Powerlifting Shoes 101
What Are Powerlifting Shoes?
Powerlifting shoes are simply shoes that make a good choice for the sport of powerlifting. Because this is such a broad term, it encompasses a vast array of lifting shoes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. By the end of this article, you should be able to find the best lifting shoes for your powerlifting needs.
History Behind Powerlifting Shoes
In comparison to Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting is a relatively new sport. Although some of what we see today dates back to ancient Greece, modern powerlifting didn’t really take off until the 1950’s. As a matter of fact, the first national powerlifting meet was held in 1964 by Bob Hoffman, the owner of York Barbell. We are lucky this meet even happened though due to Hoffman’s affiliation with Olympic weightlifting and his disinterest in powerlifts which were considered odd lifts at the time.
Powerlifting shoes were still a thing of the future in the 60’s and 70’s. Powerlifting was after all, still in its infancy. During this time, powerlifters would wear anything and everything such as sneakers, Chuck Taylors and even Oxfords. Around this time, Germany and Finland started to produce Olympic weightlifting shoes. Since they didn’t have their own lifting shoes, many shoes worn by early powerlifters were in fact Olympic weightlifting shoes. The trademark of traditional Olympic weightlifting shoes is their raised heel, but practically all tend to feature a metatarsal strap and rigid/non-compressible sole as well. The purpose of these will be discussed later. For an interesting article on the evolution of the Olympic weightlifting shoe, click here. Today, many powerlifters still prefer Olympic weightlifting shoes, but powerlifting shoes are available nowadays and make a compelling alternative.
But Do I Really Need Powerlifting Shoes?
If you perform any kind of squat or deadlift variation, you owe it to yourself to check out powerlifting shoes. Too often, people do themselves a disservice with flashy shoes. These shoes may be appealing to the eye but more often than not, they make poor lifting shoes. They aren’t designed with lifting in mind. By choosing flashy shoes over powerlifting shoes, you are sacrificing both performance and safety. You could literally be tossing away pounds on your lifts!
Think about the shoes you lift in as a piece of equipment for a sport. Would you play football in your sandals or try to skate in sneakers? I know I wouldn’t and I would never advise someone to squat in sneakers if they want to build a serious squat. Instead of reaching for that overpriced pair of Nike Shox, read on to find a pair of shoes that will get the job done. It really won’t cost you as much as you might think.
How Much Do Powerlifting Shoes Cost?
As was previously mentioned, all different kinds of shoes can effectively serve as a powerlifting shoe. As such, the price-tag is highly variable. Some people spend over $200 on Nike Romaleos, which are widely regarded as the best Olympic weightlifting shoes around. Others may opt for cheaper Olympic weightlifting shoes like the Rogue Do Wins, quality powerlifting shoes such as the Crossfit Lite TR or even Converse Chuck Taylors at a fraction of the cost. To learn more about cost efficient shoes read my article Cheap Weightlifting Shoes and feel free to comment if you are curious about my opinion on a particular shoe.
What Makes A Good Powerlifting Shoe?
Since powerlifting is composed of three distinct lifts, the best type of shoe is different for each lift. Some powerlifters go so far as to have three different pairs of shoes on meet day because of this! This isn’t always necessary though because all three lifts share some characteristics. For example, on all three lifts (and many other similar lifts) our feet must remain firmly planted to the ground at all times in order to lift as much weight as possible. Any stray movement of our feet could cause an inefficient transfer of force or cause us to lose balance. Therefore, all three lifts demand stability and the efficient transfer of force. The shoes we lift in should reflect and help facilitate this. As I wrote previously though, there still are differences in all three lifts that may dictate what shoe works best for you.
The squat and any variation thereof, is going to require a good deal of stability and mobility. Stability can be obtained through many ways. Squat shoes often have that aforementioned metatarsal strap which when tightened, prevents feet from shifting excessively inside the shoes. Because the metatarsal strap is pulled to the outside, shoes with straps might also prevent ankle pronation (also known as eversion). This may reduce knee valgus, more commonly known as knee cave, from happening. Not only will this improve your squat, but it will help maintain the integrity of the passive structures of the knee.
The sole of the shoe drastically affects stability as well. We don’t want thick rubber soles like those seen in most sneakers. These soles tend to be very uneven and to make matters worse, they compress under pressure! This is something we want to avoid at all costs because the force we produce from our muscles to squat is lost in the process of compressing the sole. To squat, we need a sole that will hold its shape when loaded.
