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Over the last few years, a debate has been raging in the fitness community about shoes—or the lack thereof.
Zero-dropped: A fancy way of saying that a shoe is totally flat underfoot, or that the heel drop is 0. Who they're for: People who've had success with what they know and don't get what all the fuss is about. Coaches have been using, and advocating, the All-Star for all types of training since World War II and before.
The downside: They're also rather heavy and can feel a bit clunky in any athletic setting involving jumping, sprinting, cutting, or sustained running. Toss your Adidas Sambas, Nike Cortez's, wrestling shoes, Vans, Puma H-Streets, and Asics Onitsuka Tigers in this bin. Arnold and other classic bodybuilders were often seen lifting either barefoot or in thongs, but the sandal-prone among us have more choices today.
Luna Sandals, created by "Barefoot Ted" McDonald, were one of the first new huaraches on the scene after "Born to Run," and their Venado model is a surprisingly solid option if your gym allows exposed toes.
New Balance's 4 mm heel drop Minimus line has rapidly earned a devoted following for its versatility and glove-like fit since its launch in 2010.
The MX20V3 is the new flagship training model, with a tougher and less flexible rubber sole than any other Minimus shoe, while still staying remarkably lightweight. A popular kick among CrossFitters, the F-Lite 195 features a 3-mm heel drop and extremely flexible upper. The F-Lite 195 offers a low and stable platform for compound lifts, but it doesn't provide much in the way of ground feedback.
Reebok created and has marketed the Nano specifically as a CrossFit shoe, not as a minimalist or training shoe.
Who they're for: Devoted free-weight lifters or powerlifters looking to get as close to the ground as possible, while still wearing something that functions like a normal shoe for conditioning work or general wear. This light-but-rugged kick features an extremely roomy toe box, protective rubber toe bumper, glove-like mesh upper, zero heel drop, minimal cushioning, and a sticky Vibram rubber sole.
The Vibram sole provides great traction, which helps the wearer maintain ground control during explosive or tight movements like lateral bounds and quick-stop sprints. Ultimately, if you love minimalist shoes but aren't interested in the individual toe-pockets of Vibram FiveFingers, the Hi-Rez could be your gym-shoe dream. The Evo, an early zero-drop shoe by the British company Vivobarefoot, is incredibly wide and flexible, with unique textured sole that is surprisingly tough and long-lasting for a minimalist shoe. The price of Vivobarefoot sneakers is a common complaint, but look around online, and you'll find deals galore.
Portland-based Skora has a small lineup of zero-dropped shoes mostly built to cater to runners. Our two Skora reviewers both liked the Phase's silky upper, which is as soft and breathable as any shoe reviewed here. The only downside was that in comparison with the very flat soles of minimalist shoes by Merrell, New Balance, and Altra, the roundness of the Skora's heel was still noticeable during lifting. The flexibility, lean build, and thin construction make the El-X less of a shoe and more like second skin. While the El-X isn't great for running trails or ultras on hot asphalt, it's perfect for the gym-goer who wants the most authentic barefoot-shoe experience possible.
Colorado-based Altra has carved out a niche by focusing entirely on shoes that are zero-dropped, or where the heel is no higher than the forefoot. The flat, wide sole has little texture and no arch support, making it easy to "grip the deck" during either heavy free weights or balance-intensive work like pistol squats or lunges.
We reviewed the newest crop of training-focused models so that you don't have to feel like Cinderella in the shoe store! A number of studies tout the injury-prevention benefits of running barefoot or in so-called "minimalist" shoes, while others says it puts athletes at risk for a whole new slew of maladies. On the other hand, weight training doesn't have the same negative connotations, and its athletes suffer a fraction of the injuries of runners. Use these reviews as a first step, and follow up by trying on multiple models before you buy. The reasons are simple: They last forever, hold the foot in place, have flat and stable soles, and are generally firm and non-compressing underfoot (although some people complain that they've become more high-heeled, compressible, and running-shoe-like since Nike bought Converse in 2003). They're still a solid option, but if you like them, you'd probably like some of the others included here as well. Slip-ons meet most minimalist standards and bear more than a passing resemblance to deadlift slippers. In the wake of "Born To Run," a handful of companies began manufacturing simple huarache-style sandals with anti-shoe names like Invisible Shoes, Xero Shoes, and Unshoes. The "Monkey-Grip" surface of the sandal keeps the foot in place solidly under the force of heavy lifts, even after the feet begin to sweat. Since then, the line has exploded with multiple new models and styles, including the Free Run, weatherproof Free Shield, Free Forward, Free Hyperfeel, and Free Trainer.
