Sports are evolving, and the best results require the best equipment – serious weight training is no different.
You can achieve amazing results with weight training, but it takes persistence, consistency, and the right shoe for the movement you’re training.
Today, we’re going to take you through what makes a great weightlifting shoe, and how they can transform your training.
How Can Weightlifting Shoes Improve Your Training?
The first question is: “Why can’t I just use my trainers for weight training?”.
Simply, your average trainer or running shoe is designed for long bouts of running or playing sports. They are designed to put as much soft material between the foot and the floor as possible.
Weight training benefits from the exact opposite of this: shoes for weight training aim at having as little “squish” as possible, to improve the amount of force applied to the floor.
When you perform a squat in tennis shoes, or running shoes, the force you apply to the floor is dissipated by the spongy material on the sole of the shoe.
This might be a great thing for running (where you want to reduce the amount of impact on the foot), but in weight training it reduces your ability to use the force of the legs and the hips efficiently.
Your force is being wasted, which means less training effect, and more difficulty squatting the weight.
Weightlifting shoes, and other good shoes for weight training, should provide a flat sole that can’t be compressed – even when you’re carrying a barbell on your shoulders.
The other problem with these kinds of shoes is the way that they place the balance of the foot.
As before, the design of the shoes aims to put the weight near the ball of the foot because this reduces injury and heel-striking in running.
However, in weight training and weightlifting, the balance should be across the whole foot, but primarily the rear 2/3 of the foot. The right shoes for weightlifting will allow the athlete to stay balanced and use the correct muscles for the movements.
The last reason that you don’t want to squat in regular shoes is because they tend to lack stability around the foot.
3-dimensional stability is important: the top and sides of the shoe need to be stable, too, to ensure that the foot doesn’t roll. If you’re dealing with serious weights, the last thing you want to do is roll your foot!
The shoes we’re going to discuss today are stable in every direction, and reduce the chances of causing serious damage to your foot!
Shoes for Squatting
Squatting is the first place that you’re going to notice the benefits of a real weightlifting shoe. “Weightlifting shoes” are the shoes used by Olympic weightlifters to perform the snatch and clean and jerk – they include a raised heel and fastening straps to ensure that they’re tight on the foot. They’re also the best type of shoe for squatting in – whether you’re a top-level weightlifter or simply looking to develop incredibly leg strength, weightlifting shoes will improve the safety and performance of your movement.
The raised heel of the shoe is the first thing that makes squatting easier. By raising the heel of the shoe, the demand on your ankle flexibility is decreased: this means that you can hit good positions without as much difficulty. You probably don’t do as much ankle flexibility training as you should (it’s okay, most of us don’t!), but weightlifting shoes can help you get around that inflexibility whilst you work on the problem.
The heel height of a weightlifting shoe is also a great way to make sure that you’re using the correct muscles for the squat. By elevating the heel, the shoe forces you to increase the bend of the knee, and reduce the bend of the hip, keeping the chest high. This places more of the weight onto the legs, which is exactly what squatting is for, and develops extra strength and control in the legs.
There are many ways to figure out the best weightlifting shoe: build quality, heel height, strap positioning, heel construction, gradient, materials, and even the moulding of the shoe to fit the human foot. The choice of a weightlifting shoe is far more closely tied to individual needs than the design of a deadlift shoe (which is basically about wearing as little as possible without getting your toes out).
Shoes for Deadlifting
Unlike the squat, deadlifts require a flat foot for best effect. This makes the best shoe for deadlifting a flat shoe, with a solid sole, that puts you as close to the ground as possible. Many powerlifters (who compete in the deadlift) will wear slippers that have a thin, solid sole, as this improves performance. Converse are also a great choice, and have become a staple in the powerlifting word. Emulating these brute strength athletes is a great way to develop the same huge strength through the legs and lower back.
The flat-foot position of a converse shoe or a deadlift slipper has the opposite effect to the raised heel of the weightlifting shoe. Whereas the weightlifting shoe places more focus on the development of the quadriceps at the front of the leg, these flat-bottomed shoes will place increased focus on the posterior chain. This group of muscles, including the lower back, buttocks, and hamstrings, is the powerhouse of the body and the reason the deadlift is the heaviest of the main compound lifts.
Choosing a good shoe for deadlifting is all about the build quality and the sole. A great deadlifting shoe is simple, first and foremost. It should provide stability through the foot and have minimal material between your foot and the floor. Staying closer to the ground will mean more power and better positions for the deadlift, essential when moving the kind of maximal weights seen in this exercise.
The Best Weightlifting Shoes on the Market
The marketplace for weightlifting shoes – and fitness equipment in general – is full of choice and it is easy to get lost. We’re going to share the pros and cons of some of the most popular, controversial, and useful items on the market so that you can make an informed choice, and get the best value for your money!
