The fact that you are searching the internet for the best indoor rowing shoes is a very positive sign!
Many rowers don’t even question what they have on their feet before an erg session and that is a bit worrisome.
While choosing what rowing machine shoe to wear can be difficult, it really comes down to experimentation and personal preference.
There are a lot of different variables that come into play and your shoe will change depending on the type of training you are performing.
Many rowing professionals will agree that less is better when it comes to indoor rowing shoes and this article will help explain why.
Why Indoor Rowing Shoes Matter?
There are 3 points of contact on the rowing machine: hands, butt, and feet. All 3 have their own issues when it comes to protecting them, especially the feet.
Unlike running, which is high-impact, rowing has very low impact on the feet and joints. This is our first indication that what you wear on your feet running should probably not be the same as what you wear to row.
Running shoes have thick, cushion soles and are made to absorb the impact of running on concrete. While this cushion is good for running, have you ever thought what it may be doing to your rowing stroke?
Extra cushion on your shoes can lead to a less efficient rowing stroke and also effect the angle of your feet which can change your bio-mechanics.
Styles of Rowing Machine Shoes
Take a look at the shoes below. Each shoe style has their own unique features.
The style on the left has a thick heel cushion and becomes thinner near the toes. We call this a large “Heel-to-Toe Drop”. The middle shoe has a thick shoe sole but actually has a zero heel-to-toe drop. The shoe on the right has very little cushion and a zero heel-to-toe drop.
Choosing between these 3 choices of indoor rowing shoes can effect factors such as foot placement, form, comfort, and power.
Now if you are a casual rower who doesn’t care about improving times or you like running before or after you row, then maybe regular running shoes are fine (I talk about this below).
But if you want optimal performance when testing on a Concept2, even the minor details like erging shoes can make a difference.
I will discuss how rowing machines shoes can effect foot placement, comfort, form, and power below. I will then outline what makes a good indoor rowing shoe and the best type to buy.
Where you place your feet in a rower can have a large effect on your rowing stroke and your erging shoes have a big effect on your foot placement.
Keep in mind this article focuses mainly on Concept2 shoes and the effect it has on rowing.
When placing your feet on the footrests you do not want your feet to be too high or too low.
Placing your feet too high will not allow you to move forward enough to perform a full stroke. High feet will make it hard to get your shins vertical while in the “Catch” position.
When in the ‘Catch’ or forward position, your shins should be vertical and knees should be near your armpits.
Subsequently, having your feet too low will allow you to move forward enough but will decrease the efficiency of your drive and cause bad form in other parts of the row.
Depending on what type of rowing machine shoes you are wearing, will change the setting or hole of the foot cup. From rowing with running shoes to barefoot rowing, there is usually a 1 to 2 hole difference in setting.
The main point of this section is to show that when jumping on an erg you must give some thought to what shoe you are wearing and your foot placement. If you jump on any Concept2 rower and just begin rowing you may not have your feet in the optimal position.
If you switch between barefoot and shoes on your Concept2 just make sure to adjust your feet before a workout.
Comfort and Rowing Form
I know foot placement, comfort, and rowing form are all inter-related but I needed some way to organize this article!
Ok, so we already know that indoor rowing shoes can effect your foot placement which in return can also effect your comfort and form.
Placing your feet too high will limit your forward movement and cause incorrect rowing form. It will shorten your overall rowing stroke and not give you the forward reach that you need.
Placing your feet too low will cause improper leg drive and a weak power position. It can also put added stress on your lower back making for an uncomfortable session.
A large cushion and big “heel-to-toe drop” can also cause a change in the angle of your feet.
If you look at the foot-boards for the Concept2 shoe placement you will see it is set at approximately a 45 degree angle (+ or – a few degrees). This is close to optimal for rowing but can be adjusted when athletes reach more serious levels.
Depending on what indoor rowing machine shoe you wear this angle can change. An erg shoe with a zero drop will have no effect but a running shoe with a large heel-to-toe drop will. See the photo below.
While the diagram may not be perfect and some people may think “39 degrees” is optimal, there is a lesson to be learned here. A shoe with a big heel-to-toe drop will decrease the angle that your foot pushes off the foot-board, which can lead to comfort and form issues. An angle that is too shallow or small can also lead to decreased power and efficiency which I mention below.
If your flexibility and form will permit a larger foot-board angle it may lead to better erg times.
Other Comfort and Form Issues
Some shoes that are inflexible can also cause discomfort when try to get into the catch position. Your shoes should not get in the way of allowing your shins to be vertical in the catch position.
Rowing is also very strenuous so having heavy, thick clothed rowing shoes can cause your feet to sweat excessively.
Rowing machine shoes should also allow the user to “feel” the footrests so they can better understand what part of the foot they are driving from. Shoes with thick soles are bad for “feeling” the footrests and should be avoided.
While all this info seems to be pointing to “less is better” for erging shoes, you should still pick something that will be comfortable in the foot cups. Many people who row barefoot find the rubbing and chaffing to cause blisters so a happy medium may be the best recommendation.
Power and Efficiency
The biggest and most important effect of erging shoes is the possibility of losing efficiency and power.
