Weightlifting Shoes – Why You Need Them to Lift Heavy
Lifting heavy requires the right footwear. Many people lift using normal sneakers or running shoes – and that’s a big mistake.
Running shoes have way too much padding and cushion. While this makes them great for the constant impact of running, it doesn’t make them very good for hoisting hundreds of pounds above your head or on your back.
But while functional fitness training like CrossFit does have a lot of weightlifting, it’s not exclusively about lifting weights. The WOD incorporates a lot more variety of training: sprints, rope climbs, box jumps, burpees, rope skipping, and so much more.
We’re also going to look at options that are more versatile – cross training shoes – that can still get the job done for lifting weights.
Squat in running shoes? No way – here’s why real weightlifting shoes are better:
- Solid, Rigid Heel – For stability when you need it, and efficient power transfer in the quick lifts
- Raised Heel – Makes it easier to squat deep
- Instep or Midsole Strap – Keeps your feet locked-in and not sliding around
- Grippy Sole – Traction so your feet stay planted where they should be
That’s what makes a great weightlifting shoe. Funky, eye-catching color schemes are completely optional.
Why weightlifting shoes? The primary benefit is that special purpose weightlifting shoes have a solid heel – usually made of solid wood – or another equally rigid material. They are stable – really stable. Your foot will not sink into the thick cushioning as is typically used in running shoes. That’s a big deal because it’s easier on your joints and helps prevent injury.
The last thing you want with a heavily loaded barbell on your back (or in your hands) is to have your foot smooshing around in a rubbery soled shoe. The angles of compression in your knee joint shouldn’t be constantly changing as you move the weight.
Weightlifting shoes also typically have some sort of in-step or midsole strap – that helps ensure your foot is securely locked in place in the shoe. Again, this is to avoid all extraneous movement – which could cause injury otherwise. Sliding and slipping also interferes with power transfer as you jerk or snatch a weight overhead.
Secondly – weightlifting shoes also typically have a raised heel. This lessens the required ankle range of motion and ensures you can get deeper into a squat position – without rounding your lower back. A heel raise from around .75″ to 1″ or more is not uncommon.
Lastly, they usually have a really grippy sole. A slipping foot while lifting weights could mean a nasty injury – so traction is of the utmost importance.
Not convinced yet? Once you try a heavy squat, squat clean, or clean and jerk, in a pair of weightlifting shoes, there is simply no comparison to squatting in running shoes. There’s no going back.
Weightlifting Shoes are made for Olympic Weightlifting
With all these advantages – it’s a given that weightlifting shoes are essential gear for Olympic weightlifting. Take a look at some pictures of competitors – they’re all sporting raised heel, strapped in weightlifting shoes on the platform. This is because there’s a huge amount of squatting in the olympic lifts – the squatting portion of both the clean and jerk and the snatch is a lot easier with these special purpose shoes. And of course we know that Olympic lifters do a lot of high bar, deep squatting to build strength in preparation for the competition movements.
But who else can benefit? They are also great for heavy squats of any sort – so whether you are practicing for the Oly lifts – or simply building strength with the high bar or low bar squat variations – you can benefit from the solid and raised heel.
How about for deadlifting? Having a stable sole is great for deadlifting – but this movement does not incorporate nearly as much knee flexion – so the raised heel is less of a benefit. You will often see that many people prefer to deadlift in bare feet or flat-bottomed, solid heel shoes such as the iconic Chuck Taylors for precisely this reason. This isn’t to say you can’t deadlift in weightlifting shoes – it’s just not an essential.
It’s also possible to develop better ankle flexibility – and range of motion. Squatting in flat sole shoes will help improve this and can eliminate some of the benefit of the raised heel. But you still need a solid heel, not a spongy one.
In the olden days we squatted with the smaller 2.75 lb. plates under our heels (or a board). This gave the same effect as the raised heel of a proper weightlifting shoe – but it was hard to get the plates in the right position – and awkward to keep them there. This is a practice that is best left to the history books, as this was before proper training shoes were affordable and readily available over the Internet. A proper weightlifting shoe is a much better choice.
A more versatile option
The biggest drawback to weightlifting shoes?
They are really only good for one thing – weightlifting. You can’t run in them, nor would you want to. They are too heavy and the utter lack of cushioning would make it a bad experience.
