If you’re like me, you lift barefoot. I’d rather save my money and deal with a dirty, sweat-covered gym floor than drop a few hundred on a lifting shoe that collects dust in my closet.
Enter Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III. This lifting shoe changed my mind about what I—and my gains—were missing out on. These shoes offer a barefoot design that fits firmly around my feet and gives the best support I’ve ever felt. Dubbed a “plant-based shoe” for the recycled material it’s made of, even Al Gore would approve of my new deadlift PR.
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What are Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III?
Vivobarefoot started in 2012 as a way to revolutionize the barefoot footwear market. Primus Lite III is one of two shoes in their performance line–next to the Geo Racer Knit shoe–and takes a minimalist approach to design and style so you move as naturally as possible during all your workouts.
We also named the Primus Lite III’s our best barefoot-style trainer in our guide to gym shoes.
What’s Good About the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III Training Shoes?
Traditional sneakers are bulky and your foot just doesn’t feel right inside while training, especially under heavy loads. Many lifters, like myself, prefer to squat and deadlift barefoot because you get a better ground feel. Normal sneakers have a thick outsole and you lose the ability to feel grounded and balanced when lifting big weight.
The barefoot design feels like you aren’t wearing a shoe. For performance, and everyday wear, this shoe contours to the shape of your foot, offers enough toe room to wiggle, and sets itself apart from expensive competitors.
These shoes are so flexible and thin, it seems Vivobarefoot is sacrificing support for its trademark barefoot style. In reality, it’s the opposite: the firm midsole is exactly what this shoe delivers to keep stability and balance under load as a priority.
Primus Lite III takes any leg day routine to a whole new level. For heavier lifts, like squats and deadlifts, these shoes give you that stability when under–or over–so much weight, so your balance never wavers and you feel stable during the entire movement.
Don’t think these aren’t durable despite the material and design. A hard rubber outsole—yet still highly flexible—elevates this shoe to blast away competitors on any gym floor.
Functional exercises, like lunges and Romanian deadlifts, are easier to find balance since these shoes lock you onto the ground. With no squeak or give, you stay focused on your workout and don’t fear falling over like a newbie.
What’s Not Good About Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III Training Shoes?
Not Great for Longer Runs
Running was not the best as the thin sole and flat bottom forced an awkward feel on the treadmill. Outdoors—with even more firm ground—you’ll feel that calf strain very similar to when it’s time to buy new running shoes. With no support from a thicker bottom, and not a lot of give with each step, Primus Lite III definitely aren’t marathon worthy.
Not a HIIT Shoe
HIIT workouts are not ideal with these shoes either. You lose support and spring typical of traditional running shoes (like my beloved Brooks). Movements like high knees, jump squats, and burpees produced an unpleasant thud as opposed to a bounce. By the end of this workout—and after repeated “thudding”—your calves will feel the exact same as a long run.
More Workout Shoes
Primus Lite III are comfortable beyond belief. They conform nicely to the shape of my foot and my toes don’t suffer excruciating pain with a wide front half. This bodes well if you’re like me who struggles to fit in those brutal narrow-toed shoes.
Vivobarefoot’s sizing is as accurate as they come. A size 12 was snug enough that I barely even tied them. Just a small loop-de-loop to keep myself from tripping over some loose lace and I was ready to take on any workout. The lightweight, breathable, and flexible design (I could almost bend these shoes in half), took my workouts to the next level.
Vivobarefoot surprised me with performance. I was very skeptical wearing these shoes as I typically go shoeless during lifts.
My powerlifting workout of the big three–squats, deadlift, and bench press–was one of the better workouts I’ve had. It felt natural to jump from the deadlift into squats. A few sets in and I typically start to wobble and lose balance, but I found by set three, my balance was the exact same as set one. Plus, I could focus on form and save myself from any of those dreaded deadlift injuries.
I was particularly impressed by Primus Lite III during my lighter training day. I associated these training shoes with only heavy lifting and never thought these would be a game changer for my more functional exercises and low-impact cardio. I actually increased my weight on the Romanian deadlift by 10 pounds because I felt that much more support.
What most surprised me was the feel of these shoes on the rowing machine.
As a former competitive rower, foot feel was everything and I would normally take my shoes off when erging to maximize this feel. One downside; blisters. Vivobarefoot’s thin design gave me all the feel and saved me from that dreaded two-day limp I suffered for over a decade.
I did attempt a long run and a HIIT workout and I can report back that these shoes are not my go-to choice for either workout. There wasn’t that support I needed and I lost a spring in my step. You can only pound the ground so much before your shins beg for relief.
Overall, Primus Lite III exceeded all expectations. I wasn’t considering these to be good running options so I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. The all-black is a cool, subtle look and doesn’t attract any attention if you’re a bit gym conscious (since the shape of these shoes could be considered by some as “weird”). A premium and plant-based shoe, at least you know your recycling is going back to a good cause.
The main competition for Vivobarefoot is Xero Speed Force Minimalist Running Shoe ($115). Its minimalist design, lightweight feel, and flexibility are all on par with Primus Lite III (though I doubt you could bend this shoe in half). And it’s free of animal products so it rivals Vivobarefoot for sustainability.
A thicker outsole gives Xero a leg up for cardio and HIIT workouts, but Vivobarefoot still holds true to that barefoot feel for lifting and low-impact cardio. Xero is definitely the cheaper option, but if you’re a tried and true barefoot lifter, Primus Lite III is worth the extra dough.
The Bottom Line
Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III is a killer workout shoe. I was amazed at how versatile this shoe was for lifting and cardio exercises. As someone who’s tried many lifting shoes in the past, Vivobarefoot offers a flexible, breathable, and barefoot design that took away all my skepticism.