The difference between weightlifting shoes and cross training shoes
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 repeated, jarring 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.
- 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
Features of the Best Weightlifting Shoes
Why weightlifting shoes (also called squat shoes)? The primary benefit is that special purpose weightlifting shoes have a solid heel – sometimes even 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. This solid, rigid heel typically means weightlifting shoes are heavier than regular sneakers or running shoes.
Secondly – weightlifting shoes also typically have a raised heel. This lessens the required ankle range of motion and ensures you can more easily get deep into a squat position – without rounding your lower back. A heel raise from around .75″ to 1″ or more is not uncommon.
The height of the raised heel can be expressed as the offset or heel to toe drop, in shoe terms. A typical classic running shoe such as Asics have a heel to toe drop of 10mm – meaning your heel is about 10mm higher than your toes. Newer style running shoes that encourage “midfoot striking” have a lesser drop of from 5 to 6mm, typically.
How does that compare to a weightlifting shoe? In a weightlifting shoe, a 3/4 inch heel is most popular. That’s a 19 mm heel to toe drop.
Weightlifting shoes also typically have some sort of in-step or midsole strap. This 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.
Some weightlifting shoes even have multiple in-step straps.
Lastly, they usually have a really grippy sole – for the maximum in traction. A slipping foot while lifting weights could mean a nasty injury – so traction is of the utmost importance. The downside to high traction rubber? It wears out quicker than harder rubber.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot of features that go into a proper squat shoe.
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.
Squatting in running shoes is like lifting weights on a bed mattress. So, stop doing that.
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.
The Best Shoes for Weightlifting
Now that we know what to look for – let’s examine some of the best weightlifting shoes. We’ll call out those special features we explained above.
Adidas Weightlifting Shoes
Adidas has several weightlifting shoe options.
The Adidas Power Perfect 3 is a new weightlifting shoe from Adidas.
A quick glance shows just what you’d expect from a weightlifting shoe: a high raised heel and a hook-and-loop (aka Velcro) instep strap. It’s also got an integral heel support for additional stability. And you can’t see the die cut wedge midsole.
User reviews indicate these fit wider feet better than the older Adipower shoe – so, if you had problems with that, you may want to give these a try.
The Adidas Powerlift 3.1 is a slightly more affordable option.
Besides being less expensive these are a better option for those needing a narrow fit.
Otherwise, we see what you’d expect to see – raised heel, instep strap, etc.
The upper (the part that covers the foot) is synthetic leather with an air mesh collar and tongue.
But, if I had had my choice, I’d go for these: Adias Adipower weightlifting shoe.
This is the classic Adidas weightlifting shoe – 20 mm heel to toe drop, instep strap, and much, much more.
It looks good with the Adidas 3 stripe design and it works even better.
This is the shoe that has been battle proven by many lifters.
Nike Weightlifting Shoes
The only Nike weightlifting shoe currently available is the Nike Romaleos 3.
Available in a wide variety of color combinations that vary from mild to wild, these are considered a classic weightlifting shoe.
First, you can see the raised heel. It produces a 20mm offset – which is right where we’d expect it to be.
The midfoot strap is there for a locked in feel, but this shoe also incorporates Nike’s Flywire.
Flywire are light-weight, but tough, polymer filaments that integrate with the laces. When you tighten the laces the Flywire tightens up the structure of the shoe.
That raised heel is made with honeycombed TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane.) That a hybrid material – a mixture between hard plastic and soft silicone. Weightlifting shoes are pretty heavy, when compared to normal shoes, and so we welcome the use of advanced materials to lighten these up. Nike claims a pair of size 10 weigh 14.4 ounces/408 grams.
Another great feature of these? Two interchangeable insoles provide soft or firm support, as you desire.
Reebok Weightlifting Shoes
Reebok offers the Legacy Lifter shoe.
Reebok’s entry in the field has a 22mm drop and the heel clip is extra firm TPU – this helps make the shoe a rock-solid platform.
Surprisingly, the grippy outsole rubber is tested and it is claimed to last up to seven years.
You’d get a lot of use out of this pair of shoes.
For weight, these clock in at just over 20 ounces.
So, you can see that the best weightlifting shoes have a lot in common, and now you know what important features to look for.
Let’s switch gears now and talk about some versatile options for cross training.
Cross Training Shoes – 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.
By the way, only Reebok shoes can be officially branded as “CrossFit Shoes”. This is because they have a specific legal agreement with CrossFit. But make no mistake, the Nike Metcon shoes, NOBULL Trainers, etc. are indeed “CrossFit Shoes”.
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 is right inline with “midfoot” striking needs. 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.
Minimalist ShoeWhat’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.
- This website is not affiliated or associated with CrossFit, Inc. CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.