They also are relatively expensive, and those grippy soles tend to wear out quicker, compared to other shoes. So you’ll want to keep the “mileage” off of them.
CrossFit style training relies on a lot of the Olympic power movements such as the snatch, and clean and jerk. But it also involves a whole lot more – regular squats, overhead press, burpees, box jumps, rope climbs, jumping rope, and much, much more. A single purpose shoe simply won’t cut it. And that’s where some newer footwear options come into play.
Cross Training Shoes – A Better Option For the WOD
Cross training shoes are the shoes that do it all – you can lift weights, run, jump, rope climb and pretty much everything else you’d need to do in a WOD.
The concept of a “cross trainer” has been around for a while, but functional fitness and CrossFit workouts have really bumped up the demands for this type of shoe.
What are the essential features of a good cross training shoe? Here they are:
- Low-Profile – They’ve got to have a minimal “heel to toe drop” – meaning the difference in elevation from the heel to the toe. 4mm to 6mm is typical (or well under .25″). This means you don’t get a sky-high elevated heel, but you get a better running and jumping experience.
- Durable – Cross training shoes take a beating, with friction and abrasion in unexpected areas. An example? How about rope climbs? Enough of these can shred an ordinary pair of shoes, but a good cross training shoe will have a wrap around outsole or medial grip area that let’s the super-tough material of the sole take the brunt of that.
- Breathable – Functional fitness training is some of the hardest in the world – and you’re gonna be overheated and sweating. So a breathable upper is a requirement.
- Grip and Traction – needless to say, you can’t workout proper if you are sliding all over the place – indoors or outdoors. A good cross training shoe will provide tenacious grip.
- Lastly, they need sufficient rigidity and stability for weight lifting, but not so much that you can’t run or jump in them. There’s got to be a midsole that can absorb some shock.
So, there are some trade-offs. But for most people, it’s not practical to change shoes in the middle of the WOD – so the cross training shoe is the one shoe that can do it all.
How about some real world examples?
Here’s some great cross training shoes for 2018:
The Nike Metcon 4 Training Shoe is all about versatility – but is still a serious training shoe. A firm rubber heel ensures you can work with heavy weight – but at the same time there is only a 4mm “drop” from heel to toe and forefoot flexibility for exercises such as sprints, box jumps, distance runs, and general day-to-day use. With a “locked-in” feel and a wrap-around sole these are also great for rope climbs. And on top of all that? They look great.
Reebok has options too, branded with the CrossFit name. The Rebook Nano 8 Flexweave is a versatile, serious training shoe – meant for weightlifting and the rest of the WOD – whatever that may entail. It’s got a breathable upper (thanks to “Flex weave”), great traction, and a minimal drop. This means you can sprint, jump, and rope climb without any issues. The Nano 8 is an iteration that builds on the Nano 7 , and the Nano 6. And while the Nano 7 wasn’t as well received as the 6, this new model takes care of any issues – it’s a better shoe all-around.
And lastly, NOBULL makes some great training shoes as well. Their NOBULL Trainer model is durable, breathable, and has that same 4mm heel to toe drop as the Nike and Reebok. As a plus these look really good, and are very comfortable.
What’s a “minimalist” show? A minimalist shoe attempts to closely approximate barefoot conditions – as much as possible. This means no motion control or stability devices, no heel, and a high flexibility. The goal is to not hinder the natural movement of the foot. This also means a thin sole, light weight, and lack of cushioning. These are popular in running, and also in CrossFit. Reebok’s CrossFit Speed TR is an example of one such shoe.
If you are doing serious Olympic weightlifting training a proper pair of weightlifting shoes is essential. The Adidas Adipower shoe is a classic, battle-proven option. The Adidas Powerlift III is a slightly more economical, but still solid option.
For CrossFit training, and other “functional fitness” training styles that incorporate a lot of variety – a more versatile shoe is required. And this is where the Nike Metcon 4 and Rebook Nano 8 line are a great choice.
And lastly, when it’s time to “grip, dip, and rip” with the deadlift – anything with a solid sole – including bare feet – is a workable option.
Photo and Image Credits
- Some product imagery on this page is property of Rogue Fitness and provided by Rogue Fitness.
- Some additional product imagery is courtesy of Adidas and Nike.
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