How Important is Shoe Choice for Lifting?

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Is this a thing?

The recreational gym goer might not give a second thought to what shoes they wear. They may even wear running shoes for the gym, after all they are sold to them as “gym shoes.” But a powerlifting or a weight lifter will tell you that the shoe worn during the lift is vitally important.

It’s not that uncommon to see people wearing a different pair of shoes for squats to bench to deadlift in a comptetition. I, personally, have one pair of shoes for squats and deadlifts (flats) and another for bench (squat shoes). I’ll explain the reasons for this as we go on.

I’ll explain this largely from a powerlifting perspective so that you can learn the links between the shoe type and exercise type easily.

Squat shoes for squats?

This discussion largely revolves around whether you squat high bar or low bar. High bar is the more common style of squatting so this might be what you think of as the default squat. Low bar is what a good deal of powerlifters graduate to, as it has been known to produce a 5-10% increase in weight over high bar.

High vs Low.

High bar is where the bar is placed across the trapezius muscle near the neck. This position works best for people who squat with their back in a more upright position.

Low bar can be a bit more tricky to find the best position. The best way to find the correct position is to set the bar up in a high bar position against the rack and to slide the bar down your back until you find a second racking position, you’ll feel where it sits nicely.

Note : “Nicely,” might be an understatement. Even if you get low bar in the correct position it can cause some pressure on the wrists, elbows or shoulders. Wrist wraps and sufficient shoulder mobility will definitely help you here. 

You might be wondering, “well, how does this effect my shoe choice?” Well : –

  • High Bar requires – greater ankle flexion, shorter relative femur length, longer torso length, narrower stance and more quadriceps dominance.
  • Low Bar requires – longer relative femur length, shorter torso, wider stance, greater gluteal strength.

You can see, high bar needs more mobility and flexion in the ankle itself. An added heel to your shoe can help to make up for, or exaggerate this. This flexion will allow for you to remain more uprtight in your torso throughout the movement.

Obviously, you’ll want to stay upright throughout a low bar movement too, but you are much more likely to have a forward lean in a low bar squat.
You don’t want this lean to result in you folding over, of course. The correct stance for any squat is one that results in the bar remaining in line with your mid foot throughout the whole movement.

This is why flat shoes are generally used for low bar squats. It will take some experimentation though. If you find that wearing heels keeps the bar in line better than flats do, then have at it.

 

Squat shoes for bench?

Again, this is very powerlifter. Many recreational gym goers may not be aware of the effect of leg drive on a bench press. In the IPF (the federation I compete in) the rules state that your feet, butt, shoulders and head must remain in contact with the bench in order for the lift to pass. This is why you sometimes see excessive arches and set ups on bench, I am guilty for this myself.

To get a good arch you need to get your butt and shoulders as close as your mobility allows, while also keeping your feet in contact with the floor.

A squat shoe can help as it : –

  • Extends the length of your legs making it easier for you to keep in contact with the floor.
  • Makes it easier to push through the floor and activate leg drive.

I have had a case where a client discovered his feet wouldnt stay down in converse during the competition itself, so we had to lend a pair of squat shoes off of another lifter in order to continue.

Some federations don’t require you to have your full foot down on the floor during the movement, so this isn’t always relevant to powerlifting.

When it comes to shoes for bench, squat shoes can be helpful. But if you find you can keep your feet flat, or don’t even need to keep your feet flat, then it’s entirely up to you.

Squat shoes for deadlifts?

Generally, I would just say – don’t. Squat shoes would normally just shift your body into the wrong position and lead to you starting the lift with your shoulders ahead of the bar, and therefore making the lift much harder to execute.

Whether, you’re deadlifting sumo or conventional you generally want your shoulders to be in line with, or behind, the bar. So heels could knock you off your game here. This is why minimalist shoes, such as slippers, are allowed in competition.

The above picture goes against what I’ve just said. You will sometimes see people from an olympic weightlifting background set up like this, wearing heels. The reason for this is that most olympic lifts start like a deadlift but contain some form of squat where you need to remain upright in order to then hoist the weight over head in the form of a jerk or press.

Best Footwear?

Basically, the best footwear is highly dependant on what exercise you’re doing.

Does the shoe you’re wearing help or hinder your position throughout the movement?

If you can answer this then you will know which shoes are best for you.

When it comes to which heeled or which flat shoes to wear, this will be down to personal preference and price. Some heeled shoes will cost roughly £50, wheras others will be closer to £200. So it all depends upon you and your willingness to open your wallet.

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