Footwear is always a good place to start when you decide to start a new athletic activity. After all your feet are the foundation upon which everything else rests, and in kettlebell your connection to the ground for efficient transfer of energy is key. As such, avoiding overly cushioned shoes (like running shoes) is usually preferable and you’re going to want shoes meant for lifting instead. There are several acceptable options at different price points for kettlebell training.
These shoes are designed to simulate being barefoot while still providing protection for the sole of the foot and some traction. You will definitely feel connected to the ground, but you will get no support or cushioning and instead the muscles in your feet will have to carry the load as nature intended. These are a good option for people who like barefoot training but need to workout at a commercial gym where footwear is required. I do not generally recommend these type of shoes for extended Jerk or Long Cycle sets unless you are highly acclimated to barefoot training.
Bearfoot Athletics| Ursus | $79.99
Optimizing the human to ground interface. These are the best barefoot shoes and my go barefoot shoe for every day walking around, being active, and strength training sessions. WTF is a good “barefoot” shoe? It might seems like an oxymoron, but the concepts can coexist. There are a number of obvious reasons why people don’t want to go completely barefoot all the time, and in kettlebell sport competitions footwear is required. This shoe features a wide toe box, thin sole, and flexible materials and has a simple, classic style. It is surprisingly well insulated for its weight making it a go to shoe in at least 3 seasons Minnesota weather.
*I am an affiliate of Bearfoot Athletics and if you use the link above you will receive 10% off your order.
Vivo Barefoot| Primus Lite | $140
Incredibly lightweight barefoot shoe made from recycled materials that are vegan, very functional, and well ventilated. The outsole is a mere 3 mm so your feet receive a ton of sensory feedback and it's light, flexible, grippy, and durable making it an ideal choice for kettlebell training. I dig the monochromatic style of solid all black and all white versions of these shoes, but they have a variety of colors and styles available.
*I am an affiliate of Vivo Barefoot.
These are a newer style of shoe that has become available with the rise in popularity of CrossFit. They’re designed to handle intense cross training and hold up to punishment well. Most do not have built in arch support or added cushioning which makes them a good shoe to transition to from a cushy running shoe before you go to a minimalist or barefoot shoe. These are utilitarian option that can be used for weight training, hardstyle kettlebell or kettlebell sport sessions. I like the Reebok Nano the most in this category, but it's admittedly been a while since I was in anything other than a barefoot shoe or an Olympic lifter. Rogue Fitness (not affiliated) generally has the best selection and availability, but it's worth checking other sites for deals.
Reebok | Crossfit Nano | $79.99 - $129.99
These are Reebok's flagship Crossfit shoe and are designed to that task. Newer version have added cushioning for running, making it not as great for force transfer into the floor but the Nano has improved the shape of the shoe making a wider toe box that allows for better anatomical splay of the toes. I was particularly fond of the Nano 2.0 and 4.0 version, so if you can find a pair in your size I would definitely recommend scooping them up.
If you are interested in becoming a competitive kettlebell sport athlete (for an intro to what that entails click here), you will want to seriously consider investing in the right shoes for the sport. What makes a good shoe for kettlebell sport? Generally you want 5 key features:
Elevated heel made of wood or very firm composite plastic. This provides 2 key benefits; first, an elevated heel provides a mechanical advantage on ankle extension and flexion which are prevalent in jerk & long cycle. Second, the hard materials ensure maximal force transfer to the floor for a more efficient lift, whereas a cushy running shoe is designed to disperse that force.
Flexible forefoot. Shoes with an overly rigid forefoot can limit the ability of the foot to flex and spread appropriately
Wide toe box. Your feet and toes are designed to spread (splay) when flexed or under load. You want to ensure a wide enough toe box to allow them to do so.
Good grip on the sole. Platforms can get slippery when there is sweat and chalk flying around. You'll want to make sure your lifting shoes have a grippy rubber outsole.
Quality materials. Well-made shoes with high quality materials should last years if not decades with proper care. Certainly you can churn and burn through cheaper weightlifting shoes every year or two, but I much prefer investing in quality and having a trusted companion in my bag year after year.
There are many good options across a wide range of styles, and price points. Definitely shop around to find options for your budget, talk to other lifters about the shoes they love or hate (they have OPINIONS, trust me), and remember that it is OK to have more than one pair!
