What Kind of Shoes Should You Wear When Working Out?

What Kind of Shoes Should You Wear When Working Out?

Georgio Baylouny, PT, DPT, OCS
Physical Therapist, NYC

If you’ve ever wondered what type of sneaker or shoe to wear when working out at the gym, this blog is for you. You may have even asked yourself one of these questions… Is just any type of sneaker OK for the gym?
  • Should my shoes have a cushioned bottom, or be totally flat?
  • What’s up with those giant weightlifting shoes with the large heel?
  • Should I have different shoes for running and lifting weights?
  • Is there something better I could be wearing on my feet to optimize my workout?
When deciding what kind of shoes to wear at the gym, there are so many options that it can be overwhelming. This blog will break down some of the most common options out there, and tell you which type of shoe is most optimal depending on the activity you’re doing at the gym.

The Heeled Lifting Shoe

You may have seen people in the gym wearing a heeled weightlifting shoe at the gym. This person is usually on the weightlifting platform or in the squat rack at the gym.

A shoe like this is created with a very solid, stable base along with a 2 cm platform on the heel – making it ideal for moving heavy weight.

These are created specifically for Olympic Weightlifting or Powerlifting. It’s not recommended for any running or jumping. While not 100% necessary for Olympic lifting or powerlifting, some lifters do prefer the raised heel these provide, as it allows them to get into a deep squat more comfortably.

Consider using for: Olympic Weightlifting (snatch and clean and jerk), Powerlifting (the squat and bench press only, not the deadlift), Crossfit class (Olympic lifting portion only, not the metcon portion)

Not the best option for: any running, conditioning circuits, or jumping.

The Cross-training Shoe, or just “Training Shoe”

The training shoe has really gained popularity over the last few years with the rise of Crossfit, HIIT style workouts, and group fitness classes.

The training shoe is your “hybrid” shoe – it’s good for just about anything. You can use these for Crossfit, HIIT classes, group fitness, or for your own workout at the gym that might involve lifting weights or even a little cardio.

These shoes are characterized by their flat, hard soles. You’ll notice they don’t have any rise to them or any cushion at the bottom like a traditional running shoe would. This is because they’re meant for multi-activity workouts (like a class where you might be deadlifting, rowing, and then even running or jumping), so they have to provide both a stable base for lifting heavy and just enough flexibility that you can do short bursts of cardio in them.

So, if these shoes are good for almost any type of workout…why even get anything else?

While the training shoe is perfect for a class that involves different types of movements, it’s not recommended for long distance running. And while you can certainly perform Olympic lifts and the power lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press), some lifters will prefer the more solid and elevated lifting shoe.

Consider using for: Crossfit, group fitness, HIIT class, and gym workouts that might include a combo of lifting weights (light or really heavy), short runs, and jumping.

Not the best option for: long distance running.

The Running Shoe

Running shoes are perfect for, well, running! You can also get away with wearing running shoes at the gym or favorite workout class.

Running shoes come in way too many shapes, levels of stability, heel drop, and cushioning, so we’ve written an entire blog on the topic. You can find more info on running shoes HERE.

Keep in mind that running shoes are designed to absorb shock and almost help “propel” a runner forward to the next step – therefore the bottom of a running shoe is not flat and not very solid. Therefore, these shoes are not the right choice for lifting heavy weights. That means you should choose one of the options above if you want to perform barbell lifts or just move heavy weight in general.

Consider using for: Running, of course! Especially distance running. You can also use these for casual gym or fitness class workouts that don’t involve moving heavy weight with maximal effort.

Not the best option for: Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, certain HIIT classes that involve barbells, heavy weights or heavy kettlebell work.


Every shoe has it’s purpose, advantages, and disadvantages for certain workouts and movements. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to comfort, preference, and performance. If the shoe is comfortable and doesn’t compromise safety or the ability for you to perform the workout the right way, then it’s the right shoe for you!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Flip-flops absolute lack of arch or heel support puts you at risk of unnecessary pain and injury. We are (I am generalizing here) so careful to wear the best footwear when exercising, keeping up to date with the latest running shoes, orthotics, braces etc but when it comes to relaxing and what we wear outside of work and sport we aren t so smart. A study found that in a large shopping center, 43% of all women were wearing flip-flops( 1 ) That is a huge amount of foot, calf, shin, knee and back pain! Yes this may keep Physio s and podiatrists in business but it keeps a lot of the population out-of-pocket And often there is a very simple thing you can do to ease your pain and injuries .

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