What are the best shoes for kettlebell training?
A regular question in my kettlebell training group is about shoes and kettlebell training, whether to wear shoes or not, or what shoes are best to wear for kettlebell training not to be confused with the sport (GS), and the majority of people will answer “no shoes” apart from the GS peeps.
I’m not here to convert anyone in what I believe is the best for the body and performance, I know that everyone has their own beliefs and opinions, and that’s perfectly fine. Second, I understand how the majority of people think that shoes are good, how it’s unusual to not wear them, I understand that some people can’t see the benefits of not wearing shoes. I also know there is no use in trying to explain it to them, they need to do their own research and make up their own mind.
Shoes encourage muscles to relax which
cause them to weaken over time.
For kettlebell training I highly recommend to not wear shoes or shoes that have a thin sole and wide shoe box. Let’s dab a bit more into GS and throw some ideas and opinions around.
Am I trying to convert people?
I’m not trying to convert anyone, if you like wearing shoes, wear shoes, it’s your body. But as a kettlebell coach I see it as my responsibility to educate. I explain why I train without shoes to all the people I work with, I explain the benefits and why shoes are generally no good, then I give them the option to take their shoes off or leave them on, it’s their choice.
Let me be clear, some of the following is a belief based on my own analysis plus common sense, and as it is with any belief, I could be completely wrong, I’m ok with being wrong, prove me wrong with hard facts. Until that happens, I believe the following.
“I believe GS should allow competition with no shoes and I believe that the performance will increase for those wearing no shoes.”
My analysis and reasoning
Let’s take the Jerk as an example, as it seems that a small percentage of people actually agree on no shoes, but not for Jerks (the exercise).
When the heel comes off the ground to push the kettlebell into the air, the ball of the foot remains connected longer without shoes, thus being able to produce more power, and the toes are utilized for balance. With shoes, due to the stiffness of the sole, the ball of the foot comes sooner off the ground as the heels are lifted.
When receiving the kettlebell in the drop, one can lift the heels off the ground with just the ball of the feet remaining connected while spreading the toes to provide better balance.
No matter how flexible the sole of the shoe, no sole is as flexible as no shoe, now, think about how the heel comes off the ground during the lift, with no shoes it will allow the foot to bent easier, allowing more force to be generated through longer connection from part of the foot to the surface, thus generating more power for longer (even though we’re talking milliseconds).
If people are required to compete in shoes, they’ll more than likely also train in shoes, when training in shoes, no matter what type of conventional shoes, your feet suffer and become weaker. Your calves become weaker (if wearing sneakers) and your toes do not spread like they should for grounding.
GS is as much a mental game as it is a physical game, add the uncomfortable feeling of shoes to the mix and you’re more than likely to give into to the mental game first.
“The long term poundages on your feet”, but isn’t that the same as with barefoot running, you adjust your technique? Do we need to slam our heels like we just don’t care, or is there actually a possibility we can jerk high reps with a controlled return to the ground?
What’s so bad about shoes?
They cramp your toes together, remove or limit the use of them, make your feet weak by limiting the movement and absorbing impact/resistance that would normally make your feet stronger.
Is ‘no shoes stronger feet’ a fact and has scientific research been done?
Do shoes squash your toes and remove the ability to spread and use them?
Do shoes make your feet weaker overall?
Does your power transfer directly into the ground without shoes?
Has scientific research been done about performance on the Jerk and shoes or is it based on belief?
Why are the soles of weightlifting shoes so flat and not squishy like runners? The answer is to take away as much material between your feet and the ground as possible, people know this.
What functionality does that leave the shoe with? Perhaps the squishing together of the feet? Maybe the lifted heel? Let’s say that the lifting of the heel is a benefit, I don’t know which one, but let’s say it is, common sense would suggest that all the other benefits of no shoes outweigh the benefits of wearing shoes.
Could it be that shoes in GS are simply promoted because there are so many people making money with kettlebell shoes, could it be because it’s just ingrained in the sport? People are so used to it, it’s unusual to not wear shoes and they just don’t question it. Who knows.
Then there are people who say “I have tried without shoes”, but are those people who wear shoes all the time and just took them off to “try” or are these people who hardly ever wear shoes? Because if they’re not, well, then their feet are probably weak and not used to ‘no shoes’ and might make their initial performance worse.
It’s a shame, cause I love competition, but one day, one day there will be a new kettlebell sport with no shoes, hell, even no shirt if the participant wants it. I think there are more people who feel like this but are too scared to speak up and being shunned.
