Good news: We’re going to greenlight another pair of shoes for your closet.
While it may feel easier to head to the gym in any old pair of running sneakers, it’s actually recommended that you select gym-specific footwear to handle all of your workout needs. No, we’re not trying to force you to do more shopping. It’s simply because running shoes are designed to propel you forward — and when you’re standing beneath a squat rack or hefting free weights, that’s the last thing you want.
“Shoes specifically designed for weightlifting have a different functionality than running shoes, which force your feet to lift slightly,” says Lauren Martin, a certified group fitness instructor in Colorado.
Her advice? Look for a dedicated training shoe that’s breathable and offers light support. You don’t want a shoe with a rocker, which is the curved sole (like a smile) often found on running shoes. Instead, opt for a trainer with a flat sole that helps you grip the floor with your entire foot. “The flatter your feet are to the ground, the more likely you are to maintain stability while you lift,” Martin says. Your fitness kicks will also be more flexible than a running shoe, because you’ll need them to handle a larger range of movement.
Of course, one size doesn’t fit all and that’s especially true in footwear. That’s why we’ve rounded up 10 of the best lifting shoes for the gym, sourced from various fitness professionals around the country. We’ve even included a few lifting-specific shoes, designed to power you up under heavy Olympic lifts such as the snatch or clean and jerk.
No matter what your workout routine calls for, we’ve got a shoe that will help you hit those goals.
“These are my favorites for teaching body pump classes,” says Martin. Nano advocates rave about the wider toe box that minimizes squished toes. “It’s good for letting those toes stabilize without constraining them,” says Paige Kumpf, a certified personal trainer and online coach. The Nanos also offer a durable upper that won’t fray during rope climbs, as well as a little bit of forefoot padding to cushion the blows in a HIIT class.
If you need to spread your toes more than a toe box allows, consider the KMD Evos. With a mere 6 millimeters of EVA foam beneath your feet, these FiveFingers are as close to the ground as you can get without going barefoot, providing plenty of stability while gripping heavy loads. But the grippy outsole still prevents sliding and the quick-lace system makes it easy to ensure a precise fit. “FiveFingers have become essential to me because they allow me to strengthen my feet despite my plantar fasciitis,” says Trey Sermon, running back for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Designed by the muscle himself, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the Project Rock 5s are as solid as the man behind the shoe. Wide feet are welcome but the sneakers don’t feel sloppy. That’s because Under Armour constructed them with a heel-to-midfoot strap that locks down your heel while still giving your forefoot full wiggle room. The cushy ankle collar gives the perception of coziness, but there is still plenty of ground feel when you’re driving those feet into the floor. “These are super comfortable, which is hard to find with fitness-focused shoes,” says Connor Saeli, co-founder of fitness hydration company Waterboy.
There’s no bulk or solidity with the Primal 2 sneakers. Instead, think minimalism and flexibility; these shoes are the lightest in this roundup. “I tend to wear these when I have more unilateral lower body movements, as that typically requires more plantar flexion,” says Kumpf. Still, the wider fit combines with the zero-drop design to create a stable lifting platform. Oh, and they’re vegan-friendly — including the laces and the glue — so you don’t need to worry about animal cruelty.
I’ve been a weightlifter and gym rat for close to 15 years, with a chunk of that time spent as a CrossFit coach. These days, I’m wearing the Floral Trainers with their low stack height and supreme ground feel. NoBull uses a burly abrasion-resistant fabric that tolerates major abuse in the gym, but it also means these sneakers can feel a bit restrictive at first. But let’s be real: I’m in it for the floral pattern on the outsole.
Similar to the Vibram FiveFingers, the Prio Neo sneakers offer more flexibility and a minimalist feel compared to the other shoes on this list. They aren’t as light as the Primal 2 or FiveFingers, but they still offer tons of ground feel and grippy traction on slick gym surfaces. “These are great for lifting and training on the gym floor — and for everyday use,” says Martin. If you’re someone who bounces between Body Pump classes and a squat rack, consider the Prio Neo.
We know we said not to lift in running shoes, but the HFS aren’t your typical running sneaker. Unlike most traditional running kicks, these trainers are inspired by huarache sandals and still boast the zero-drop and wide-footed fit that Xero is known for. But the super-grippy rubber outsole adds extra traction and versatility for your workouts. “I feel like I’m connected with the ground but still protected,” says Bryan Boorstein, cofounder of Paragon Training Methods. “It’s also great for walking and running because if you heel strike, you can correct course.”
If you’re more interested in pumping heavy iron than doing anything else at the gym, you’ll want to snag yourself a proper pair of lifting shoes such as the Romaleos. Unlike training shoes built to multitask, the Romaleos have an intentionally elevated heel and a 20mm heel-to-toe drop with a secured midfoot strap designed to support your hefty lifting mechanics. “I wear [the Romaleos] when we do snatch work, clean and jerks, squats, anything that is specific to Olympic lifting,” says Katie Levy, a CrossFit and weightlifting competitor and CF-OL1 certified coach at Kulshan Athletics. “They have a wide base, minimal flex and I feel like I’m glued to the platform.”
If you thought TYR only made swimming gear, think again. The brand’s new L-1 Lifters have a 21mm heel-to-toe drop, so a smidge more than what you’ll find in the Romaleos. While both pairs of lifters have a wider platform, the L-1 design is better for wider feet, with a generous toe box that allows for plenty of toe splay. “It’s a much more natural movement of your foot, which further aids in stability throughout your lift,” says Heather Hart, cofounder of Hart Strength and Endurance.