Shoes for Deadlifting
We’ve already outlined what makes a deadlift shoe good at its job, so this section is going to be all about the best shoes for the job. We’ve narrowed it down to 3 main competitors for your hard-earned money: The Chuck Taylor, the Deadlift Slipper, and the Wrestling shoe.
While they’re not purpose-built for powerlifting and deadlift in particular, these shoes have been a fan favourite for decades, and have seen some of the strongest lifts in the history of the world. This tradition exists for a reason: the Chuck Taylor is a canvas shoe with a thin, rubber sole that does not compress during lifting and has an almost perfectly-flat base.
- Easy to find: you can get a pair of Chuck Taylors in almost any city or town: their popularity as a shoe extends beyond deadlifting, and their iconic status has made them cheap and available across the world.
- Canvas: the canvas upper of the shoe is far more resilient and stable than the soft, cheap material often seen in running shoes or trainers.
- Customisable: the design of a weight-training shoe shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but Chuck Taylors come totally-customisable so you ca put your personality on the shoe.
- Compression: The sole of the Chuck Taylor won’t compress, but the cushioning around the foot may take a while to “break in”. You won’t be quite as stable in these as in other shoes.
- No strapping: Because the Chuck is a regular sneaker, it doesn’t have any strapping to provide additional support. This shoe will not be as stable as those with straps.
- High-top: The high top of the Chuck Taylor is great for stability but it can be a real problem for ankle flexibility. We don’t recommend squatting in a flat shoe, but the Chucks make this near impossible.
Unlike the Chuck Taylor, these are specifically designed to put you in the best possible positions for deadlifting. The deadlift slipper has been around for decades and looks like an espadrille: they have a low profile and a flat sole. These slippers are often considered to be more like socks than shoes, but they are allowed in powerlifting competitions – just don’t drop weights on your feet! The best way to think of the deadlift slipper is ‘simple but effective’.
- Purpose-built: Deadlift slippers exist for deadlifting – it’s even in the name. These shoes are flat soled, totally non-compressible, and have no laces. This is as close as you can get to barefoot in a powerlifting competition.
- Inexpensive: Cheap isn’t always a bad thing – these deadlift slippers cost as little as $19.99 and can last for years, with proper care and caution.
- Simplicity: You might be used to buying products for their features, but the deadlift slipper is all about simplicity – they fit the same every time (no laces), they are good at what they do, and they fit easily into a gym bag.
- Variety: Because they’re purpose-built, and powerlifting is a niche sport, you won’t find much variety on the market.
- No strapping: Much like the Chuck Taylor, the deadlift slippers have no straps. This might make them easy to use, but it can reduce the 3-dimensional stability we talked about before.
- Sizing issues: The lack of laces and general design of the deadlift slipper can make sizing a real problem. The use of an elasticated upper and large cotton design means getting a perfect fit is difficult.
The wrestling shoe is not designed for deadlifting, but it provides an amazing alternative to the Chuck or deadlift slipper. In wrestling, as in weight-training, the sole of a shoe needs to be thin and non-compressible. The sole of a wrestling shoe is also flat, making it a perfect choice for deadlifting.
- Strapped: Because stability in the foot is as essential in wrestling as it is in powerlifting, wrestling boots come with a strap and lacing combination for maximum stability.
- Style and variety: While there might not be as much variety as the Chucks, wrestling boots come in many colours and styles, and look pretty great.
- Quality: Wrestling shoes are designed to be used day-in, day-out in one of the toughest sports in the world. They’re high quality and won’t break easily – expect to be wearing the same pair in a few years!
- Price: The wrestling shoe is probably the most expensive deadlifting shoe, with some brands and models costing over $100. They’re a good investment, but this is a big cost.
- Availability: Wrestling is still relatively niche in many countries, and getting your hands on the pair of wrestling shoes that you want is often difficult. Be sure to shop around, as this is a big investment.
Shoes for Squatting
As mentioned above, the needs of a deadlifting shoe and a squatting shoe are totally different – the design of the shoe is the complete opposite, with the focus shifting to a well-constructed, raised heel. The needs and demands of a squat shoe – or a weightlifting shoe – are totally different, and more varied. The type of shoe you need for squatting and weightlifting has many factors, so we’re going to include a few words on who each shoe is best for, as well as the regular pros and cons.
The best entry-level weightlifting shoe, the Power Perfect II is a solid all-rounder with a reasonable price tag. This shoe has been the favourite of new athletes since its release in 2008 and continues to be popular today.
- Value: As an entry-level shoe, the power perfect II has a very competitive price point of around $90-125. This is a great price for the quality of the shoe, and may be better if you’re on a budget.
- Function: Whilst it is not going to be as high-quality or heavily-featured as other weightlifting shoes on this list, the power perfect II fits all the minimum requirements for a good squat shoe.
- Availability: These shoes are much easier to acquire than other brands and styles – they are sold in most countries due to their huge popularity, and you shouldn’t need to wait weeks to get them.
- Single strap: The single-strap design of the shoe is a bit outdated, with more expensive shoes providing a greater deal of stability through the front foot.
