If you’re wondering what weightlifting shoes are and if they are worth buying, you aren’t alone. This piece of specialized equipment is relatively new to mainstream fitness and has many people scratching their heads. Their sudden appearance in gyms across the nation can be largely attributed to the rise in CrossFit and the overall awareness of why you should be wearing this type of shoe for a workout.
Since there is a lot of misinformation and honest ignorance out there, I want to quickly dismiss some of the more common fallacies about this type of footwear.
WEIGHTLIFTING SHOES ARE NOT:
- Overpriced dress shoes with straps
- The same as putting plates or boards under your heels
- Only for Olympic lifters
- Only for people that cannot squat low enough
OLYMPIC LIFTING – WHERE IT ALL BEGAN:
The original “weightlifting shoe” was invented in the early 1900’s to assist the mechanics of Olympic style weightlifters. By the 1950’s this design had evolved into a basic form of what we see today; a low top shoe with a raised, solid heel.
Before this new form of shoe was adopted most lifters donned boxing boots or flat canvas sneakers. If you have ever watched an Oly lifter execute a lift you will notice how quickly they descend under the bar all the while remaining stable enough to move the weight overhead. It was discovered that having a raised heel aided the lifter in several ways.
HOW DOES THE HEEL HELP?
For starters, the last thing you want between your foot and the floor while lifting is something that will compress or cause instability. This true for any movement that involves your feet touching the floor from squats, overhead presses, dead lifts and even bench press.
When you drive your feet into the ground you want all the power to transfer into the ground and back up your legs. If your shoes compresses you lose some of this kinetic energy out the sides of the shoe. You will also be less stable and have a higher chance to “wobble” in your shoes.
Both of these circumstances will result in lowered performance as well as put yourself at a higher risk for injury. So if you do nothing else, stop lifting in squishy shoes that were made for running, basketball or any other activity where “bounce” is a desired effect.
But there are more ways the heel design can improve your lifting.
Form and Posture. With a raised heel most athletes find it much easier to keep their torsos in an upright position during a squat. This is a result of your shins being at a more advantages angle to the floor which shifts your hips closer to your heels. From this position the lifter will also have more shoulder control, making it easier to perform overhead pressing.
Squat Depth. While it is true you will find it easier to hit ass-to-ground depth, this is a poor “sole” reason for buying a pair of weightlifting shoes. If you have no issues with depth then these make it that much easier plus the added benefits listed above. If you do have depth issues, I strongly recommend you work on ankle mobility and calf flexibility daily. Meanwhile you can use the shoes to get the most out of your squats but don’t use them as a crutch – do your damn stretches.
WHAT PURPOSE DOES THE STRAP SERVE?
No, it isn’t a useless piece of fashion flair. The strap, or straps, on a lifting shoe are there to provide additional stability on the outer side of the shoes as well as lock your foot into place. You don’t want your heel sliding up and down in the shoe and you don’t want your foot spilling over the lateral sides as your press outward.
LIFTING SPECIFIC DESIGN FEATURES:
There are a few more features in design that add to the intricacy of a good lifting shoe. For one, most are constructed of a thick material for the upper (outside) portion of the shoe. Remember, the shoe is meant to support your foot in all directions.
These will also incorporate a very “sticky” sole to prevent a lifter’s foot from slipping. There is usually a flex point in the sole design across the toebox to allow the shoe to bend easier in this location. This is a requirement for Olympic lifting where a lifter’s back foot extends out and onto the ball of the foot during the split-jerk position.
DO YOU NEED TO SPEND A FORTUNE ON SHOES?
Typically, no. Entry level models are good enough for most people that are just looking for a “good squat shoe”. The more advanced lifters will benefit from the better build quality of more expensive models. Anyone performing Olympic lifts will get the most benefit from the higher priced shoes.
So in short, if you just need a shoe for squats a cheap shoe is fine. If you lift heavy ass weight, you should probably look past the entry level stuff. If you want a shoe that will last longer then look past the entry level stuff. If you’re doing Oly lifts then spend as much as you can afford; the improved features of more expensive models will benefit you the most.
WHEN SHOULD YOU WEAR THEM?
I tend to only wear my shoes on days when I will be performing so type of power or Olympic lift… which is just about every workout – haha. But seriously, any lift that requires your feet to be on the floor can typically benefit from lifting shoes.
One caveat to this may be deadlifting. I prefer to be as flat as possible when pulling deads, but this is a personal preference. I’ve talked to many lifters that like to pull while wearing lifting shoes because of the increased quad activation. Give it a try and see what suits you.
I also don’t wear them while doing leg presses because it create a funky knee angle.
WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT WEAR THEM?
A true weightlifting shoe is made to be rigid and fit tightly on the foot. Performing movements that create excessive, multi-directional strain on the shoe is not only a bad idea but usually voids the manufacturer’s warranty of most brands.
So let’s recap. No burpees, box jumps, prowler pushes, jumping rope, sprints or any other dynamic conditioning while wearing your lifting shoes. Switch into your favorite pair of trainers to perform these portions of your work out and save your shoes and your feet!
Absolutely don’t want to change shoes for a workout? Well, the demands of CrossFit have led way to a “hybrid” lifting shoe. These shoes are designed to be stable enough to lift in but flexible enough to allow a moderate amount of conditioning work. Checkout the models from Reebok and Inov-8.
So that’s it. Weightlifting shoes are not a necessity but they are a luxury item that will benefit most people that wear them. Now go read some reviews and decide which shoe is best for you!