Should you squat in running shoes?
It is fully understandable as to why so many ‘gym goers’ choose running shoes while lifting in the weight room.
There is this idea that running shoes are used for sports, so they must automatically be suitable for exercises like the barbell squat.
Sorry to burst your bubble if you swear by running shoes, but this could not be further from the truth.
Based on this whole running shoe and lifting notion, we have put together a short article discussing;
What Are Running Shoes?
We all know what a running shoe looks like. Heck, I even see people wearing running shoes as a fashion statement with their one-piece tracksuit.
As the name suggests, running shoes are designed for running. And, I hope that was not too much of a surprise.
Jokes aside, the modern-day running shoes’ heel arch, shape, and structure are designed to take continuous back-and-forth action, as a runner would roll on the heel and off the front of the foot.
The flexible and spongy running shoe soles are designed to absorb the shock of continuous running strides.
In turn, taking a lot of the pressure off the body (i.e., muscles, joints, tendons, and bones) may prevent overuse injury.
Find out more about the 12 Best Deadlift Shoes (2023)
5 Reasons Why You Should NOT Squat in Running Shoes
We are aware that there are dozens of reasons for why running shoes should not be the first choice for squats. However, we have only included our top 3. These are based on our observations in the gym and the clients that we have worked with.
These points include;
- Loss of Force Production
- Reduced Foot Stability & Balance
- Influences Others To Squat In Running Shoes
- Poor Proprioceptive Feedback
- Lack of Squat Depth
1. Loss of Force Production
The running shoe is designed to absorb the shock and impact while running, which reduces the risk of foot and joint injury (1).
Now when we look at an exercise like the barbell squat, the intention is to keep the force around the movement and the working muscles.
By wearing running shoes, you are essentially taking the tension away from the lift and losing it through the cushioning of the shoes.
In the longer term, this would probably not be as productive for muscle and strength gains, as well as the proper squat movement pattern.
A study by Sinclair et al. (2) looked at how footwear affected muscle activation during the barbell back squat at 70% intensity.
The footwear that was compared was running shoes and barefoot lifting.
The muscles that the researchers wired up to the EMG (muscle activation detector) were the rectus femoris (deep center quadriceps), gastrocnemius (calf), erector spinae (lower back), and bicep femoris (inner hamstring)
The EMG system indicated that barefoot lifting activated more muscle overall.
Even though the running shoes were absorbing a lot of the energy from the squat we can not hide the fact that they were associated with more depth and emphasis on the rectus femoris from the heel lift.
2. Reduced Foot Stability & Balance
It only makes sense, that from the spongy soles of the running shoes, a lifter would have a lot less balance and stability compared to squat shoes or even barefoot (1).
The spongy sole can mess up the ability to plantarflex (press the ball of the feet onto the ground) on the way up or dorsiflex (put weight onto the heels) on the way down (1). This shift in mechanics adds an element of injury risk from losing balance and falling over.
Just think about it, imagine squatting on a floor made of a sponge, your feet would literally cave in. With the running shoe, you just have a spongy object between the foot and the ground.
3. Influences Others to Squat in Running Shoes
When relatively new ‘gym goers’ see other lifters in running shoes, it becomes more acceptable. It is our job at musclelead.com to break this chain of passive miss information.
Some of you might be reading this point and thinking really? But it is as valid as any other point that we have highlighted.
If I said that I never fell into this trap, I would be lying. When I first started the gym, a lot of the notions that I picked up were influenced by the other lifters in the gym.
I lifted in running shoes, I wore a belt throughout the workout, I wore a bin liner while working out, and the list goes on.
So if you have read and understood this article, remember that you can help others by squatting inappropriate footwear and spreading a positive message.
4. Poor Proprioceptive Feedback
Proprioception is essentially one of your senses that allows you to interpret the movement, location, and action of parts of your body. Some lifters and runners call it the sixth sense as it allows you to control the force production.
