Do Powerlifting Shoes help? The short answer is yes, absolutely! But it also depends on what exactly we mean by ‘help’ and to what degree…
A good pair of Powerlifting Shoes will first and foremost, help to provide stability during the three main Powerlifting movements; the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press. Depending on your needs, a Powerlifting Shoe should also either have a raised heel to decrease ankle flexion, or a thin sole to improve contact with the floor and reduce the range of motion. Both of these, among other benefits, will help immeasurably in Powerlifting.
Before we delve into the details, although Powerlifting Shoes will definitely help and come highly recommended, you definitely don’t need any specialist equipment to Powerlift, and that includes shoes! In fact, when I first became interested in Powerlifting, I wore regular old running shoes. Did it hinder me from lifting to my full potential? Yeah, more than likely, but it certainly didn’t stop me from executing each of the lifts effectively, and most importantly, safely. So, if your budget is tight or you’ve only just started your Powerlifting journey, then you may want to consider waiting a few months to a year before investing in a good pair (or multiple pairs!) of Powerlifting Shoes.
When it comes to Powerlifting, there is no one size fits all shoe, one type of shoe may help you with your squat, but that same shoe may not offer much benefit for your Deadlift (in fact, it may even hinder it!), that’s why I recommend a different shoe for each of the three big lifts; the Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press.
Do Powerlifting Shoes Help for Squats?
For the squat, most people will find that a shoe with a raised heel provides the most help. you’ll commonly see these types of shoes referred to as Squat Shoes, Weightlifting Shoes, Olympic Lifting Shoes (Oly shoes), or some variation of these.
What this raised heel does is place our ankles in a mechanically advantageous position by reducing the range of motion needed to get our hips at least parallel to the floor. This is an important skill to learn as most federations require you to reach at least parallel or the lift doesn’t count (you can check out the official IPF rulebook for more information on this).
The other big advantage that the Weightlifting Shoe offers is that the sole is made from a hard material such as plastic, rubber or wood, the idea here is to make it very stiff, which ultimately will improve the efficiency of our power transfer from the ground.
When you were learning to Squat did your Personal Trainer or that Youtube video you watched ever tell you to stick a couple of plates under your heels? Basically, the Weightlifting Shoe does the same thing, but better. Now that our range of motion is reduced and it takes less energy overall to get into that Squatting position, it stands to reason that we have more energy left over to move the weight on our back, ergo we should be able to Squat heavier or for more reps, or even both!
The other big advantage that the Weightlifting Shoe offers is that the sole is made from a hard material such as plastic, rubber, or wood, the idea here is to make it very stiff, which ultimately will improve the efficiency of our power transfer from the ground.
Imagine you had to do a squat on a trampoline, its gonna be pretty difficult, right? The trampoline is going to absorb a lot of the energy you generate, energy that could have gone into moving the weight on your back. To a lesser degree, this same lost energy happens when you train in less than optimal shoes. The softer, spongier sole will absorb some of that energy that really should be getting transferred into the squat itself. Now with the Weightlifting Shoe and its stiff, sturdy sole, there’s a lot less wasted energy through the ground and a lot more energy being input into the Squat.
An added benefit of the sole design is the increased stability it will offer; a good Weightlifting Shoe will almost always have a flat outsole, meaning the entirety of the shoe is in contact with the ground. This increases the area in contact with the ground and again, aids with energy transfer efficiency.
What this flat sole also does is lessen the risk of ankle roll or other balance-related issues. When I compare my Squat in regular old running shoes versus Weightlifting Shoes, I first and foremost just feel much more grounded and secure. My feet feel planted or rooted to the ground and that feeling adds so much to my confidence when I’m about to go for that PR.
Finally, one big addition that a typical Weightlifting Shoe will have (which you may not have had on your shoes since you were a kid) is a Velcro strap that comes across the top of your foot. In keeping with the theme of security and stability, what this does is helps to lock your foot in place, preventing any unwanted shifting or sliding within the shoe, which will likely transfer to lost energy going where you want it, the Squat itself. It kind of acts like a Powerlifting belt but for your foot, giving all that tiny musculature something to brace against.
There is one thing to be aware of when considering a Weightlifting Shoe for Squatting, however, and that is your overall proportions and Squatting stance.
If you typically Squat high bar and have a narrow to shoulder-width stance, then chances are Weightlifting Shoes will be a perfect fit for you.
If you’re a low bar Squatter, however, and have a wider stance, you may not reap the benefits of Weightlifting Shoes and their raised heel.
If this sounds like you, I would recommend looking at a good flat soled shoe. The Converse All Stars work very well for this, however, a more dedicated option to consider would be the Otomix Stingray.
Aside from not having a raised heel, the requirements are much the same. We want a hard sole to increase energy transfer and plenty of stability and grip. the mechanics are just slightly different so our shoe requirements change as a result.
For more information on Squatting with a raised heel shoe vs a flat shoe, check out my article.
So to sum up, do Powerlifting Shoes help? For the Squat, it’s a big fat yes:
- The raised heel of a Weightlifting Shoe will reduce the range of motion in the ankle joint, making the movement much less taxing for high bar Squatters.
- A flat-soled shoe will be mechanically advantageous for a low bar Squatter.
