Todays Lesson: Gym Sneakers and Happy Feet

Yes, those sneakers that you go to buy that have an unlimited amount of brands, colors, designs and features. They light up, beep, tie themselves (Back to the Future style for those of you who remember!)

The options would confuse even the savviest of gym goers as to what to buy. In this post I will explain to you what I look for, what I hate and which sneakers are great for various activities.

First thing is first, humans were all made to walk barefoot, there is no contradiction to that, I mean supported shoes were only invented fairly recently when one looks at the total scope of human history. That being said, recent research suggests that the more structural support a shoe offers, the more orthopedic issues will arise from its use in the future.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Is Barefoot Better?:

“Some experts now believe that most athletic shoes, with their inflexible soles, structured sides and super-cushioned inserts keep feet so restricted that they may actually be making your feet lazy, weak and more prone to injury. As a result, barefoot training is gaining more attention among coaches, personal trainers and runners.”

Feet need to be free – they need to move and they need to feel the ground.

The article also states:

“Advocates of barefoot training swear by it, claiming that ditching their shoes has improved the running experience and solved injury problems. Four months ago, 29-year-old Salt Lake City runner Brett Williams was on the verge of buying the Nike Airmax 360, a $160 shoe. In researching the shoe, he stumbled across, which has become the Web-based bible for barefoot runners. “I decided I’d had enough and went barefoot,” says Mr. Williams, who on Saturday ran the Salt Lake City marathon, his first marathon, while barefoot. Mr. Williams says he enjoys running more now, and suffered only a minor scrape during the race that was less painful than the blisters that often develop on the feet of shod runners. “Your connection with the ground beneath your feet is absolutely lost with shoes on,” says Mr. Williams. “I am utterly convinced your feet don’t need support or cushioning. If they do it’s because you’re not running correctly.”

Runner Brett Williams ran the Salt Lake City marathon, his first-ever marathon, while barefoot.
Runner Brett Williams ran the Salt Lake City marathon, his first-ever marathon, while barefoot.

According to the article, one series of studies from Canadian researchers concluded that heavily cushioned shoes were more likely to cause injury than simpler shoes. They also concluded that more expensive athletic shoes accounted for twice as many injuries as cheaper shoes. The data aren’t conclusive. It may be that buyers of expensive shoes are more injury prone or more active, and therefore more likely to sustain injuries.

I train barefoot sometimes, usually while deadlifting or squatting, the looks I get from the old school guys at the gym are pretty funny. Then they come up to me and say “Psst . . hey buddy, you will wreck your knees lifting like that!” Then they limp away.

Anyhow, allowing your feet to touch the ground is totally beneficial not only do you train the structural muscles of your foot,  which are the main supports of your your body, you also train your nervous system to recognize your foot movements better. Stronger feet lead to stronger ankles, which lead up to building a stronger knees, and a stronger body overall. Just start off slowly, perhaps a yoga class or a long walk on the beach.

So without further adieu . . .

Shoes I dont like for athletic activity-

  • Nike Shox – Why? They look great for street wear, but suck for any athletic activities. The main reason is the fact that they elevate your heel about 1.5 inches off the ground. This heel lift is enough to make your knees scream for mama after prolonged use in working out or any cardiovascular activity.

  • Reeboks – With these its the shape of the shoe that is too narrow for people with a wider foot. Reebok’s are great if they fit right, however in my experience they only fit very few people comfortably enough to be productive in activity without injury.

Key point- Watch out for sneakers with a heel lift, and sneakers that are too narrow!

Sneakers I like –

  • New Balance – probably the most foot friendly sneaker, great for all activities accross the board – walking, running, lifting
  • Pumas – Can never go wrong with these, they are flat soled, and comfortable. Also great for cross training.
  • Nike Free – These feel like you are walking around in socks all day! Probably the best shoes for training overall once your feet feel strong enough to wear them for a long period of time.The first time I wore these, I felt muscles in my feet I never knew were there!

  • Converse All-Stars – CLASSIC! These sneakers are fantastic for lifting weights. I personally dont like them very much for running, I switch to Pumas or Frees for that.

Specialty Shoe –

  • Vibram Five Fingers – These freaky shoes are the absolute ultimate for barefoot training. One guy had them when I went for my USAW cert, and he loved them. Yeah you look like a wierdo, but he said he actually felt his pinky toe get stronger. Really! You can use these shoes for running or lifting, I will be getting my pair soon.

SO WHAT IF I LOOK FUNNY! My feet will be happy!

Stay strong,


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