Weightlifting shoes: yay or nay?
By Jasper Remmerswaal
Weightlifting shoes are very common in gyms nowadays. This article gives you a look into the reasons people buy weightlifting shoes and whether you should buy them. I divided the article in three different sections: What do weightlifting shoes actually do, why should you (not) buy them and my conclusion on the topic. I hope you will enjoy this article, and please keep in mind that this article reflects my opinion and is not necessarily the only truth.
Oh, added bonus: I will give some recommendations on shoes that I think are worth the money.
What do weightlifting shoes actually do?
Weightlifting shoes (like the one in the picture) have an elevated heel. An elevated heel will artificially increase the length of your calve muscles. In other words: The degree of ankle dorsiflexion you are capable to achieve in the squat is increased. In other words: You have more ankle range of motion. In other words: Your knees can track more forward with an elevated heel than without one. The picture below illustrates ankle dorsiflexion. Take a good look at it. Imagine if you would put a block under the heel now. The knee would move forward through the wooden board, right? You can also test this yourself: squat down into your deepest squat, and then do it again but this time squatting only on the toes (thus there is room between the floor and your heel). Squatting on your toes will make a deeper squat easier. Weightlifting shoes act according to this principle. In the rest of this article, I will also refer to weightlifting shoes as ‘lifters’. They are both the same thing.
*Why is it called dorsiflexion? Flexion is the term for the bending of a joint, in this case the ankle joint. Dorsal refers to the back of the body. Ankle Dorsal flexion is therefore the bending of the ankle joint, towards the back of the body. Think about it: the toes move close to the back of the body when the knees go forward/when the toes are pulled upwards.
As an added bonus, weightlifting shoes provide some ankle stability for those who have poor feet (for example flat feet). The shoes can be bound real tight around the foot, and they feel very stable.
So that’s great right? Let’s all buy weightlifting shoes!
Buying lifters is often a good idea, but most people buy them for the wrong reasons. I will list these in no particular order plus another argument against lifters:
- They lack adequate flexibility, and instead of working on these problems, they buy shoes and leave the mobility work for what it.
If you are planning on some deep squatting, then weightlifting shoes are a great tool. But it does not mean you should skip the mobility work if you really need it. Don’t buy shoes to mask deficiencies.
- They buy lifters because someone told them they are squat shoes and their squat will go up.
Lifters are indeed squat shoes. However, if you squat to parallel and you have no reason or ambition to squat any deeper than that, lifters are absolutely not necessary. At most they provide you with some ankle stability. They won’t increase your squat numbers.
- They think that lifters are also made for deadlifting.
Weightlifting shoes increase ankle dorsiflexion and are therefore useful in the (high bar) squat. They will not contribute to your deadlift. They will actually decrease your leverage (=Hefboomwerking) because with shoes you now have artificially longer legs. However, they provide some ankle stability. Still, if your ankles are fine, you are probably better of lifting in just plain shoes with flat soles. I personally deadlift with my lifters on all the time, and I have a good reason for that: I am plain too fucking lazy to change shoes. That’s all right, just don’t think that squat shoes are deadlift shoes.
- They squat low bar style.
Increasing ankle dorsiflexion will not contribute to your squat if you squat low bar. The whole point of squatting low bar is to have more hip flexion (a smaller hip angle) compared to a high bar squat. Lifters will give you a more upright position (thus increasing the hip angle) in the low bar squat and in general, this will not benefit your squat numbers in the low bar squat. Look at the picture. LOOK. The left is a low bar squat and the right a high bar. You see that the knees are more forward in the high bar, and the position is more upright (take a look at all the angles in the picture). Squat shoes will make your squat look more like a high bar squat, as compared to a low bar squat: upright position and knees forward. When you use squat shoes in a low bar position, it will make it more high bar like. If you make the low bar look like a high bar, why do low bar in the first place? The discussion of which type of squat style you should pick is a whole other discussion, which I will go into in another article.
- Squat shoes are expensive as f*ck.
A pair of good squat shoes will easily cost you over 100 euros. A pair of brandless chucks from the Schoenenreus will cost you 7 euro’s. As most people are better of squatting with flat shoes, buying lifters is what we Dutch call a ‘duur grapje’.
