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This article will discuss weightlifting footwear, their importance and why they should be used by any serious weightlifter, characteristics to look for in weightlifting shoes and lastly the best shoes to use when undertaking conventional barbell squats, which is when proper footwear really comes to the fore.

The Importance of Proper Weightlifting Shoes

Proper weightlifting shoes can make a huge difference in the gym in a number of ways. The shoes you wear will have a big impact on many of the major compound lifts, especially squats and deadlifts and all their variations as well as other less common exercises such as the clean and press/jerk and standing military presses etc. The right footwear during these exercises can often change a lift entirely for the better. Proper weightlifting shoes will provide support to the lifters foot and leg as well as proper control and comfort. As a result balance and centre of gravity will be improved, allowing the lifter to feel more confident in lifting heavy (which is often the case with these compound exercises). Proper footwear will also place the muscles and joints of the lower limb in their mechanical advantage, thereby decreasing the risk of injury and increasing the efficiency of the lifting technique.

Bad Footwear & Weightlifting

Poor footwear on the other hand may have no, or very little, effect on a lifter (i.e. it may not be improving their lifts or form but not impairing them either). Conversely, poor footwear, when combined with poor biomechanics and poor weightlifting form, can be a disastrous combination leading to injury. Poor shoes are not necessarily only those that are worn out. A brand new pair of shoes that has never been worn may also be a poor pair of shoes due to its structure. Thus it is very important that the shoe you wear in the gym has the proper characteristics needed in a weightlifting shoe. While some individuals may choose to purchaser proper weightlifting shoes, they are not always needed. A simple sneaker shoe with the suitable characteristics that are required for your foot type is perfectly adequate.

What to Look for in Weightlifting Footwear

The following is a list of good characteristics to look for in shoes that would be suitable for weightlifting:

  • Firm heel collar / heel counter / heel cup
  • Deep heel cup to provide support to the foot and ankle
  • Rigid midsole (middle part of the shoe) – helps to support the arch of the foot
  • The shoe should be flexible under the ball of the foot (where your toes naturally bend during walking)
  • Adequate length and width
  • Adequate depth (especially in the toe box – toes should be able to freely move around in shoe)
  • Some form of fastening mechanism (this is especially important to provide stability and support to the foot – having a shoe that is not firmly fitted on the foot makes the muscles in the foot and leg overwork)
  • Thick rubber grips for support and to minimise sliding
  • The sole should not be too flexible as this can make the shoe unstable and will impair power transfer

Tips for Finding the Best Shoes for Squatting

  • When squatting you really need a stable shoe. The last thing you want is a shoe that is going to throw you off balance or that is going to give you an ankle sprain with all that weight on your shoulders. A good supportive sneaker is what should be worn when squatting. This will support the arch of the foot, preventing it from flattening too much, and in turn will place the muscles of the leg and lower limb at a mechanical advantage and therefore there most advantageous position for contracting. Using shoes with a high/deep and solid heel cup will help to provide support and stability to the ankle joints during squats.
  • Some people prefer to squat barefoot or in socks. While this may be ok for some individuals, in the writer's opinion this is not recommended, especially when squatting with very heavy weight. Very few individuals have perfect foot and lower limb biomechanics. Squatting barefoot may place people at an increased injury risk.
  • For individuals with ankle inflexibility, a shoe with an increased heel may be beneficial as it will limit the negative effect ankle inflexibility has on squatting technique. Wooden blocks can also be used, placed under the heels, to help limit the effects of ankle inflexibility. An important note for individuals with ankle inflexibility is that shoes with a big built up arch in the insole should be avoided (a small or moderate arch build-up is ok). Using shoes like this will block the foot from flattening (which is a compensation for ankle inflexibility). Thus, even less range of motion will be able to be achieved during the squat.
  • Some people believe that shoes with cushioned heel pads should be avoided as they can compress and therefore can cause back problems. This is one of the reasons (in addition to helping with ankle inflexibility) why you often see bodybuilders place wooden blocks under their heels when squatting. There is no evidence to support this theory however that cushioned heels cause back injuries during squats. The sole of shoes worn during squats however should not be too soft for another reason. That being that the soles may absorb the force generated by the muscles during the squat, thereby decreasing power and strength.
  • Appropriate footwear is an important, but often overlooked aspect of weightlifting. Proper weightlifting footwear can immensely improve a lifter's form and strength but more importantly can help to greatly reduce the risk of injury. Everyone who is serious about lifting should genuinely consider taking a good look at their gym footwear to make sure they are getting the best out of it. This article should be of particular interest to those individuals that partake in squatting on a regular basis as this is when proper footwear is really needed.
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