Weightlifting Shoes 101

on September 20, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In recent years there has been a growing awareness in the strength training community that regular footwear just doesn't cut it in the gym. Sneakers, the shoes that most people wear when they squat, deadlift, press or olympic lift, may be hampering their efforts and can be detrimental to learning and maintaining good technique. Why do sneakers make inadequate lifting shoes? The primary reason is the same reason sneakers are great for walking and running: their compressible sole. Nearly all sneakers and running shoes are designed to absorb impact when the shoe strikes the ground; however, this is exactly what you don't want when weightlifting. A spongy sole that can move under pressure or impact, while reducing stress on the knees and back when running, will hinder your lifting in a number of ways. This article describes some of those ways and how proper weightlifting shoes solve these problems.

In most barbell lifting you want to transfer all your force and physical effort into lifting the barbell. When wearing sneakers it is inevitable that some of that force is transferred into your shoes because of the absorption of the sole. Energy in the otherwise closed kinetic chain is muted. In some cases you're better off lifting barefoot (if your gym will allow it) or at least wearing a thin soled shoe like Converse Chuck Taylors.
 
Sneakers also impede your ability to achieve good lifting technique. One of the key requirements when learning a weightlifting movement is the ability to reproduce the movement over and over again. Unfortunately, you will have a hard time reproducing the same movement if you are wearing sneakers. Again, those soles will be moving, causing lateral instability, and forcing you to move your body weight to compensate. This makes your ability to reproduce good technique nearly impossible.
Finally, there are some safety issues you should consider if you wear sneakers while lifting. The last thing you want when jumping under a clean is a non-steady surface to land on. Sneakers don't provide a firm non-moving platform for your feet. Increased balance issues ultimately increase the risk of injury.
 
Weightlifting shoes solve many of the problems described above. While sneakers may be designed for running or tennis, weightlifting shoes are designed for weightlifting--they can help you become a better lifter. How do they do this?
The sole of a weightlifting shoe has minimal give and will not absorb energy under pressure. Usually the sole is made from compressed rubber or a wooden wedge as these materials work well for the purpose. The heel height is also important, between 1/4" and 1.5" depending on need, as it enables the lifter to achieve the most biomechanically efficient stance for lifting. A higher heel will usually help a lifter maintain good back position, keep the torso upright and the knees slightly in front of toes. A lower heel will usually place less stress on the knees.
 
Many weightlifting shoes come with straps around the metatarsal part of the shoe. These are designed to keep the foot glued to the shoe and sole and prevent excessive movement or instability. In the case of shoes without a strap, laces range the length of the shoe, from toes to ankles. High top shoes are not recommended unless the lifter is primarily doing power lifting.
Finally, the bottom sole on a weightlifting shoe is commonly a textured rubber that is designed to provide traction, but not too much as to impede movement.
 
It is not hard to see why many lifters, from novices to old timers, are starting to use weightlifting shoes. These specialty shoes can make a huge difference to the lifting experience and many who use them cannot believe that they ever were able to lift without them. Weightlifting shoes can be an expensive purchase, however don't use that as an excuse not to use them. MAXBarbell has many affordable quality options that work just as well as the pricier big-name models. Check them out and contact us if you have any questions. So get some shoes and get lifting!

Photo by by by Glen Bowman

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