The Best Shoes for a Rowing Machine

P.S. As always, here is a sneaky peak of my top choice in case you are limited on time and don’t want to read my post!

This has been a topic of big debate in every rowing club/ squad that I have been a member of. Everyone will look for anything that they believe can give them an advantage on the rowing machine. I believe there are a couple of key things you need to look for in a shoe for using when indoor rowing, and will share a couple of examples of shoes that are most suited.

Solid Sole




Solid Sole

This is probably the feature that causes such debate in what makes for the best shoe for indoor rowing. However – watch any of the internationals and they are either barefoot (aka no sole!) or in their weight lifting shoes (completely solid sole). For us mortals, what this means is simple – avoid trainers/ running shoes that have massive air pockets in. If you imagine the first bit of pressure you put down in your stroke, this is being absorbed into the shoe’s sole and therefore not all being transferred into the rowing stroke. I also feel it risks placing uneven effort and pressure into each sole therefore potentially causing unbalance and even injury.


If like me, you do a lot of long sessions on the rowing machine, you will get very warm and sweaty. As with running shoes, you want to have good airflow for all-round foot health. This is why I often suggest people don’t use a shoe like Converse or other plimsole type shoes. Even though they are good from the sole’s point of view, in long sessions your feet can get very stuffy which can cause some long term problems like the risk of athletes foot.


Almost as importantly as the previous two points, the shoes you get need to be comfortable. Feet come in all different sizes and widths. You should be sure that you are not going to cause yourself needless pain by buying a shoe that is not a good fit.


I have a theory here, and that is this. Unless you are using a rowing machine 4-5 times a week, you most likely don’t need a specific shoe just for using it, but want one that you can also use for other gym workouts. Of course, there is nothing stopping you having a collection of shoes best suited for this machine, for which I am going to share some contenders!

The Best Shoes for Indoor Rowing

1 – Reebok Crossfit Nano

2 – Vibram Fivefingers

3 – Adidas Power

4 – Nike Free

Reebok Crossfit Nano

If I were looking specifically looking for a shoe to wear on the showing machine, this is without doubt the one I would buy. It ticks all of the boxes I have highlighted and has been designed, tested, iterated and updated continuously by Reebok in association with Crossfit who have rowing as a key element of a number of their workouts. The heel is rock solid, and it designed to be used in workouts that might include a mix of weight lifting and cardio. This is a rare shoe in existence that has a sock solid sole but the ability to be used in a number of different ways.

Vibram Fivefingers

In the quest for finding a ‘free’ shoe, Vibram really changed the market. Whilst 100% guaranteed to make a statement, I have heard some great reviews for the comfort of these shoes. The lack of padding and air pockets means you are guaranteed to have maximum balance and stability, and in rowing machine terms you can be sure that all of your power is being transmitted into the footplate.

Adidas Power

Now these are really aimed at the elite, or those who want to have the best of the best when it comes to equipment. These weightlifting shoes by Adidas are used at the top end of the sport – at my club they were an essential purchase for those with Intenational aspirations who were doing such intense weights sessions and pushing the boundaries. At International level, you see a lot of rowers using these same shoes on the rowing machine (seen below), typically due to the rock solid heel and support/ comfort provided. As mentioned, these are a fantastic shoe – and can fulfil dual roles if you do a lot of lifting but do come in rather pricey.

I used to have these in my rowing boat and can vouch for the comfort!

Nike Free

Now these are a shoe you see a lot on runners and gym users. They have continued to grow in popularity since Nike got involved in the move towards gym shoes that don’t contain air pockets. The Nike Free range are also designed to have an easier level of flex in the sole.

Going by my criteria earlier, I think a shoe should be bought that is multi functional, but at least with the aim of bringing the right benefits to the rowing machine. For this reason, I think these are a great option. They avoid the dreaded air cushioning but are suitable for everything else in the gym, in addition to being quite popular and accepted from a casual fashion option too.

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