Using running shoes with a lot of cushion could reduce the amount of force being applied to your leg drive.
As I previously mentioned, it can effect the angle at which you push off the foot-boards which can lead to less power.
Another issue when you go to push off the footrests with running shoes is the thick heel compresses and absorbs energy. This absorbed energy does not get transferred to the leg drive and is never recovered during the rowing stroke.
While the amount of energy may be small it can add up very quickly if you are doing long sessions.
You can see the amount of compression a running shoe has from photos taken before and after ground contact when running.
While this compression and absorption is good for running it can lead to lost power in rowing.
Running shoes also have an uneven sole which is made for compressing at various points during a running stride. This may cause the user to push off the foot board unevenly and have a less efficient stroke. A shoe with less padding and more parallel “connection” to the foot board would allow for a stronger, more efficient drive.
I believe it is the same reason that cyclists and power-lifters also wear thin soled shoes. They want to have the lowest amount of cushion between their body and the object they are applying force to. This increases the efficiency of the power transition and gives the athlete a better feel for their form.
I read a great BodyBuilding.com article on minimalist shoes and strength training, check it out here.
Characteristics of Good Indoor Rowing Shoes?
Now that we know how shoes can effect how we row, lets talk about what makes a good rowing machine shoe.
First, your indoor rowing shoes should be lightweight, comfortable, and breathable. We don’t want your foot sweating excessively and avoid any blisters on long rows.
Second, your shoe should also be flexible so that your foot can easily be flexed in any position without restrictions.
Third, your shoe padding should be thin soled and flat. This will allow optimal efficiency of power transfer from your feet to the foot boards. It will also allow for the best “feel” for your drive and stroke.
Overall rowing machine shoes should be:
- Thin soled and Flat
The Best Indoor Rowing Shoes
Taking all this into consideration there are a lot of shoes out there that meet these requirements. It also depends on what kind of training you will be performing.
Will you just be doing an erg session or will you be doing a Crossfit style workout?
I’ll break down the best indoor rowing shoes into a few categories and recommend some good options for each.
1. Minimalist Training Shoes
Wearing a minimalist style running shoes is a great option for people looking to have a multi-use shoe. You can wear these shoes in the gym, walking in the grocery store, running, rowing, and practically everything else .
They should have a very thin sole with not much padding but comfortable enough to workout in for long sessions. This style shoe will also be lightweight, flexible, and breathable.
Buying a shoe with a “Low-Drop” or “Heel-to-Toe Drop” is also important. The “Drop” is the distance in millimeters that the shoe drops from heel to toe. Basically the amount of cushion on your heel.
There are 1,000’s of options in this category of all shapes, sizes, and prices with each claiming to be the best. I chose a few popular options but feel free to use any shoe that meets all the requirements of good erging shoes.
This style of shoe may be a more expensive option but it can be used for more than one activity.
Here are a few great options:
- 4mm heel-to-toe drop
- 0mm heel-to-toe drop
- Great shoe comparison site
- Sort by type and brand
2. Flat Soled Shoes
Flat soled shoes are great options because they are cheap, easy to find, and meet most of the criteria for good indoor rowing shoes.
Very thin soles give you optimal power efficiency and great overall feeling of the rowing stroke. They are also lightweight, comfortable and flexible but do not have the greatest airflow.
Pretty much universally renowned as the best flat soled shoe for rowing, weightlifting, and any other activity you want to perform where a flat sole is needed.
They are inexpensive and come in almost any color. Click here to see Converse pricing and colors.
You may be able to find a cheaper knock-off pair at Wal-Mart but pretty much anything that looks like the photo will be good.
3. Sport Specific Shoes
There are many companies that make rowing specific shoes but they are just harder to find and usually more expensive. Many other sports require the same shoe criteria as rowing but are much more common and less expensive.
Here are some other options of shoes that can be used for indoor rowing:
Indoor Soccer Shoes
Again any shoe that can meet the above criteria would be the best shoes for erging. These are just the most popular shoe in each category
4. Barefoot Style
Last but not least, the barefoot style.
One of the most popular ways to row that meets all the criteria is to just row barefoot! Plenty of professional rowers train barefoot and feel it is the best way to train. Some University coaches even require it!
Barefoot rowing can be uncomfortable and lead to blisters so here are a few options that can help prevent any issues while still maintaining the feeling of rowing barefoot.
- Flexible/ Breathable
- Great “feel”
Water Shoes / Water Socks / Yoga Socks
- Lightweight/ Thin
- Non-slip bottoms
- A lot of inexpensive options in this category
Old-School Barefoot Rowing
- Easy to find
- Great “feel”
There are so many different indoor rowing shoes options that deciding can become overwhelming.
Hopefully you have a shoe lying around your house that meets the requirements and you can begin using them today.
The key takeaway from this monstrous post is that the shoes you use while erging can and will effect your performance. Knowing this is already winning half the battle, the other half is to make sure you are wearing the correct shoe.
I hope you found this article to be helpful in helping you choose the best indoor rowing shoes!
Let me know what type of rowing machine shoes you wear in the comment section below!
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