by Daniel Hubbard M.Ed.
When clients come into the Hubbard Training Systems’ facility they usually are wearing some sort of traditional running shoe. Sometimes, they will be wearing special, extra-thick soled walking shoes, like Sketcher Shape-Ups. I immediately tell them that that’s “a poor choice for strength training.” Minimum sole shoes, not traditional running shoes, are your best choice for strength training and improving the strength and stability of your lower legs and feet.
As its name implies, minimum sole shoes have thinner soles than traditional athletic shoes, which offer less cushion, no arch support, and are very flexible. This description may appear to be undesirable, but with proper training, this type of shoe is actually ideal. Minimum sole shoes are one step away from being barefoot. Some other popular types of minimum sole shoes are:
• New Balance Minimus
• Merrell Barefoot
• Nike Frees
• Vibram Five Fingers
• Vivo Barefoot
So, why should you use minimum sole shoes for strength training?
Though some manufacturers often design and sell minimum sole shoes as running shoes, I would not recommend running in these shoes until you’ve conditioned the muscles and joints of your lower legs for many months, walking and strength training in them first. The muscles absorb significantly greater forces.
Now, here are three reasons why minimum sole shoes work best for strength training:
- Less cushion between your foot and the ground. For exercises during which you really need a solid connection to the ground (e.g., squatting, lunging, dead-lifting, etc.), extra cushion adds more instability. Minimum sole shoes provide a more stable surface and a better feel of the ground with your feet (which have almost as many nerve endings as your hands).
- Lower heel. Traditional running shoes can have an elevated heel relative to the front of the shoe. This elevation shifts more force to your knees and to the front of your feet during most movements. A minimum sole’s shoe heel is not elevated; therefore, it is easier to “root to the floor” with your heel. This “rooting” shifts more force to your heels and hips, thus improving lifting biomechanics.
- More toe splay. With traditional shoes, your toes get squished together (especially when the elevated heel pushes all the pressure on the toes). Minimum sole shoes (such as the Vibram Fivefingers with their individual toe pockets) allow for more toe splay (slight spreading apart), which increases stability.
Not only do minimum sole shoes enhance stability and improve your biomechanics during strength training, they also allow the muscles in the feet and lower leg to strengthen. If you’ve been relying on thick soles and arch support your entire life, chances are good that the muscles in your feet and lower legs are very weak. Furthermore, you’ve likely had lots of aches and pains after exercising. Walking and strength training in minimum soled shoes can be an effective way to strengthen these muscles and possibly alleviate some of the common aches and pains of the feet and lower legs. Of course, if you experience any continuing or new foot pain, please consult with your medical professional.
In the meantime, if you are doing or planning to do strength training, check out a pair of minimum soled shoes. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good you’ll feel … and your body will thank you too!