For lifters who deadlift and squat, proprioception allows you to feel a connection to the ground.
Specifically, lifters feel more stable when they can sense the ground with their feed. Running shoes prevent some lifters from this sense due to the height above the ground.
For runners, proprioception can help with the ground elevation and terrain.
5. Lack of Squat Depth
Due to the lack of proprioception, many lifters experience poor squat depth when at the bottom of the movement.
Now this point can vary according to the individual. For instance, some lifters may find that the raised heel in running shoes allows better form due to poor ankle mobility.
However, for the most part the raised heel in running shoes does not provide significant height to increase squat depth.
Alternatives to Running Shoes
The different types of footwear that we would see as fit for purpose would be either something that has a solid sole and heel lift or flat with a thin sole.
We have included;
- Weight Lifting Shoes
- Wrestling Shoes Or Barefoot
1. Weight-Lifting Shoes
In my opinion, the best alternative is the weight lifting shoes, but wait there! Let me explain to you why.
Firstly, the weighting shoe has a solid sole. This is designed to put all of the pressure on the feet and create as much ground reaction force as possible, which then puts all of the emphasis on the lift and working muscles(1).
Secondly, the weightlifting shoe has a raised heel, which puts the ankle into a pre-plantarflexed position.
This forces a deeper squat with a more upright torso position, placing more emphasis on the knee extensors (quadriceps) as opposed to the posterior chain muscles (lower back, glutes, claves).
2. Wrestling Shoes or Barefoot
I have put all three of these into the same category because they all share one common aspect, they are all flat and make you press off the ground.
Flat shoes force more pressure onto ankle dorsiflexion (place weight on heels) while squatting down, which shifts the whole mechanics of the movement (3).
You would expect more forward torso lean and a more closed hip position, so basically your butt would be pushing further backward (3).
This type of movement puts a lot of attention on the muscles of the posterior chain like the lower back, glutes, and calf muscles (3).
Over the longer term, the stretched ankle position of this movement may improve ankle flexibility and mobility.
Are Wrestling Shoes Good For Lifting? Yes, Here’s Why
I think it is safe to say that running shoes have a structure that fits the purpose of running but should not be a choice for squats.
Running shoes generally absorb the force of the squat, along with reducing stability and balance.
Pretty bad for squats right?
To make things worse, when other new ‘gym goers’ see you performing squats in running shoes, in their minds it becomes acceptable.
You could opt for the heel-lifted weightlifting shoe that allows a lifter to get more squat range, optimize force production and emphasize the quadriceps from the torso position.
Depending on your goal, you may also want to try flat shoes, that also help produce good squat forces, as well as improve ankle mobility, and work the posterior chain muscles more.
Frequently Asked Questions
I would have to say that it is possible from their heel lift, but by no means is this optimal for the loss of energy and balance.
Well, they might be for performing the strongest squat, but flats will help with ankle flexibility as well as building lower back, glutes, and calf muscles.
Yes, you can, but remember vans are flat shoes. As we covered, flats put more effort around the ankle dorsiflexion, which will then shift the squat mechanics to a more forward lean and work the muscles of the posterior chain.
To get the best out of your squat shows I would recommend buying some that are a snug fit.
Certainly not running shoes! Personally, I’d go for some flats as they emphasize the muscles around the butt and lower back.
- Sato, K., Forenbaugh, D., Haydock, D.S. ‘Kinematic changes using weightlifting shoes on barbell back squat’ The Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2012; 26 (1): 28–33
- Sinclair, J., McCarthy, D., Bentley, I., et al. ‘The influence of different footwear on 3-D kinematics and muscle activation during the barbell back squat in males’ European Journal Of Sport Science. 2014; 15 (7): 583–590
- Sato, K., Forenbaugh, D., Haydock, D.S., et al. ‘Comparison of back squat kinematics between barefoot and shoe conditions’ International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. 2013; 8(3): 571–578