You Make the Call #4: Exercise Footwear

You Make the Call is a series of posts aimed at answering real-life situations with various possible solutions ranging from bad to better to best. You may remember this series of commercials from the 1980s NFL TV broadcasts.


You have decided to begin an exercise routine and be more active in general. You have an exercise program. You join a gym or buy some equipment (kettlebells!) for your home. You already have some tee shirts and shorts handy. You are ready to go except for footwear. Can you use the old shoes in your garage that you lounge around in? If you buy new exercise footwear, what do you buy? YOU MAKE THE CALL!

Exercise Footwear

Option 1: The Bad Idea.

You go with the old “running” shoes you already have. You reason that the ones you have are fine. You never really exercised in them so they aren’t worn out. You also figure there is no reason to spend money on shoes since they are all the same.

Why is this a bad idea? First, you miscalculated the importance of footwear. Second, you are using running shoes, which are bullsh*t.

Option 2: The Other Bad Idea.

You go to your closest store, find the most puffy cushioned running shoes you can buy with a moderate price, and buy them. You find ones that look cool and are comfortable from a major brand. You get running shoes because everyone wears them and you assume you can use them for just about anything else too.

Why is this a bad idea? Once again you miscalculated on the kind of shoes you need but at least you cared enough to spend some cash on footwear, which shows at least you place some level of importance in them.

Option 3: The Better Idea.

Get some minimalist shoes and get to training! You do your research, find a good quality minimalist shoe like ZAP recommends on MISSION: Capable (I hear he knows a lot about shoes). You get some Reebok CrossFit Nanos or some Inov-8s. You wear them immediately for all things all the time.

Why isn’t this the best idea? If you take this route, you understand that footwear is important. You understand minimalist footwear is the way to go for most people in most situations. Where you went wrong is in not transitioning to the minimalist footwear and also in wearing the shoes all the time.

Option 4: The Best Idea.

Get some high quality minimalist shoes, transition to them slowly, and go barefoot as often as possible. This is the best course of action because it values footwear yet also shows you understand you have been spending probably decades in bad shoes, so going to zero drop shoes too fast may result in pain/injury. It also shows you understand that you should seek to reduce the amount of time you are spending in shoes as this is where you will develop strong feet.

My recommendations for most people involved in a diverse exercise program (lifting weights, jumping, running, cycling, gymnastics, etc.) would be Reebok CrossFit Nanos (Men’s & Women’s) or Inov-8 F-lite 235s (Men’s & Women’s). Both of these shoes are flat, nearly indestructible, and versatile. You can run in them just as easily as you can squat heavy in them. You may like one of these more than the other or get a good sale price, so I offer up two solid options. Again though, I recommend not wearing shoes as often as possible (gym, walking, around the house, etc.). Strong feet set the foundation for the rest of the body!

Pro Tip: If you can find an earlier version of the Nanos, you would be OK with them. You can usually find them at a discount. I would say the 3, 4, and 5s are very similar. Reebok refined the shoes a lot for the first three versions, not as much over the last few in my opinion.

My Footwear Situation

I have the 1st, 2nd, and 4th generations of Nanos. The 2s are my favorite for some reason. I wear all of them regularly (4s for workouts at work and 1s/2s for walks or going to the store). I have Inov-8 F-Lite 195s and Road-X Lite 155s. My favorite all-time shoe is the Road-X 155, so much so that I bought a second pair a few months ago after I wore my other ones into the ground. They are not as durable as the Nanos though, so I wear my 155s only when I will be running. They are the lightest shoe I have ever worn and wouldn’t recommend them to you unless you are far transitioned into minimalist shoe. It is basically like not wearing a shoe; they are racing flats. I also have two pairs of Vibram Fivefingers. I wear those on walks as well. A lot of CrossFitters used to wear Chuck Taylor’s. 5 years ago there weren’t many/any good flat shoes, so this made sense. But there are a lot more and better options now. These aren’t bad though if you can’t afford a more expensive shoe. I wear Chuck’s and Van’s for my casual wear since they are flat. Truth be told, for the majority of the workouts I do at home, I go barefoot. I can’t go without shoes at work as I am in a uniform, but I would if I could.

Final comment: I highly recommend avoiding lifting shoes (with a raised heel) unless you are a competitive athlete trying to perform at a high level. This kind of shoe increases your range of motion by raising the heel, letting you get lower in the squat easier and it will let you use more weight. This is useful if you are competing in these lifts, but for 99% of people, this shoe just masks poor mobility and doesn’t allow you to improve it. I see a lot of CrossFit athletes get these and wear them all the time, which is terrible. I wouldn’t even buy these shoes unless I was going to compete in Olympic lifting. If you are a CrossFitter or do the Oly lifts, just lift in good stable shoes. You do not need these.

QUESTION: What are your favorite shoes to train in? Why? Post thoughts to comments.

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