Please, please don't go barefoot.
Trying a new workout can be a great way to refresh your routine and engage muscles in your body that may not be as, well, woke. Take weight lifting, for example: Have you ever come across a televised weight lifting competition and thought to yourself, "That looks cool, but better leave it to the professionals"? Weight lifting may seem like a hardcore activity that you can’t just wade into, but it actually doesn't need to be scary or intimidating, and it’s never too late to dive right in by taking a strength-training class or working with a coach.
So, first things first. What gear do you need? Although some believe in weight lifting barefoot, Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a New York-based podiatric physician and Fellow at the American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons, tells us you should always wear shoes during this activity. "I do not believe barefoot lifting is safe or sanitary," she says. While Dr. Sutera acknowledges that opting for a very thin, minimalist shoe would allow the foot and toe muscles to grip the ground and could provide good stability, she believes weight-lifting shoes are ultimately a safer, more stable choice. "Specific shoes for specific activities are important for injury prevention and better performance," she tells us.
The best shoes for weight training—especially when it comes to doing squats and lunges—have a flat sole, like a skate or wrestling shoe, says Joseph Ciotola, MD, a Maryland-based orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center. Selecting one that shifts the heel too far upward could put pressure on the front of the knee, he explains, which is a no-no. "That can put a lot of stress on the cartilage behind your knee cap, so it’s better to do squats and lunges and weight training, things like that, in a flat sole shoe," Dr. Ciotola says.
What you don't want in a weight-lifting shoe is a feature that you often look for in running shoes: tons of plush, supportive cushioning. "Shoes that are too cushioned like running shoes would not be suitable [for weight lifting]," says Paul Langer, DPM, a podiatrist from Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minnesota. To minimize risk of injury, weight-lifting shoes should be a flat, less-cushioned style that mimics the natural shape of the foot, and has at most a very slight heel.
Below, six top picks from the experts.