Proprioception is the body’s means of sensing its position and movement through space and time.
Proprioception is crucial when strength training and getting more serious with your gym work. When you wear shoes that decrease your ground feel and feedback then you can lose out on stability up the chain in the body.
For example, when our feet feel the ground more, we tend to feel more stable throughout the rest of the body as stability (and balance) tend to work across multiple joints harmoniously.
Reason 5: Reduced Lifting Efficiency
As you get more serious with your strength work, the name of the game starts to revolve around efficiency. Footwear can play a huge role in how efficient you are in certain exercises. A few examples of how HOKA shoes hinder lifting efficiency include:
- For deadlifts, their high stack height will create more range of motion you need to lift the weight. They’ll also compromise your ground feedback and stability.
- For squats, the midsole can “give” out from under you and squish which can throw off balance as you move from the eccentric to the concentric in your squats.
- For cleans and kettlebell swings, the excessive toe spring will pitch you forward which will then usually result in you overcompensating to keep your weight shifted further back which can cut into hip extension mechanics.
These are just three examples, but in reality, I could go on all day about how HOKA shoes make your lifting performance less efficient. Look at it this way, you wouldn’t use a 9-iron for your first shot on a par-5. Use the right tools (shoes) for the job at hand.
Can You Wear HOKAs for CrossFit?
As opposed to lifting, there are a few cases in CrossFit where it can be justified wearing HOKA shoes. Since CrossFit WODs vary so greatly you may find that you prefer wearing your HOKAs for WODs that have a lot of running without too much lifting.
For example, if you have WOD programmed that is primarily running intervals with bodyweight exercises like bodyweight squats, pull-ups, and push-ups, then it’s perfectly fine to wear your HOKAs.
The CrossFit WODs in which you’ll want to pass on using your HOKAs are any WOD that involves rope climbing, handstand push-ups, heavy lifting, and high-volume moderate strength work.
In WODs that involve these exercises you’ll want to opt for a good CrossFit shoe instead. A shoe built for CrossFit will not only give you more stability for various WODs but it will also protect your investment as CrossFit can beat up HOKAs.
What to Wear Instead of HOKAs
There’s no denying that a good pair of HOKAs can be great for running, track workouts, and light cross-training sessions, but you’ll want something more specific if you’re lifting, doing CrossFit, or pushing your cross-training intensity.
Instead of wearing your HOKA shoes for different workouts and potentially breaking them down faster than you planned below are some options that I’d suggest instead.
- For Lifting and Cross-Training: Wear a pair of cross-training shoes. This type of shoe will give you more traction for explosive and multi-directional work and it’s a good “jack of all trades” for lifting, too.
- For CrossFit Workouts: Wear a good pair of cross-training shoes built for CrossFit. This shoe will have a blend of stability and responsiveness and additional durability features.
If you wear the right shoes for your training, then you’ll get more out of them in the context of durability and performance output. You’ll also make your HOKAs last longer if you limit them to running, walking, and light training.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:Are HOKAs okay for CrossFit?
Q:Is it okay to lift in HOKAs?
HOKAs are great shoes in many ways. However, in the gym, they do have some limitations that you’ll want to consider especially if you want to lift, do CrossFit, and hit some tough cross-training workouts.
If you need help finding shoes that will perform better than your HOKAs please don’t hesitate to reach out. Drop a comment below or hit me personally on Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).