Whether you’re interested in Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, CrossFit, or any other strength sport, you’ve probably heard about Weightlifting Shoes and the benefits as well as the misconceptions that are associated with them.
In this article, we’ll look at what key features make up a Weightlifting Shoe and why they are so beneficial for strength training. I will also answer some of the main questions that I receive surrounding their use and purpose.
What is a Weightlifting Shoe?
Weightlifting Shoes, as you might expect, are a shoe that is specifically designed for one purpose, to aid in the lifting of weight (a shocking revelation, I know!).
The stereotypical Weightlifting Shoe is usually defined by a raised heel, which usually elevates your heel anywhere between 0.6″ to 1.25″ higher than your toes, with the standard height being 0.75″.
The material of the heel and the overall sole is designed to be as stiff as possible. The most common materials used in the sole are TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane), EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate), Wood and stacked leather with TPU and EVA being the most widely used nowadays.
A midfoot strap is also a very common feature seen in many Weightlifting Shoes and in some cases, there may even be two straps.
Beyond these key features, Weightlifting Shoes are relatively comparable to ordinary shoes. The upper material may provide a lot more padding and support than a typical shoe or trainer and the standard Weightlifting Shoe will feel noticeably heavier and stiffer than you may be used to, however as CrossFit becomes more popular, many of the major manufacturers are leaning more towards lighter and more flexible materials these days as demand shifts and materials research improves.
What are the Benefits of Weightlifting Shoes?
All these features are not without reason, so let’s look at how these individual features of the Weightlifting Shoe benefit us when it comes to lifting weights.
Firstly, the raised heel. The simple benefit here is that the raised heel places our body in a more mechanically advantageous position by reducing the range of motion required of the ankle joint. It also shifts our center of gravity meaning more quad activation is likely during a lift.
For more detail on how ankle mobility and center of gravity affect your lifts, you can check out my article on Squatting in flat shoes vs Weightlifting Shoes.
The stiff material used in the sole provides a stable platform to push from. When lifting weights, it is important that as much energy is transferred into moving the weight itself. If you are wearing shoes with a soft sole, then some of that energy is lost through compression of the sole, ultimately making the lift more difficult.
The stiffness of a Weightlifting Shoe prevents this problem as it does not compress to the same degree that any other training shoe or sneaker would.
Midfoot straps offer additional benefit by simply holding your foot inside the shoe. In more dynamic lifts such as the Snatch, this can be vital as you want to ensure your foot stays firmly held inside the shoe throughout the lift.
The straps also give your feet something to brace against, which can offer a subtle benefit to your lifts and can provide a good feedback loop to ensure you are as tight as possible during the lift.
The benefits surrounding weight and snugness of the shoe are a bit more personal and vary from person to person, however, the general premise of a Weightlifting Shoe being heavy and snug around your foot can give the impression of being more rooted into the floor and can help with stability and balance throughout the lift.
What are Weightlifting Shoes Used For?
Now that we know what Weightlifting Shoes are and how they can benefit us, let’s look at what they are typically used for!
There are two main sports where Weightlifting Shoes are most commonly used, Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting.
Check out my article on the differences between Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting, where I go into further detail on both sports and their respective lifts.
To a lesser extent, Weightlifting Shoes may be seen in sports such as CrossFit and Bodybuilding or even just general strength training, however, this will come down to the individual’s personal preference and they certainly are not a necessity for these sports.
Of all the sports mentioned above, Weightlifting Shoes are by far the most common in Olympic Weightlifting. Their design lends itself most readily to the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch (the two staple lifts in Olympic Weightlifting) and you will rarely see an Olympic Weightlifter without a pair of Weightlifting Shoes.
But what about Powerlifting? In Powerlifting, there are three main lifts, Squats, Deadlifts, and the Bench Press. Are Weightlifting Shoes used for these lifts?
The short answer is yes and no. Let’s look at each lift individually.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Good for Squats?
For most people, Weightlifting Shoes will be good for their Squat performance.
The raised heel allows for less reliance on ankle dorsiflexion or mobility, allowing you to squat deeper with less stress on your joints.
Weightlifting Shoes will also allow you to maintain a more upright torso, taking stress away from your lower back and posterior chain and shifting more emphasis to your quads.
For general training, I would recommend Weightlifting Shoes for Squats, however, there are three occasions where you may not need them:
- If you are a low bar squatter
- If you have a combination of long femurs and a short torso
- You have great ankle and hip mobility
For more detail on these points you can check out my articles; Should you Squat in Flat Shoes or Heels? and High Bar vs Low Bar Squats.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Good for Deadlifts?