The Free Trainer 3.0 features a 4 mm heel drop that, despite its low-to-ground ride, offers substantial cushioning. The MT10 is perhaps the most commonly seen version in the gym, although it is technically a trail running shoe.


The shoe's mesh lining is incredibly breathable, which helps otherwise stinky feet vent during long bouts of intense activity. As a result, it's a killer all-purpose athletic shoe, but perhaps not the best lifting-only shoe. It came in at least 15 different color choices for women and 17 for men, last time I checked.
Their Trail Glove caters to off-road adventurers, the Road Glove is great for pounding asphalt, and the Vapor Glove appeals to super-minimalist runners.
The lean cushion and flat sole offer good ground feedback and make for an extremely stable lifting platform. The Vibram rubber also protects more adventurous wearers from underfoot bruising, without adding any heel rise. There's more shoe underfoot in the Topo RX than in pretty much any Vibram model, but it's still zero-dropped and has a very flat sole—indeed, more so than many FiveFingers. One, according to Topo's creators, is that it frees up the most important toe for power and balance, while keeping the rest of the foot secure in a separate box. This 7-ounce featherweight features one of the widest toe boxes we tested and has an incredibly soft mesh upper. It's easy to screw your feet into the ground when wearing the Hi-Rez, but the sole doesn't necessarily offer a flat, stable lifting platform. While not as light as The One or other models here, the Evo gets high points for simple comfort and versatility. That said, find a way to try a pair on before you buy to make sure it fits the shape of your foot.
However, Skora athlete Kyle Kranz told us that when designing the outsole for the new Core and Phase models, they also factored in lifting, and in particular squats and deadlifts. The shoe's asymmetrical lacing pattern was also a pleasant surprise, as it encouraged a unique fit that was snug and glove-like in the mid-foot but loose and yielding in the forefoot.
If hoisting heavy weights with precise technique is the focus of your training, one of these others may be more up your alley.
Minimalist adventurers and athletes seem to love or hate the FiveFinger, often based on looks alone. It's incredibly lean all-around, featuring a breathable mesh upper, thin antimicrobial footbed, and maximum sole thickness of 2.7 mm. If you're a seasoned FiveFingers wearer, you'll note that the El-X fits better and more comfortable than the Classic. They offer some highly padded and supportive models that are anything but "minimalist," but the Samson puts you right on the ground—or at least one centimeter from it.
The Samson's razor-siped rubber offers great traction, and the laces and heel collar offer just enough of a customized fit to hold the foot in place during lateral cuts, sled pushes, or jumps. We are your personal trainer, your nutritionist,your supplement expert, your lifting partner, your support group. Nevertheless, I spoke with a number of experts who said that training in barely-there footwear offers real benefits for strength athletes, as long as you approach the switch with the right mindset and expectations. Partially in response to the popularity of flat, wide shoes in the CrossFit community, manufacturers are now offering a range of training-specific minimalist models.
Even more so than with running shoes, proper fit is crucial with this type of footwear, so don't be afraid to make use of that generous return policy. A tip: Look for the elusive "slim sole" model to cut down on unnecessary cushioning and get closer to the ground. Are they better for weight training than marshmallow-heeled running shoes that dominate the gym? Athletic conditioning work (especially with a jump rope) might be painful in these, but at just 3.9 oz and 6 mm of stack height, there's almost nothing that'll put you closer to the ground. Also great for brand-loyal athletes who trust their favorites but are ready to try the next big thing. Nike also offers an online styling suite that allows users to customize a unique pair of Frees, dubbed the Free iD, with select colors, graphics, and flexibility options. This ample underfoot cushion makes the Free Trainer 3.0 a great introductory minimalist shoe, but it might turn off serious barefoot lifters who want maximum ground-feel. The Free Trainer 3.0 is a stable shoe with a good heel pocket, making it versatile enough for myriad gym activities like cardio, conditioning, lifting, and plyometrics.
In the last couple of years, though, the Minumus line has taken aim at gyms and boxes more directly with its MX models. For that reason it might be the better "transition shoe" to minimalism if you're not looking to leap right in to something zero-dropped. Thin-soled shoe devotees may want to look elsewhere, but the 195 is a great choice for athletes who want to lift, run, climb, and sprint in the same pair of durable kicks. But no matter who it was "made for," the Nano is a super-versatile shoe that can serve just about any athlete. I had been wearing my 2.0s for about 3 months before I noticed the rubber sole peeling off the bottom.