To me it all makes so much sense, it’s one of these things where you go “can’t you see it, can’t you see how the human body was made, and what negative impact shoes have on strength, flexibility and shape of your feet?”.
I’ve received some wonderful feedback, exactly the type of feedback I’ve been looking for. The heel slam during the under squat with heavy weight is a problem, the sole of the shoe provides some relief. My question is, can you:
- reduce the impact/slam with going toe, ball, heel? Let the calves do the work.
- under squat faster and land later? Let the legs take the impact rather than the heel.
You’re so close-minded!
But I’m not, I’m open to your facts and believes, post it below. I’m sure that due to my inexperience in GS I have missed some things, go on, post it below. If you’re pro ‘no shoes’ and see some facts I have missed, post them below.
Let’s get a bit more generic rather than just talking about shoes for sport.
(Left) (B) An adult foot that has never worn shoes and shows natural spread toes, (Right) (A) Foot of a boy who has worn shoes for just a few weeks and already shows inward turned toes.
“What?! No shoes? You must be a hippy” not wearing shoes just doesn’t resonate with some people, and I fully understand this, as I was once looking at other people with no shoes the same way.
Until I got to a stage in my life where I wasn’t concerned with what people thought about me, I wasn’t concerned with what the ‘in fashion’ was, I was more concerned with how I felt and the effects on my overall well-being. I know that shoes never made me feel good, with the right pair of shoes I’d be lucky if I hardly felt them, but it never matched the freedom my feet felt without shoes.
Have you experienced any of the following?
- hot feet
- sweaty feet
- painful arches
- squashed toes
- plantar fasciitis
- fallen arches
- athletes foot
- toenails cutting into your other toes
- joint stiffness
- sprained ankle
- knee pain
Let me clear something up, when I say no shoes, you might be picturing some hobo with filthy clothes, black cracked feet, and long toenails, but no.
Here’s what no shoes mean to me:
- no shoes on in the house EVER, they stop at the door, bare feet or flip flops in the house only, also keeps it nice and clean, no dragging in dog shit onto the carpet and other filthy crap from outside.
- no shoes in the car, yeah I know, it’s against the law in some places, stuff them, I have more problems finding the pedals with my shoes on and potentially get stuck to something with shoes on.
- no shoes in the gym, unless I’m sprinting long distance or on a rough surface.
- when I go hiking up mountains, it really depends on the terrain and heat, if possible, I wear no shoes, the second choice is flip flops, third is Vibram five finger shoes and last is wearing shoes.
- when I go out, the first choice is flip flops, second is Vibram five finger shoes, and last is wearing shoes.
As for fancy parties, the last time I went to a fancy party would be two years ago, I simply don’t do parties that require a suit in which my nuts are squashed, the shirt is so tight that it looks like I got ILS (invisible lat syndrome), I only go to places where I can dress and feel free.
Since I stopped wearing shoes
- no stinky feet
- no hot feet
- no pain in the feet
- my feet are a lot stronger
- I have not sprained my ankle
- my feet are a lot more agile
- stronger feeling achilles tendon
- my feet look nice
- stronger calves
- my toes have spread apart more, hence better grip and stability
- improved balance and proprioception
No shoes, stronger calves?
How does not wearing shoes give you stronger calves? If you wear shoes you will get accustomed to the shoes taking the impact for you when landing from a jump (for example), you will land flat-footed or close to flat-footed, if you wear no shoes you will stick out the balls of your feet, land on those first, let them take the impact which is controlled by the calves, and eventually land on your heels.
One last fact, years ago when I had many issues with my feet it was recommended to me to wear insoles/orthotics for the plantar fasciitis and pronation, ooh my what an uncomfortable period of time that was walking on those orthotics, and what an expense for some plastic. It did absolutely nothing for me, orthotics are the biggest waste of money ever, they don’t get to the root cause of things, which is a weakness. Since I started walking without shoes, all those problems went and never returned.
Here’s where it ends, most of the GS stuff I touched upon is based on beliefs, common sense and ingrained customs, until the day that research is done with a large test group of similar strength, endurance, and mental toughness, it’s all just talk and you decide what you believe and use.
I said this many years ago and will keep saying it:
shoes are for fashion
<whispering_voice> and some high impact stuff</whispering_voice>
PS. I’m neither Hardstyle nor GS, I prefer not to fit in a box, I’m a kettlebell fanatic and see anyone who trains with a kettlebell as part of the family.
References and other links:
- A great article I recently came across after more heated debates in the group https://www.chroniclesofstrength.com/benefits-of-barefoot-kettlebell-swings/
- School children with no shoes do better
- Sport Science
- A new article I wrote
Best shoes in the world