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How and Why I Rotate Workout Shoes for Maximal Performance

The act of rotating workout shoes is an art that can lead to higher performance output. This means that you’re using and rotating different workout shoes depending on what you’re doing.

Far too often, I have lifters and athletes ask me questions like, “Can I use *insert stable training shoe* to go for long runs?”, “Can I use this barefoot shoe built for lifting for CrossFit, too?”

The short answer is, sure — you can technically use whatever shoes you want for whatever workout purpose, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel or perform the best doing so.

 As a shoe reviewer and strength coach, I’m a big proponent of using the right tools [read shoes] for the job. This means figuring out what shoes allow you to optimally perform most comfortably and not sacrificing gains for the sake of convenience.

How to Rotate Workout Shoes Takeaways

Takeaway 1

Rotating your workout shoes can make a huge difference in the gym for performance output. Think of shoes as tools. You want to use the right tools for the job depending on your goals and needs.

Takeaway 2

Rotating between barefoot, training, and running shoes on a workout-to-workout basis can be a powerful tool to build your feet and ankles while limiting overall fatigue and boxing yourself into one type of shoe.

Takeaway 3

Experiment and track performance. As you grow as a lifter and athlete you’ll learn that certain types of shoes allow you to perform stronger in different contexts.  It gets easier to do this with more reps and exposure to different shoes.

Looking into buying new cross-training shoes? Try out my cross-training shoe finder. This calculator pairs you with the best training shoes for your individual needs.

Using the PUMA Fuse 3 for Split Squats

Establishing Your Workout Needs and Hierarchy

The first step to successfully rotating your workout shoes for maximal gains is to establish two key elements.

  1. What types of shoes do you prefer to work out in?
  2. What does your weekly training look like?

If you can manage to establish these two pieces of information then you can build out your shoe line-up. Spending a little time doing this will save you a lot of time in the long run and it only takes a few minutes.

I find that most of the time, beginners struggle the most here and end up buying shoes they don’t particularly need. We’ve all been there and it can be frustrating feeling like you’re not getting the most out of your shoes.

My Example, How I Rotate My Workout Shoes

If you’re confused by what I mean by the above, check out my example below.

Shoes I Like to Work Out In

  • Barefoot shoes for foot and ankle health. I also like to use them for deadlifts and certain lower-body days.
  • Cross-training shoes for cross-training, CrossFit, and general athletic-focused workouts.
  • Weightlifting shoes for squats and Olympic lifting sessions.
  • Running shoes for my cardio days where I’m running 1-2+ miles.

What My Weekly Training Looks Like

  • Lifting Sessions: 2 lower, 2 upper. 1 lower is focused on squats, and 1 lower is focused on deadlifts.
  • HIIT/CrossFit/Cross-Training: 3-4 full-body circuits a week used for conditioning. These are typically also CrossFit WODs to test the different shoes I’m reviewing.
  • Running: 2-3 runs a week that range from 3-6 miles. When in normal strength-focused blocks, my running mileage is generally around 9-15 miles.

I’m telling you now, even if you have all of this in your head, write it out. It makes the process of establishing and assessing your footwear needs so much better.

Using the PUMA Fuse 3 for Deadlifts
Stability Testing: Using the PUMA Fuse 3 for Deficit Deadlifts With 405 lbs

With the above information, my weekly shoe rotation could look like the following.

  • Lifting Sessions
    • Lower days with plyometrics: cross-training shoes or barefoot shoes (if my goal is building my feet)
    • Lower days with a deadlift focus: barefoot shoes. This is to get optimal performance from a biomechanics standpoint.
    • Lower days with a squat/Olympic lifting focus: cross-training shoes or weightlifting shoes depending on my block goals.
  • HIIT/CrossFit/Cross-Training
    • Low-threshold days where I’m doing lighter impact activities: cross-training shoes or barefoot shoes.
    • High-threshold days where I’m doing extensive plyometrics and power exercises: cross-training shoes.
  • Running Workouts
    • Intervals programmed in circuits/WODs: cross-training shoes or running shoes.
    • Runs over 1-mile in length: running shoes.

This is a typical “general” breakdown of a standard week or shoe rotation for me. Note, that this rotation has taken me years to formulate and develop, and for my sessions these days selecting shoes is second nature.

It’s normal to experiment with different types of footwear so if you feel overwhelmed, it’s okay. You’ll get better at rotating your footwear with time as your goals ebb and flow. It gets easier to address what makes you feel strongest performance-wise.

Barefoot Shoe Rotation Tips

I absolutely love barefoot shoes for lifting, but it’s taken me some time to figure out how to use them optimally for my needs. I’m not in the camp of “only” using barefoot shoes and boxing myself into using them 24/7 365.

However, I am in the camp of rotating my barefoot shoes for training and daily wear depending on my preferences and goals. In my opinion, this is the true essence of barefoot shoes as they can be fantastic tools.

