For people who have never done a proper "hard style" kettlebell swing before, it is hard to understand the big fuss about footwear, or why I am an absolute stickler about the type of shoes I let my clients train with. I'll admit, when I showed up to my HKC certification back in 2012 in a pair of Nike Free style shoes, I thought they would be fine. I was wrong. The reason was more complicated than I had initially realized, but a further look at the human body's anatomy and the physics of the movement of a kettlebell swing makes everything a bit clearer…
Now, when I arrived at my HKC cert ready to swing the day away, I was halted at the door and told that my footwear was not up to snuff. I thought (incorrectly, I might add), that kettlebells were best used in either bare feet or with as little sole between your foot and the floor as possible. I had the first part right, at least! Bare feet (or socks) are an acceptable choice when kettlebelling. But it had nothing to do with the lack of support, or my body's ability to "feel the floor" better (proprioception). It was actually because of the ideal weight distribution!
So even though my minimalist shoe had a thin sole, there was in fact a slight heel raise. Any kind of heel raise promotes a weight shift into the forefoot, which is not ideal when balance and stability are priorities. Wear a pair of running shoes designed for heel-to-toe striking and you're asking for a back injury! Why? Because the tendency to have your weight shift forward makes it easier to lose your balance and make the bell toss your body forward. If you are like most people and you attempt to recover an 24kg (53.5lb) plus bell mid-swing, bad things can happen.
Even footwear like the Nike Free and New Balance Minimus, is that despite their lack of cushioning, there is STILL a slight heel lift. Any kind of heel lift promotes increased ankle plantar-flexion, which will result in poorer ankle mobility in the long run. Unless you are a competitive powerlifter, there is no point in training in weight lifting specific shoes. I'm getting picky, now, I'll admit. But when it comes to safety in TRAINING, why settle for anything less than the best? And in this case, the best doesn't always mean the most expensive. In my professional and biased (some of these just look cool) opinion, these shoes below are my top picks for people who are looking to both use kettlebells safely AND do other lifts in the same workout without needing to change or remove shoes:
1. Converse All Star Chuck Taylor's
These are my top pick for three reasons. The first is because of their timeless look and fun colors. The second is they are for both male and female users, making them accessible for most people. The third is the flat sole, making these an obvious choice for lifting and bells. $40-60 depending on color.
2. Adidas Samba
In the 70's when the Samba was released, Adidas didn't quite have the cache that the Chuck's had. But don't let that fool you into thinking these aren't a great product. In actuality, these shoes were designed for indoor soccer. But the nice thing is they have a completely flat sole, as well, making these an excellent footwear choice for lifting. Most modern indoor shoes have slight heel raises, making them undesirable for weights. $50-60 depending on color.
3. Nike Free Bionic
This one is for the ladies. Unfortunately for guys, Nike doesn't make these. But they sure do look cool! Their minimalist design is one of the few that has a completely flat sole, making them ideal for bells and bars. Not to mention the fact that there are TONS of cool colors to choose from. Prices vary widely from color to color unfortunately…but I got my wife a pair of gray and neon yellow ones for just over 60 dollars.
4. Vibram's Five Fingers
I have had the pleasure of owning a pair of the first two on my list, and the privilege of living with a woman who wears the Nikes daily, so I can vouch for their effectiveness. I am including these with a big asterisk because I have never personally owned or tried on Five Fingers. However, I work with several clients who have them and love them. They are more expensive and take minimalist to an extreme. But they are effective! Plus they come in all sorts of styles and colors now.