Both the best powerlifting shoes and weightlifting shoes will sport a wide toe box. Basically, this means that the shoe will be very wide at the toes. This is in contrast to most current shoes which feature a narrow toe box that crams our feet together so much that our feet have actually shifted from their natural position. A shoe with a wide toe box will create a wider, more stable base for the lifter to draw from when squatting.
The importance of a raised heel for squats is often debated. On one hand, a heavy raised heel stabilizes us in the squat by weighing down our feet. This makes us a lot less shifty throughout the entire movement. The raised heel also masks bad squat form. Ankle dorsiflexion stiffness due to an overactive gastrocnemius calf muscle is exceedingly common in the general population and causes pronation, knee valgus and a hard time reaching depth on squats. By using a shoe with a raised heel, all of these problems seemingly vanish. While this is a solution that many turn to, covering up deficiencies in our squat mechanics isn’t the best idea. It would be prudent to work on lengthening the tight calf muscles that cause dysfunction so proper form is possible without the aid of equipment.
Furthermore, many powerlifters feel that raised heels can be detrimental to performance. Lifting shoes with raised heels cause the knees to travel forward more on the eccentric than normal. Although this allows for greater recruitment of the quadriceps and a more upright torso when squatting, it also causes knee pain in some individuals and reduces the role of the muscles of the posterior chain — the glutes and hamstrings. For those who squat high bar/close stance and have naturally strong quads, this isn’t a concern; however, this is an issue for low bar/wide stance squatters who rely heavily upon their posterior chain when squatting. These types of lifters typically do best with a relatively flat shoe.
Unlike the squat and deadlift, the bench press really doesn’t benefit from a specific type of shoe. For meets that don’t require lifters heels to be touching the ground, any shoe with a lot of grip at the toe will do. It also helps to have a shoe isn’t stiff as this might prevent us from getting our feet as far back on the bench as possible. As a result, our arch on the bench press would suffer. Some federations like the USAPL, require your heels to be in contact with the ground at all times. For powerlifting meets like these, I would consider a shoe with a raised heel. A shoe with a raised heel makes it easier to maintain a large arch in these federations.
While similar to the squat, the deadlift has some key differences. For the deadlift, we do not want a raised heel because it can pitch us forward and reduce the role of the prime movers — the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors. In addition, we do not want a raised heel or a thick sole because it is going to increase our range of motion. An increased range of motion means more work, which limits our deadlift max. Instead, I would opt for a shoe that is as minimalist as possible. Stability, grip and a sole that won’t compress is all we need out of our shoes for deadlifts.
Best Brands of Powerlifting Shoes
Currently, Reebok dominates the lifting shoe market. Not only does Reebok churn out Crossfit shoes, but they also been successful with powerlifting shoes. Despite bearing the Crossfit name, Reebok’s Crossfit Lite TR is one of the best powerlifting shoes available. Although Adidas and Nike don’t sell shoes specifically for powerlifting, both brands are giants in the Olympic weightlifting world. Rogue, which carries Reebok shoes, also make their own shoe as well. Other brands worth checking out include Pendlay, Risto, Inov-8, VS Athletics and Converse.
Examples of Powerlifting Shoes
If looking for a weightlifting shoe with a raised heel, look no further than the Rogue Do Win Weightlifting shoes, Pendlay Do-Win, Nike Romaelos 2, Adidas AdiPower or VS Athletics Weightlifting Shoe. For lifting shoes without a raised heel, I would recommend the Reebok Crossfit Lite TR or the Metal Powerlifting Shoes, but Converse Chuck Taylors and PF Flyers are also options to consider.
My Favorite Shoe
My favorite shoe undoubtedly is the Crossfit Lite TR by Reebok. Created in 2014 with powerlifters in mind, the Crossfit Lite TR is hard to beat with its affordable price-tag and quality. Designed with the help of powerlifters, the Crossfit Lite TR showcases a plethora of features that make it my go-to powerlifting shoe. The full rubber outsole of the Crossfit Lite TR creates a grip that rivals Olympic weightlifting shoes and the wide toe box adds for unparalleled stability for squats and deadlifts. I imagine the DuraGrip toe cap save our toes a lot of pain if a plate was dropped as well. Options are not limited either, as the Crossfit Lite TR comes in high and low top varieties and can be made out of leather, canvas or suede. Commonly found for $50 or less and with tons of customization, the Crossfit Lite TR is one of the best and most cost effective powerlifting shoes around.
Recommended Shoes Links with Comparison Chart
- Reebok Crossfit Lite TR
- Nike Romaleos
- Adidas AdiPower
- Pendlay Do-Win
- VS Athletics Weightlifting Shoe
- Converse Chuck Taylors
- PF Flyers
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