Asics | 727 Tiger | $299.99 (limited sizing up to US 10)
The OG of Olympic lifting shoes. The legend of the Asics 727 Tigers is held in the hands of master craftsman in Japan who have been hand making every pair of these shoes unchanged in any way for over 35 years. Literally. The first generation were fabricated back when all shoe makers used leather, wood, and quality workmanship to assemble weightlifting shoes. That hasn't changed for Asics while many other manufacturers have moved on to synthetic leather and plastics heels to keep production cost low and profits higher.
Asics used to take custom orders on these shoes, but that service appears to have been discontinued. I tried for weeks chasing internet rabbit holes and even contaced Asics Japan directly to see if I could get a size 11, but to no avail (if I'm wrong and you have a connection, hook me up!) If you are fortunate enough to have feet that are US 10 or smaller, you can pick up a pair of these and likely never need or want to buy another pair of lifting shoes the rest of your life.
Velaasa | Strake | $220
New school and old school collide in this badass lifter inspired by a Viking ship. The heel is solid Japanese beachwood while the rest of the shoe is constructed of modern synthetic materials making it lightweight and breathable but sturdy for performance. Based out of Minneapolis, MN they have a special place in our heart, and they also have design and testing support from some of the best athletes and coaches in the Olympic sports communities with Joe Kovacs (2016 Olympic silver medalist in shot put, 2019 World Champion) highly involved.
Nike | Romaleos 2 |$50 - $150
The first pair of Olympic lifters I ever loved. These bad boys are STURDY and HEAVY, just like me! I lifted in them for years and they remain in the Twin Cities Kettlebell Club family as I passed them on to a new lifter, my friend Dave. This shoe has two large midfoot bands which are convenient to adjust the snugness of the fir to your preference. Nike introduced the contoured TPU heel wedge cups which gives a lot of stability, but less flexibility. The gum rubber outsole has maintained its grip to date.
SIGNIFICANT design changes were made with the Romaleos 3, and I actually HATED those shoes (I returned them after 1 lift) so I cannot endorse the other Nike models, but the 2 are a classic. They are no longer being made so size and color options may be limited for new, but there is also a secondary market where deals can be found as these shoes have not appreciated in value like the Adistars.
Addidas | Adistar 2008| $199 - $899
Adidas updated their top end weightlifting shoe just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and they have stood the test of time. The prices you see above reflect the staying power of this shoe on the secondary market. Unused pairs go for $700+ and even used pairs in good condition will sell for $500 or more. Who would pay that much for shoes? Me for one. I got mine used on eBay in 2017 for $300 and have worn them for every lift since and never regretted the purchase. Why? What makes this shoe different? It checks all the boxes listed above and has some added features. I even re-sold these shoes in 2020 for a profit after years of wearing them.
The 2 piece sole construction allows great flexibility in the forefoot, while the silver TPU chassis (they call it the Torsion System) keeps the shoe feeling very stable.
The heel is solid wood for excellent energy transfer performance.
The toe box is wider than most shoes allowing good foot splay even for my wide feet (they could be a bit wider for me, but normal sized feet will do fine).
The outsole on mine are still grippy and I am mindful of not wearing them off platform much so I don't pick up unnecessary dirt and diminish their life.
The quality of materials is excellent. The leather is polyurethane coated to keep it durable but still soft and took to my foot shape quickly, and I have had no issue with the straps or even the laces of the shoe.
BONUS the built in ClimaCool ventilation on the mid and upper part of the shoe helps keep your feet from turning into a swampy mess, which has been a problem in other shoes (the Romaleos 2 do NOT breathe well at all!)
Lab of Champions | Rotor2 | $149 - $249
For people with swag who take kettlebell lifting seriously, you can't do better than a completely customized shoe built by Honored Master of Sport Arseny Zhernakov at Laboratory of Champions. These bad boys are based on classic Russian power lifting shoe design but tailored for kettlebell sport lifting. They can be customized to your heart's desire, and many of the top lifters in the world lift in these. They are made by hand in St. Petersburg, Russia so naturally there is about a 3 month lag from when you place your order until they arrive on your door if you're stateside, but quality and craftsmanship take time. Be sure to take careful measurements of your foot and communicate any unique needs before placing your order because the custom shoes can't be returned. They also have standard color schemes in stock.