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5 Reasons Why Workout Shoes Matter (Strength Coach Shares Insights)

I’m a shoe-obsessed strength coach and I spend most of my days testing and reviewing weightlifting, barefoot, and training shoes. Every day, I spend a considerable amount of time answering questions about workout shoes.

More specifically, I spend a lot of time answering questions about which workout shoes will be ideal for someone’s needs and why the right pair of workout shoes can matter. Footwear is an important consideration in the gym, depending on how you train.

Different athletes, lifters, and coaches will have their own rationales behind the “why” of their workout shoes. The following are six reasons why workout shoes matter, in my coaching opinion.

Author’s Note: This article is directed toward all footwear used for working out. I’m not limiting the below text to just “training shoes”. If you wear barefoot shoes and prefer them, then the following also applies to you. No dogmatism here.

Reason 1: Protect the Feet

The first and arguably biggest reason why workout shoes matter is that they protect your feet when training. Foot protection can come in multiple forms. For example,

  • Shoes can protect the bottom of the feet from different surfaces.
  • Shoes can protect the top of the feet from abrasion or tripping on things.
  • Shoes can protect the feet from uncleanly surfaces which can exist in gyms.
  • Shoes can provide a light layer of protection if things are dropped on the foot (note, this doesn’t matter for heavier objects, but for lighter things they can prevent cuts and give you a tiny bit more protection).

The level of protection a workout shoe provides will vary based on how you’re training. Some workouts can be tougher on the feet than others so understanding your training context can help dictate “how much” protection you need.

Testing the Reebok Nano X3 for Rope Climbs

A great example is the athlete who’s regularly hitting CrossFit workouts and wants to protect their feet from abrasion from rope climbs, wood box surfaces when doing box jumps, and sharp surfaces when running and jumping.

For this athlete, they’ll want to explore a good pair of functional fitness shoes or something like a barefoot shoe with additional upper layers and protection. These styles of footwear will give you more toe box and midfoot protection as they’re designed for this style of workout.

Compare this to if you’re doing a casual bodyweight workout at home or you’re doing a bodybuilding workout in your home gym, then it’s easy to see the sharp differences in demands these workouts will have on the feet regarding their protection.

Testing the Flux Adapt High-Top Trainer for strength training

Takeaway: The level of protection you need from your shoes will depend on your workout. If you find that your feet are constantly getting beat up from your training, then you may want to re-explore the shoes you’re using and find something specific to your needs.

Reason 2: Promote Better Traction

The second reason why workout shoes matter is that they’re going to promote and support your traction in the gym while training. Ideally, you’ll want to explore workout shoes with full rubber or close to full rubber outsoles.

Outsoles on training shoes built with more rubber components will not only typically last longer in the gym, but they’ll do a better job of promoting your traction when training.

Testing the Under Armour Project Rock BSR 3 for HIIT workouts

Traction regarding your workout shoes can take many forms. For example, things like sled pushes/pulls, box jumps, skater strides, power cleans, leg presses, and squats will have all different traction demands.

Generally speaking, if you’re doing more explosive or multi-directional training, then you’ll have a higher need for workout shoes with better traction. Whereas if you’re doing a more casual upper body session, you’ll want some but it’s not dire for performance.

A well-built outsole (bottom part of the shoe) with a good tread pattern will give you more bite on different surfaces. If you’re training on rubber gym floors, turf, or wooden floors, a good outsole will help you grip the floor and then promote propulsion.

Testing the Tolos Archetype 1.0 for hiit workouts

If your workout shoes are built with exposed foam on their soles, then you run the risk of both slip and loss of power when digging the feet into the ground.

Takeaway: Traction needs will vary, but in general, it’s a good idea to find workout shoes that are built with primarily rubber outsoles with quality tread patterns.

Reason 3: Support Your Training Style

Another reason why workout shoes matter is that they can play a role in your movement mechanics which in return can make for more efficient training and better adaptations to training.

I like to think of shoes as tools and it’s important to select the right tools for the job at hand. Shoes can influence how we move when working out so if we can find the right shoes for our training context, then we can push harder in the gym.

Testing the Under Armour TriBase Reign 5 for Squats

There are a lot of different examples of this in action and this is why I think it’s incredibly important to experiment with different workout shoes on your training journey.

We all respond differently to various workout shoes, and more than likely, as you dive deeper into your journey in the gym you’ll find that you naturally resonate with certain shoes for different workouts.

To provide some clarity as to what I mean and to share how I use different workout shoes, I’ll cover a couple of scenarios in which I rotate shoes every week.

