The first time I put on real lifting shoes, it was a revelation. My feet were so stable during squats, it was like they were glued to the ground. They were so comfortable I forgot to take them off for deadlifts, though — a rookie mistake, since the heels put you at a disadvantage for that lift. Here’s what you should know about the shoes you wear when you lift heavy.
Running shoes are no good for heavy barbell lifts
When you first head into the gym, you’ll wear whatever shoes you’ve got. If that means a pair of running shoes, it’s not the end of the world. But as soon as you can, you should upgrade.
Running shoes, and other comfortable sneaker-like footwear, tend to have squishy soles. But when you have a heavy weight on your shoulders or in your hands, you don’t want anything interfering with your connection to the floor. If your weight shifts too far back on your heels a little bit, for example, that’s a small problem if you’re in lifting shoes and a big one if you’re in running shoes. Do yourself a favour and find something more stable.
Each lift has its own requirements in terms of footwear. When you deadlift, you want flat soles, as low to the ground as possible. When you squat, you may want a shoe with a little bit of a heel.
If you don’t know what you want, get a pair of Chucks
You don’t necessarily have to run out and get specialised lifting shoes. If all you’re missing in life is stability, flat-soled sneakers like Converse Chuck Taylors will do the job just fine. That’s what I do most of my lifts in, but the brand isn’t important. Any other flat shoe will do.
If you’re interested in what I personally do, I wear my Chucks to the gym, and change into Olympic lifting shoes for squats (or for the whole workout if I’m doing Olympic lifts). I wear the Chucks for everything else, including deadlifts.
For squats, consider lifting shoes
Olympic weightlifters pretty much all wear weightlifting shoes. They may look like sneakers, but they’re built differently: they have thin, hard soles, a chunky heel, and squared-off edges to the sole. (This Instagram post from Catalyst explains the reasoning while showing off what kind of shoes I mean.)
If you have trouble flexing your ankle enough to get a deep squat, lifting shoes will help. (They’re also arguably safer than the other traditional solution, which is squatting with your heels elevated on weight plates on the floor.) They also keep your foot stable from side to side and the hard, thin soles mean you don’t have the marshmallowy footing that you’d get from sneakers.
Lifting shoes can help you keep your feet on the floor during bench
If you compete in powerlifting, and if your federation requires you to keep your whole foot on the floor while bench pressing, the heel on lifting shoes can help. If you don’t compete, or if keeping your heel on the ground isn’t an issue for you, then you can bench in whatever shoes you want.
You can always deadlift in socks
If you wear Chucks to the gym, great — you can deadlift in those. But if you otherwise wear lifting shoes (or running shoes), there’s an easy solution: just take your shoes off.
Now, don’t deadlift barefoot if it’s a gym you share with other people. That’s usually against the rules. But socks are fine. You won’t have any cushioning under your feet, and you don’t have to worry about the heel on your lifting shoes.
For deadlifts, you want to start as close to the ground as possible. A three-quarter-inch heel means you have to lift the bar three quarters of an inch higher than you would otherwise. In competition, lifters sometimes wear thin-soled slippers just so they can technically be wearing shoes but still lift as if they were in socks.
Socks are great if you pull conventional (with your feet together), but if you do sumo deadlifts instead, you may find socks too slippery on your lifting platform. If that’s the case, get some grippy deadlift slippers, or go back to your trusty Chucks.