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There are so many types of gym shoes out there, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Now, before I dive into the nuances of gym shoes – if you are someone who has just bought a brand new fancy pair of shoes for the gym, and after reading this you realize your purchase was suboptimal despite all the money, I’m sorry in advance!

If you’ve been working hard in the gym in the midst of this mid/post pandemic era (maybe you’ve been running, taking classes or crushing the weights) yet you’ve been in pain or developed shin splints, you might’ve wondered whether or not your shoes were cut out for the job. Or maybe you’ve spent enough time hibernating, and now the sun is out and the restrictions are lifting so it’s time to get back at it…and you want a swanky new pair of shoes that work well in the gym too.

Certain shoes are definitely better than others for different types of exercises such as lifting, plyometrics, machine cardio or outdoor cardio. Specifically, there are three main types of shoes gym-goers should be aware of and consider wearing accordingly.

If new shoes aren’t in the budget right now, no worries. You should still be able to learn tips here that’ll help you in the gym (including applying the shoes you already have to specific activities) and better prepare you for a future purchase. If you’re thinking, “Ash I don’t care what’s on my feet”, just know that gaining this understanding will help you reduce risk of long-term knee and ankle soreness and increase performance! If you still don’t care, have a great day! I’ll see you on the next blog.

So here are the three kinds of shoes to note:

#1: Cross-training shoes
#2: Lifting shoes
#3: Running shoes

#1: Cross-training shoes

Used for: lifting weights (general strength, hypertrophy training) and all cardio besides distance running

Characteristics: mostly flat sole but cushioned

Cross-training shoes are great for pretty much anything you’ll do in the gym (besides treadmill running) because they’re flat enough for your feet to properly grip the ground while strength training and performing compound lifts, yet cushioned enough that when you land on them, they’re forgiving on your joints. 

#2: Lifting shoes

Used for: lifting weights, powerlifting/maximal weight lifting

Characteristics: flat with very little cushioning

When you’re lifting weights – especially heavy ones – you want your feet to be able to grip the ground – meaning you should be pushing your big toes into the ground and pressing your pinky toes down to stabilize. That’s only possible to do in shoes that are relatively flat and don’t have much cushioning.

For gym days when you’re lifting only, you could head to the gym in flat shoes like Converse, Vans or any kind of plimsole. If you don’t have flat sneakers and don’t want to buy them, you could take your shoes off and wear socks for some of your stationary compound lifts. That’s what I do, because it provides the ultimate grip.

You definitely don’t, however, want to spend an extended span of time lifting in running shoes. They’re fine to use to get started with strength training but long term, they aren’t the best for stability and alignment. Think about this – running shoes are designed to absorb the force you apply into the ground but in exercises like squats and deadlifts, the idea is to develop the maximal amount of force you can produce, pushing into the ground to lift the load. Therefore, particularly cushioned running shoes could be inhibiting the amount you can lift. 

#3: Running shoes

Used for: treadmill running and long distance running.

Characteristics: light, minimal heel height, some cushioning, wide toe area (enough to wiggle your toes), neutral (meaning no stability or control mechanisms that change how your foot moves)

Running for distance is a different beast because you’ve got to take into consideration what kind of shoes promote a healthy gait and allow your foot to move in a natural way. When you’re distance running, you definitely want specific running shoes rather than cross-training or lifting ones.

There’s a lot of information out there about the best types of shoes for running, yet recent research shows that the best running shoes have the five qualities listed above.

If you’re really serious about running and logging more than a few miles at a time, head to a running shop to get specialized shoe advice.


Finding the appropriate shoe for you is important, just as a worker needs the right tool for the job to do their best work. Different shoes are designed for different things. If you’re doing a little bit of everything, cross training shoes are for you, mostly flat sole for the stability in your heavy lifting but cushioned enough that in your dynamic movements you have some protection against impact. If you’re a heavy lifter, flat lifting shoes are for you, limiting the amount of space between your foot and the ground, maximizing stability, and allowing you a hard solid surface for you to push into. If you’re a runner, running shoes it is! Running shoes are designed specifically to absorb the repetitious movement that comes with long distance running.