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Dig deep enough into any hobby or pastime and you’re bound to find the If You Know, You Know gear the old-timers (or just the folks who have been at it for a while) use. In the cooking world, it’s carbon steel skillets—they’re lighter than cast iron, but get just as hot. Target’s Threshold sheets are popular with interior designers and sleep experts because they’re cheap and surprisingly well made. 

Weightlifting has its own pile of examples, too, perhaps none more famous than the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star. One of the most popular shoes for squats and deadlifts, the high top variant supports your ankles and the soles are flat and without added cushion. I’ll pass. Instead, when leg day rolls around I reach for my Adidas Campus Shoe in all its 1980s glory. Here’s why. 

Adidas Campus Sneaker

What Are Adidas Campus Shoes, and Why I Love Them

Let’s take a step back and discuss the “leg day shoe” as I’m calling it. Why can’t you wear any old shoe? Well, you can, but there are good odds a standard sneaker will actually be worse for you than not wearing shoes at all (which is perfectly normal in its own right). 

Flat-soled wonder

Standard sneakers and shoes are fitted with arched soles to accommodate the natural arches of our feet. This is great for walking, jogging, and really anything that’s not carrying a ton of weight on your back, or picking up said ton off the floor. The arches can seriously throw off your balance when hitting proper squat depth. Thus, the flat-soled shoe (or no shoe) has earned popularity on leg day, and my glorious pair of Adidas Campus shoes have no arch.

“Comfortable” is bad

A lot of people associate comfortability in footwear with cushioning. Cushioning is not ideal when carrying 250-plus pounds on your back. Why? Just the same as arches vs. no arches, it comes down to balance. If you lean ever so slightly to the side, back, or forward, the foam cushioning can actually make it more difficult to correct the misstep, which can lead to failed reps or worse. The Adidas Campus shoe has no cushioning other than an extremely thin strip of foam under the insole. I’ve lifted with the lining in the footbed and later removed it and found it was so thin it barely made a difference.

adidas campus on brown deck
I’ve worn these shoes to the gym, bars, concerts, and airports and they still look somewhat serviceable.

Ankle support? What ankle support?

Somewhat controversially, I’m a firm believer that, unless you’re lifting for competition, form, safety, and longevity should take priority over pushing your squat or deadlift numbers higher and higher. The Chuck Taylors we discussed earlier (and other popular powerlifting shoes) are high tops and therefore stabilize your foot and ankle quite well, allowing you to get to proper squat depth without compromising other aspects of form. The Adidas Campus sneaks do not have ankle support. This means if you have poor ankle mobility, which is very common, you’re forced to work at it to improve and reach depth within your own limits. Simple exercises like a bench ankle stretch, in which you put a foot up on the bench and lean forward with your weight on it, go a long way in this regard. 

I wear them literally everywhere

One has to respect Chuck Taylor’s cultural resonance, so I won’t disparage it to prop up my own preferred lifting shoe, but the Campus shoe, which debuted in the 1970s as the Tournament shoe, carries serious clout in its own right. Originally a low-top basketball shoe, the Campus was immensely popular with ’80s and ’90s hip hop musicians and later became a staple in skateboarding. I can wear these to the gym, in the summer, and through the colder seasons with nice wool socks. 

The Bottom Line

Adidas’ decades-old basketball-turned-skateboarding-turned-weightlifting shoe is affordable, good-looking, and an effective leg day shoe. You could spend two- or three-times the $60 price for an established powerlifting shoe, or you could be stubbornly economical like me.