Testing the Vivobarefoot Motus Strength JJF for deadlifts

Rotating Barefoot Shoes for Working Out Tips

  • Tip 1: If you’re new to barefoot shoes, ease into their use. Start using them 1x day a week in the gym, take 4-6 weeks of doing so then increase to 2x days a week and progress accordingly.
  • Tip 2: If you want to use them for cross-training, start with lower threshold days to avoid excessive foot fatigue. For example, days that have things like box jumps over broad jumps. Think, beginner over more advanced when starting out.
    • Similar to lifting, use barefoot shoes for low-threshold days for 6-8 weeks before implementing their use for more advanced and harsher impact activities and exercises.
  • Tip 3: If you want to run in barefoot shoes, use mileage, running surface, and distance as your tool for progression. I’d suggest starting with short distances on surfaces like grass or turf. Start small with your distance goal then increase slowly.

If you’re brand new to barefoot shoes then I’d suggest checking out how to acclimate to barefoot shoes. I go into more depth about acclimating and sizing barefoot shoes properly in that article.

Training Shoe Rotation Tips

Cross-training shoes are my bread and butter, and yes, I’m in the camp of lifters who arguably “may” own too many cross-training shoes for my own good. Hey, there are worse vices to have.

Skater Strides In the Reebok Nano X4

Rotating Cross-Training Shoes Tips

  • Tip 1: It’s okay to have different cross-training shoes for different workouts. Cross-training shoes exist on a spectrum of versatility and stability. I have models that I save for heavy lifting due to their denser midsoles and plusher models for HIIT workouts.
  • Tip 2: As you get more specific with your training, you’ll want your cross-training shoes to do the same. For example, CrossFit can wreak havoc on general training shoes. Your best bet is to invest in a shoe built for your specific goal, in this case, that’s CrossFit.
    • Sometimes specific shoes can cost more, but I’d shift your mindset to look at your shoes as an investment. The right tools for the job will end up lasting longer in the long run.
  • Tip 3: For lighter HIIT and classes, shoes with “bouncier” midsoles can often be a great bet for both comfort and performance. These will give you more responsiveness.

It may seem a little egregious to own and train in multiple training shoes every week, however, I often find lifters have their shoes last longer by doing so. Again, think of your shoes as tools. Using the right tools will always prolong your investment.

Weightlifting Shoe Rotation Tips

Weightlifting shoes are a type of footwear that not everyone will need, in my opinion. Do I think everyone can benefit from owning a pair? Yes, but they’re not an absolute must to own.

I look at weightlifting shoes like a weightlifting belt. There are times and places where you’ll want to use your weightlifting shoes depending on your goal.

Reebok Legacy Lifter 3 Performance Review

Rotating Weightlifting Shoes Tips

  • Tip 1: You’ll want to save your weightlifting shoe use for squats, the Olympic lifts (clean & jerk and snatch), and for workouts where you want a quad-bias with your training.
  • Tip 2: As you get more advanced with your training, you’ll learn what heel heights benefit your anatomy and squat mechanics best. I typically suggest starting with a .6-.75 inch heel then going from there.
  • Tip 3: You can also use weightlifting shoes on machines like leg press and hack squat if machines don’t line up with your anatomy or if you’re after something like a quad bias.

Again, out of all of the shoes mentioned in this article, weightlifting shoes are what I would describe as the “lowest hanging fruit”. As you get more advanced with your lifting goal that’s when weightlifting shoes can get more important.

Running Shoe Rotation Tips

With running shoes, there are a lot of layers to rotating them. As you get more specific with your running workouts, your running shoe needs should reflect this.

  • Tip 1: Running shoes exist on a performance spectrum. Some running shoes will be best for long runs whereas others will be better for speed workouts.
  • Tip 2: When in doubt, visit your running store. I would highly suggest having your local running store help you decide what type of running shoes will be best for you. They’ll also properly size you with a Brannock scale.
  • Tip 3: Pay attention to your mileage in your shoes. Different running shoes will have different thresholds in which they should be retired. This ensures you’re getting the most responsiveness out of your shoes.

As a strength coach, I can’t express how important it can be to get properly sized and assessed for running shoes. Running can be hard on the body regarding fatigue and proper running shoes can mitigate this.

Reviewing the TYR RD-1 Runner for Running

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When should you rotate your workout shoes?

If your workout shoe upper is ripping, in the outsole is breaking, or the midsole is compressed, then it's a good idea to invest in a new pair of shoes.

Is it a good idea to rotate workout shoes?

You can get more out of your performance by rotating your workout shoes based on what you're doing. Your shoes will also last longer doing so.

Final Verdict

If you’ve never rotated your workout shoes, then you’re missing out on potentially getting even more out of your training sessions.

The act of rotating footwear can lead to more comfortable experiences in the gym and better performance output, and it can actually prolong your shoe’s lifespan.

Far too often, I find lifters trying to opt for shoes out of convenience, but with a little research, you can get even more out of your workout shoes.

If you have additional questions about this topic, drop a comment below or reach out via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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