- 3D stability: These shoes are stable, but they allow for more “wiggle room” in the toe box than you might expect from a higher-quality shoe. This is a problem for weightlifting and squatting.
- Lining: The lining of the shoe is not as durable or ergonomic as other, more-expensive shoes. The heel position in the shoe is a bit looser and doesn’t provide the same “glued to the floor” feeling experienced with some other models.
Best for: anyone on a tight budget, or looking to get an entry-level shoe that has all the essentials, without any of the frills or advanced features of a more expensive shoe.
The Romaleos 2 are a weightlifting shoe that Nike released for the 2012 London Olympics, updating the original Romaleo shoe. They set the standard for weightlifting shoes and, despite the release of newer models, contend for a spot as the best weightlifting shoe on the market. The price of the shoe is higher, but the build quality, features, and general function are enough to make the shoe worth considering.
- Stability: These are the quintessential “glued to the floor” shoe, which is great for stability and performance in weightlifting. The upper is incredibly stable and durable.
- Double strap: Double-strap design provides the opportunity to adjust the tightness across the front of the foot, whilst reducing the “wiggle room” in the toe box.
- Heel Construction: The heel is a standard height for weightlifting (3/4 inch) and made of firm, durable plastic. There is no compression in the sole of this shoe, no matter how much you lift!
- Ergonomic design: The heel cup of this shoe moulds to the foot, providing close support and reducing foot movement inside the shoe.
- Quality: These shoes are built like tanks. A full-time weightlifter, training 12 times a week, will be able to use these shoes for years without significant damage.
- Price: The Romaleos 2 are an expensive shoe, costing up to $200. You get a lot for the money, but this price-point may be a serious obstacle.
- Production: The Romaleos 3 have been released, meaning that production of the Romaleos 2 is decreasing and they may not be available much longer.
- Weight: The shoe feels heavy. This may require some serious time to adapt, and impede any use for non-weightlifting activities.
Best for: Anyone looking to make a serious investment in Weightlifting, Powerlifting, or simply improving squat performance. Anyone that has a large budget!
The Leistung is Adidas’ top-of-the-range product, designed to compete with the new Romaleos 3, and boasts improved construction quality over previous models, as well as a variety of features that have made it very popular in the short time it has been on the market. The Leistung fits a very particular niche on the market, and will be a totally new experience to anyone who has used other Weightlifting shoes before.
- Heel height: The Leistung sports a huge 1.25” heel height, the highest on any weightlifting shoe. This massively improves ankle flexibility and keeps the chest high during the squat.s
- Quick-lock system: The Leistung uses a quick-locking system for the laces that provides easy, quick fitting of the shoe and may increase stability.
- Upper construction: The upper of the shoe is made from a durable, Kevlar-like material and provides a huge boost of durability and stability in 3-dimensions.
- Heel cup: The internal construction and shape of the Leistung is a great improvement on previous models – this provides much better stability in the foot and overall comfort.
- Price: While still considerably more expensive than the Power Perfect II, the Leistung are far cheaper than the Romaleos II and may be a good mid-ground for those looking to make a reasonable long-term investment.
- Heel height: The heel height of the Leistung is far greater than any of the other weightlifting shoes on the market, and may be difficult to adapt to. This extreme lift also increases pressure through the knee, which may be good for some, but bad for others!
- Quick-lock system: The Leistung quick-locking lace system makes fitting them quick and easy, but is prone to breaking and may impede flexion of the ankle.
- Shape: As with previous Adidas shoes, the toe box is very narrow and may be uncomfortable for those with wider feet.
- No Strap: The quick-lock system has replaced straps, meaning that this shoe has a wire-based tightening and stability system. This removes the ability to independently tighten the front-foot and laces.
Best for: Those with serious ankle flexibility issues, or a desire to really focus on knee flexion in their squat. A medium-high budget, but also providing a good long-term choice (but be careful with the quick-lock system).
There isn’t quite a clear winner for this round-up. The products we’ve discussed are all great choices but the price-point plays a big role in an informed choice, and what you’re looking to focus on will determine what shoes are right for you.
If you’re looking to focus on deadlift, but only need the minimum for the squat, the Wrestling boots and Power Perfect II might be the right choice.
Conversely, a serious squatter/weightlifter might opt for the Romaleos II, and spend their remaining cash on the cheaper deadlift slippers.
If money is no object, however, then we recommend the combination of a Romaleos 2 with a wrestling boot.
Strength training, powerlifting, and weightlifting are all incredibly long-term sport and the price-point may seem scary, but these items are going to be with you for years and a big investment now can make a big difference down the line.
Remember that, in the field of fitness and sport performance, a good shoe is like anything else: it has to fit YOUR goals.
We’ve given you the tools to figure out what is best for your body and your goals, but your budget and your needs will determine what is best for you. These shoes are all great choices, but the perfect or best choice depends on