I personally do not recommend Weightlifting Shoes for Deadlifts.
In the Deadlift, we want to reduce the range of motion that the bar must travel through, which will make the lift easier and less taxing on our central nervous system.
If we wear Weightlifting Shoes during the Deadlift, we raise our body further from the floor and increase the distance that the bar must be lifted. This also means that we have to bend over further to reach the bar, putting more stress on our lower back.
You can check out my article on Powerlifting Shoes for the Deadlift, where I discuss and recommend some great options to consider.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Good for the Bench Press
Weightlifting Shoes can be advantageous for the Bench Press, however, it will largely depend on your Bench Press style and goals.
If you are training or competing in Powerlifting, depending on your federation’s exact rules, it is usually a requirement that your heels remain on the floor during the lift.
By wearing Weightlifting Shoes, this can artificially raise your heel off the floor whilst still being competition legal, allowing you to get a better arch and ultimately move more weight.
Barbell Medicine has an excellent guide on all things Bench Press in the youtube video below, which explains in more detail why an arch is important and how Weightlifting Shoes can aid this.
For those not looking to compete in Powerlifting, Weightlifting Shoes will be less important as you will be able to raise your heels and push through your toes.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Necessary?
This is a question I see most often from newer lifters and I can’t stress enough that Weightlifting Shoes are absolutely not necessary!
The only possible exception to this is if you are an Olympic Weightlifter. As mentioned previously, Olympic Weightlifting and Weightlifting Shoes really do go hand in hand. That said, I still wouldn’t go as far as to say they were a necessity, but I would highly recommend them in this case.
For everyone else, you will get by perfectly fine without Weightlifting Shoes and will still be able to train and progress without any issues.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Worth It?
Although I don’t believe Weightlifting Shoes are necessary, would I say they were worth it? Yes, 100%.
I train predominantly as a Powerlifter, and I use Weightlifting Shoes when I Squat and Bench Press.
Since switching over to Weightlifting Shoes, I have reduced the amount of training stress and fatigue in my lower back over time, this has allowed me to train more effectively and be more able to handle more volume in my workouts.
I do still Squat in flat shoes from time to time, mainly when I am testing my maxes as I am stronger in a more wide stance, low bar Squat, however in my training blocks I will always wear Weightlifting Shoes.
Weightlifting Shoes have also improved my Bench Press, simply by allowing me to generate a more effective arch, and as a result, I can lift more weight. It’s not a massive increase, however, my capacity in the Bench Press went up roughly 5% since I switched.
How Should Weightlifting Shoes Fit?
The simple answer to this question is that Weightlifting Shoes should fit just like any other shoe. You want them to be suitably tight, without restricting blood flow to your feet.
I break this down in detail in my articles, “How Should Powerlifting Shoes Fit?“ and “How Tight Should Weightlifting Shoes Be?“.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Cheating?
This is an interesting question, which I see quite a lot.
There are a lot of purists out there who believe that if you’re lifting a weight with anything other than your own body and strength then you are somehow cheating and the lift shouldn’t count.
To an extent, I can understand where they are coming from. Go into any commercial gym and chances are you will see someone loading up the bar with huge amounts of weight only to do a quarter Squat.
The key difference here is that doing a quarter Squat would count as a failed lift in competition, whereas Weightlifting Shoes are permitted. They’re allowed in the rules, so how can it possibly be cheating?
There are individuals out there who are physically incapable of Squatting to depth correctly due to ankle issues or their leverages, a Weightlifting Shoe could be the difference between being able to Squat and not for them. If Weightlifting Shoes are cheating, then in this scenario, those who were blessed with good genetics and leverages must also be cheating, right?
Why draw the line at Weightlifting Shoes? If they truly are cheating because it’s giving us an advantage, then training in an air-conditioned gym with a barbell and other specially made equipment must be cheating too, right? We should be outside training in the wind and rain or the baking sun with nothing but what nature provides us.
It’s a bit of a silly analogy, but hopefully, it shows how silly the idea that Weightlifting Shoes are cheating is.
The long and short of it all is, I don’t consider Weightlifting Shoes as cheating, and neither should you! And if you do, that’s fine too, no one is forcing you to train in Weightlifting Shoes!
Hopefully, now you have a good idea of what exactly Weightlifting Shoes are and the key benefits they offer as well as answers to many of the top questions surrounding Weightlifting Shoes.
If this article has convinced you to consider investing in a pair of Weightlifting Shoes, I recommend taking a look around at my reviews of some of the more popular Weightlifting Shoes. One article, in particular, that is a good place to start is the Top 5 Best Weightlifting Shoes.