Okay okay, so now we have all the reasons to not buy squat shoes. When should we buy them?
- You are an Olympic weightlifter.
Increased depth in the squat means increased depth in the clean and in the snatch. If you can catch the bar lower, you are able to handle more weight. Also, having a more upright position is very beneficial because it is easier to handle the bar overhead in a straight line. This is why all Olympic lifters use lifters.
- You like to squat deep and incorporate deep squats in your training for whatever reason.
If you like to squat deep and you squat high bar, then lifters are a valuable tool for you. They will give you more stability in the squat plus a more efficient position for squatting deep.
- You squat high bar but you lean forward way too much.
Lifters will give you a more upright position. However, use these as a tool and not as a permanent solution! Keep working on your mobility. The added benefit here is that it’s nice that you can still squat in the process of working towards good technique.
- You have poor ankle stability.
If you have flat feet for example, lifters may increase your stability in the squat. Squat shoes are very stable and you will notice the difference immediately if your ‘natural stability’ is not that good. However, you can still work on ankle stability and you should also look for orthotics (‘’steunzolen’’ in Dutch) if you want to keep on training without injuries! Shoes are not the solution, but a tool.
- If you are an Olympic weightlifter, or you squat deep, go ahead and buy squat shoes.
- If you squat low bar, you are better off with ordinary flat shoes. If you are a powerlifter who squats high bar (the minority), you might benefit from squat shoes.
- As a normal gym rat, you probably don’t have to spend money on expensive shoes. But you can if you squat high bar and deep on a regular basis.
Which shoes do I recommend?
I’d like to start of with saying that most people are probably better of with just buying the 9 dollar fake Allstar shoes from Schoenenreus. They are better for just parallel (high bar) squatting, low bar squatting and deadlifting. If you are not one of these people and you decide to buy weightlifting shoes, then I recommend the following.
I personally have a pair of Adidas Power Perfect 2 shoes. These shoes are great for weightlifting and deep squatting, and they are very stable. They have a band (like most weightlifting shoes) so you can really strap them on tight. The elevated heel is pretty large, which is nice for deep squatting, snatching and cleaning/front squatting. They sell a bit over 100 euros.
Then you have the slightly cheaper powerlift 2.0 and 3.0. The shoes are a lot like the power perfect 2’s. The name is very misleading, because powerlifting involves deadlifting and benching and the shoes do not provide any added benefit to those two lifts. Also, the majority of powerlifters squats low bar, and the shoes do not necessarily contribute to a low bar squat. The elevated heel is slightly less when compared to the power perfect 2, which makes it a less valuable shoe for olympic weightlifting. If you are a powerlifter and like the extra ankle stability, then these shoes are for you. If you want deep squatting or if you are a weightlifter, you are better of with the Power Perfect 2. The shoes sell for about 90 euros.
Then you have a more expensive adidas shoe: The Adidas Adipower for Weightlifting. I hear good stories about them and if you want to buy yourself some new shoes, I would recommend you choose between this one and the Power Perfect 2. The elevated heel is about the same in height. They sell for about 180 euros. One thing worth mentioning: about 95% of the people who compete in the top of olympic weightlifting have these shoes. Like really, all of them. Adidas also has one even more expensive model, selling for 225 euros, but I don’t know anybody who wears them so I won’t recommend them.
Nike also makes nice shoes: The Romaleos 2. They sell for about 200 euros. The elevated heel is comparable to the Power Perfect 2 and Adipower. The thing I like about this shoe is that it has two bands with which you can strap it on. I have never had them on myself but I guess this would feel great and it’s very easy to adjust them during training.
I have no experience with other brands, so I won’t recommend them. If you have experience with other brands, please tell me! I am very curious.
A general note: Weightlifting shoes will last multiple years if you treat them right (and not use them for walks, like me). They are really sports shoes in the long term. I would advise to buy the pair that suits you best, and not the cheapest pair.
I hope you enjoyed this article! If there are still questions, you can send me a message and I’ll gladly help you out.