  1. I’ll use barefoot shoes for deadlift days, low-threshold athletic days, and lower body days where I want less stack height with my shoes to get closer to the ground and to get more ground feedback. Plus, these are great sessions for building my feet and ankles in a nice, progressive way without overreaching regarding my foot/ankle tissue tolerance.
  2. I’ll use weightlifting shoes for high-bar squats, front squats, and Olympic lifting days where I need the elevated heel for promoting better squat depth with a more upright torso as these movements require this for efficiency. I’ll also use weightlifting shoes for quad-biased accessories and machine work.
  3. I’ll use cross-training shoes for high-threshold athletic workouts, HIIT sessions, and CrossFit WODs. Since these workouts vary with versatility and stability demands, a cross-training shoe is typically the ideal blend of delivering both of these to allow me to perform my best.
  4. I’ll use running shoes for longer distance runs and runs that aren’t programmed in cross-training workouts. I like a plusher ride for long-distance runs and will use cross-training shoes or barefoot shoes for short runs and sprint work depending on my training block.

The above is not to say that you need multiple shoes for working out, but more so, that if you have an idea of what shoes allow you to perform your best based on how you train, then you can typically get a little more out of your workouts.

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite Knit for Deadlifting

I think, at times, newer lifters and athletes can be a little reluctant to try new shoes or styles of footwear, so they stick with shoes that can be a little sub-optimal for their needs. I’m a big fan of plugging and playing with footwear to find what promotes your best performance.

Takeaway: Experiment with different shoes for your training because shoes are like tools and it’s important to have the right tools for the job at hand. The right shoes can promote stronger and better performance.

Reason 4: Accommodate Your Feet’s Needs

The fourth reason why workout shoes matter and to piggyback off of the point above about supporting your training needs, shoes can also support your feets’ needs.

Trying on and assessing the fit of the Inov-8 F-Lite G 300

When working out, we have to remember that everything starts with the feet and they’re crucial for both our performance in the gym and how we move throughout our day-to-day.

Everyone’s feet are built slightly differently and different feet will feel more comfortable or responsive to certain types of shoes. There are hundreds of lasts (shoe molds) that companies use and it’s important to pick shoes that work for your feet.

A classic example of this is someone who has a wider foot but constantly uses cross-training shoes like a Nike Metcon and regularly feels uncomfortable while training or after their workouts.

altra solstice xt 2 toe box width

In this case, a wider shoe like a Reebok Nano X3 or Altra Solstice XT 2 would make more sense for this athlete and lifter. The choice between these shoes would ebb and flow based on your training style, but these two shoes will fit a wider foot better.

This person could also find some benefit to working out with barefoot shoes some days and then opting for their wider cross-training shoes on other days when they have a little more cushion with stability.

If you find the right workout shoes for your foot’s anatomical needs, then you’ll feel more comfortable while working out which can then result in a stronger performance.

Testing the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III for versatility

Takeaway: After your workouts, if you regularly feel like your feet are overly fatigued or uncomfortable, then it may be time to experiment with new workout shoes that will accommodate your feets’ needs a little better.

Reason 5: Look Good, Feel Good, Lift Good!

The last reason why workout shoes matter is more subjective and could be argued to be a little vain. However, there’s no denying the power that a new pair of workout shoes can have for both motivation and confidence.

Now, I’m not saying go full-on consumerism and buy new shoes every month because that can be expensive and excessive. But if you do find yourself in a slump sometimes new workout shoes can do the trick to create some excitement.

Tolos Archetype 1.0 Review

If you love the way your new shoes look and perform, then there’s a good chance you’ll get a nice subtle boost of confidence and excitement for training which can carry over to a more positive experience in the gym.

I also think there’s also beauty in navigating which shoes to bring based on what your training requires. Having the right gear with you can be a subtle reminder that it’s go time when you’re packing your gym bag and heading off to work out.

Reebok Legacy Lifter III On Feet Review

Takeaway: Sometimes new gear can create heightened excitement for working out which can translate to improved performance and adherence at the gym.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why do workout shoes matter?

Workout shoes matter because they can positively influence performance in the gym when you have the right pair of footwear for your training context, and you'll get more durability out of the right pair of shoes.

Why wear shoes while exercising?

Outside of cleanliness reasons in most gyms, shoes can improve your traction for different training styles, protect the feet, and support stronger movement mechanics depending on the footwear and training in question.

Takeaway Thoughts

Shoes are like tools, and I highly encourage every athlete and lifter to experiment with different types of footwear for their workouts. Different shoes will translate to different performances in the gym.

Everyone has their preferences, wants, and needs, and when it comes to performing your best all of these come into play when discussing the top of why workout shoes matter.

If you have additional questions about the workout shoes and selecting the right footwear for your training, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally 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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