- The stiff sole will provide the optimum platform for energy transfer.
- The flat bottom will provide improved stability.
Do Powerlifting Shoes Help for Deadlifts
Now for the Deadlift, a completely different Powerlifting Shoe is beneficial as our needs here are different.
The best way to determine what sort of Powerlifting Shoe is best is to look at what we need to do to make the Deadlift that bit easier. One thing we can change is the distance the bar needs to travel from the floor, so straight away we know that if we reduce the thickness of the sole, the bar has less distance to travel, admittedly this is a small difference, but every little helps in the world of Powerlifting!
Instantly this rules out the Weightlifting Shoes that we discussed for the Squat. That raised heel is going to do us no favors whatsoever.
One thing a good Deadlift Shoe and a Weightlifting Shoe have in common though is a hard, flat sole. the laws of physics don’t change from one lift to another so, similar to the Squat, we want a strong, firm base to push from, I don’t think much more needs to be said on this.
Borrowing again from the Weightlifting Shoe, a good Deadlift Shoe will generally have strapping for that bit extra stability around the ankle joint and over the top of the foot. It’s also not uncommon to see a ‘high topped’ Deadlift Shoe, that is the material comes up past your ankle and covers the lower portion of your shin bone.
Again, its all about increasing the stability and security around your ankle joint, and this particular addition can be crucial for those that choose the Sumo Deadlift as their stance of choice. For those not familiar, the sumo stance puts our legs out wide with our toes typically pointed out towards the plates, naturally, this affects our balance and any stumble is going to be particularly costly when holding large amounts of weight in our hands, so that small additional support around the ankle joint can make all the difference.
Another crucial component to a Powerlifting Shoe that will help with the Deadlift (the Sumo Deadlift in particular) is grip. As you would expect, the last thing we want is to slip when we’re midway through the movement so grip is crucial, especially with our feet out wide with the sumo stance. Luckily a good, flat-soled Deadlift Shoe will have grip in abundance.
Check out my article on Powerlifting Shoe Grip, where I rank several different shoes on their grip performance.
The beauty with the Deadlift is that a good Powerlifting Shoe need not be expensive, and you may be surprised to hear that a common choice is a simple pair of high topped Converse All Stars. they’re by no means the perfect Deadlift Shoe, as they do miss out on the strapping and the sole is a bit thicker than would be ideal, but that said you really can’t go wrong for the price and for a novice to intermediate lifter, they do the job perfectly well.
If you’re looking for something a bit more specialized, then the Sabo Deadlift Shoe ticks all the boxes.
So do Powerlifting Shoes help with the Deadlift? Again, it’s a yes from me:
- The thinner sole brings you closer to the floor, reducing the distance the bar has to travel. Less range of motion means easier Deadlift!
- Similar to the weightlifting shoe, the sole is flat, improving contact with the floor.
- The foot and ankle support provides great stability, making the movement that much safer to perform.
Feel free to check out my dedicated article on Powerlifting Shoes specifically for the Deadlift.
Do Powerlifting Shoes Help for The Bench Press?
And finally, we are left with the Bench Press. Now I know what you are thinking, “the bench press is an upper-body movement, so why would our choice of shoe matter here?” Well, admittedly its probably less crucial than with the Squat and Deadlift, but that doesn’t mean our choice of footwear should be ignored, as there are still some benefits to be gained and when we’re Powerlifting, we want every advantage we can get.
As we did with the Squat and the Deadlift, let’s look at the mechanics involved that an appropriate shoe might help with.
As always, the key is reducing the range of motion, and the typical way to do this is by creating an arch in our back and pushing our chest up and out. By doing this, the bar has less distance to travel before coming in contact with our chest.
Now to help create this arch, our feet tend to find themselves coming back in the direction of our head, eventually, our ankle mobility reaches its limit, and the only way we can bring our feet further back and thus, increase our arch, is by lifting our heels. Here’s the kicker though, many federations, including the IPF, don’t allow heels to come off the ground, so what can we do to solve this? You guessed it, we wear a shoe with a raised heel!
The remaining benefits here are pretty consistent with the Squat and Deadlift; strong base to push from, increased support, stability & grip so I won’t go into the details here, I’m sure you get the idea by now.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that if your federation allows heel lift or you’re not bothered about competition rules, then a raised heel won’t offer you anything. So as long as your shoe has a hard sole, good stability, and provides plenty of grip then you’re all set!
You know the drill by now, do Powerlifting Shoes help with the Bench Press? Yes, they do!
- A raised heel can help improve your arch whilst still complying with IPF rules
- The supportive build can help you feel secure and ‘locked-in’
- Plenty of grip can help with leg drive (which if you’re not doing, you should really consider it)
Hopefully, the benefits of a Powerlifting Shoe are now clear. They’re by no means a necessity, but if you’re looking to take your Powerlifting journey seriously, sooner or later it’s worth considering an appropriate shoe for each of your lifts.
In the Squat, a Weightlifting Shoe will largely benefit high bar Squatters, whilst a simple flat-soled shoe will more likely suit low bar Squatters.
In the Deadlift, a flat, thin-soled shoe with ankle support will benefit most.
In the Bench Press, Weightlifting Shoes come highly recommended but any stiff-soled shoe will serve you well.