In addition to its solid base, flexibility, and good lateral stability, the Flux features an antimicrobial footbed to control odor and keep your sweaty feet free from stink. The split-toe design may seem to come out of left field, but it's actually inspired by the traditional Tabi boots worn in Japan (and, yeah, by ninjas).


Another is that the pinky toe isn't so prone to getting bonked or smashed during running or some lifts.
The sole is flat and stable enough for heavy lifting, thanks to the grippy wet-dry slip-resistant tread.
As you wear the shoe more often and put it through various paces, that feeling will dissipate.
The Hi-Rez is more versatile than some of the shoes featured above, but it's not great in rough weather or on tough terrain. Unlike Skora's original flagship model, the Form, which has a goat leather upper and a firm, tough outsole (and which our reviewer loved for trail running and general wear) the new offerings are designed to flatten out underfoot, providing more stability under a load. The outsole also feels quite minimal underfoot during running and jumping, flexing with the foot and giving plenty of sensory feedback. If weights are just a performance-enhancer for your road running, though, the Phase may fit you like a glove. If you can see past the FiveFingers' unique design, or happen to enjoy it, the El-X has a lot to offer. If you're new to FiveFingers, the El-X is surprisingly easy to put on, but you'll need time to build ankle and foot strength before you wear these for prolonged high-intensity activity.
They're the closest I've come to lifting barefoot, and they're much better for squats and deadlifts than lifting in socks alone.
The Samsons are not the most glamorous shoes in terms of design, and if you take them out on a rocky trail you'll feel every pebble along the way.
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And even if you're a devoted minimalist, the traction of sole of this shoe makes it worth considering if your athletic pursuits include sports like tennis, racquetball, or basketball. Athletes who perform a lot of rope accents have also complained that the medial side wore down quickly.
It's an all-purpose, all-terrain, trail-eating minimalist shoe that also happens to thrive in the gym.
Unlike the offerings from Merrel and Nike, this shoe is truly minimal underfoot as well as over, meaning you might feel like your heel is cracking against the ground while walking at first. You'll forget the individual rubber hexagons underfoot and feel like your feet ride on uniform soles.
If you're new to minimalist training, you'll also need some time to build up the ankle strength and stability to wear these beauties. Of course, adventurous wearers who want a burlier, multisport, all-purpose shoe should probably look elsewhere. Vivobarefoot has also released several spinoff models over the years, including an Evo with a hydrophobic upper, an extra lightweight model, and the Neo, which has the same great sole but with a fabric surface instead of the Evo's mesh.
You can easily fold the El-X into a shoe taco, roll it into a burrito, or bend it into other footwear-foods of your choice. In regard to the legendary FiveFingers stink, I found that the El-X is actually quite smell-resistant compared to other FiveFingers models. But in the friendly confines of a gym, they're a well-made and comfortable option if you're looking to get as close as possible to barefoot.
But as with Converse All-Stars, you may find that modern offerings from the companies below offer the same lightweight build and agile feeling, but with a difference: toe box width.
Like the Converse All-Star, the RX also has a firm rubber sidewall around the entirety of the foot that helps hold the foot securely in place, but adds a Velcro strap along the forefoot.
This should pass as you get accustomed to it, but running in it might be out of the question until you're ready to abandon your heel-striking ways.
The independent underfoot pods offer a decent amount of cushion but don't compromise ground feedback.
Once you feel what it's like to be able to spread your toes out and grab the ground whenever you want, it may be hard to go back. The 4 mm drop provides a stable, flat surface, but it's not so firm that you feel like you're landing on cement.
Effective for running, lifting, or general athletic training, this shoe is a solid pick as long as you don't mind buying new socks. The One's simple design also earns it style points, as it is unassuming enough to avoid getting weird looks. Somewhere along the way, as your ankles stabilize and your feet get stronger, you'll fall in love with the Hi-Rez. As a result, this shoe is suitable for compound lifts and long runs—unless you lift in a puddle or encounter any heel-bruising pebbles. Stick with your classics if you must, but do yourself a favor and at least try on one of the other shoes here next time you've got a wandering eye. The sole isn't as flexible as some of the crazy-minimal shoes described elsewhere here, but it's still flexible, and the "DuraGrip" toe cap helps keep the toe from wearing out.



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