Odds are that you own more than one outfit; after all, you’d never wear a suit and tie to a tailgate, or a T-shirt and jeans to an important client meeting. But we’re also willing to bet that you have only one pair of shoes in your gym bag. Here’s why that’s a problem: What you put on your feet can determine how fast you see results, and when it comes to training, one size doesn’t fit all. To maximize your performance and optimize your gains, you need to match your shoes to your workout.
Pick the Right Tool for the Job If you’re doing Body Beast in your living room, you probably don’t want a pair of high-top basketball shoes, which can restrict ankle mobility and reduce range of motion. Likewise, you won’t do yourself any favors by wearing running shoes (their elevated heels can sap power and strength). Instead, invest in a pair of flatter-soled athletic shoes.
“For Beachbody programs, court shoes are best because they’re made to support multi-directional movement, whereas running shoes are only designed for moving forward,” says Beachbody Vice President of Fitness and Nutrition Steve Edwards. “Cross-training shoes also work well.”
Ideally, you’ll have a different pair of shoes for each type of exercise you do (basketball, running, strength training, etc.). “But unless you have an injury, you should never allow a lack of the ‘right’ shoes to prevent you from working out,” Edwards says. Bottom line: If you don’t have enough dough to expand your training shoe quiver, sweat in whatever you have.
Bare Your Sole Another option: Go barefoot. “First-time exercisers should generally wear shoes, but once your feet become strong, it can make sense to train barefoot, especially if you’re doing non-explosive training,” says Edwards.
Here’s why: The soles of your feet are packed with microscopic sensors called “proprioceptors,” which provide feedback about joint angle, muscle length and tension, and body position and alignment. Optimizing that feedback by putting your feet in direct contact with the ground can boost muscle activation, mobility, and coordination, ultimately leading to greater gains in strength, stamina, and performance. “Barefoot training became popular on the heels of the exact opposite craze, in which people were wearing over-supportive shoes that actually made their feet weaker,” says Edwards.
If you’ve never trained barefoot before, begin with low-intensity activities to help your muscles, joints, and connective tissues warm up to the idea. “Yoga and Pilates are good places to start,” says Edwards, adding that as your feet become stronger, you can build up to more demanding exercises and workouts. “While your feet can get strong enough to handle plyometric (ballistic) training, I would rarely recommend doing it barefoot.” The increased risk of injury isn’t worth the potential gains.
Know Your Tread Life The life cycle of running shoes depends on a number of factors, including workout intensity and frequency, as well as gait and body type. But as a general rule, you should replace them every six months or 500 miles, whichever comes first. Wait any longer, and your risk of knee and ankle injuries increases as your shoes’ shock absorption and stability control deteriorate beyond safe levels.
As for indoor training shoes, pay close attention to your tread. Over time, the rubber on the bottom of your outsoles — where your shoes make contact with the ground — will wear away much like the treads on your car’s tires. That can ultimately translate into reduced traction and stability, and an increased risk of injury. “Flimsy shoes will also blow apart on the sides, especially in programs like P90X and INSANITY MAX:30, which have a ton of explosive lateral movements,” says Edwards. Investing a bit more money in footwear upfront can lead to a stronger, fitter body down the road.