When you are lifting weights, you expect that all of the force that you generate is going to go towards lifting the weight over the desired distance. Often, though, that is not the case. In many instances, much of your force is dissipated through your foot due to compression. The reason? Too much cushioning in the heel of the shoe. This is like trying to do a squat while standing on a huge marshmallow. Which is why a solid and stable heel is so important. But not everyone needs to go to the expense of buying a pair of weightlifting shoes. For some, it may actually impede their training.
If you are a casual gym-goer who is trying to lose a few pounds then you probably don’t need specialized shoes for lifting weights. Your normal trainers should do the job quite nicely. If you, however, are set bettering yourself, improving your overall sports performance, increasing muscle mass, improving strength or looking to get into CrossFit, then you will want a decent and reliable pair of shoes specifically made for weightlifting. In fact, a quality pair of weightlifting shoes is possibly the greatest investment you can make to improve your performance in the gym.
Olympic weightlifting (or Oly) shoes are usually worn by Olympic weightlifters. Powerlifters also use them, along with Crossfitters when doing Oly type lifts.
Don’t think that you should only buy lifting shoes when you have achieved a certain level of strength. They will benefit a novice who’s only squatting the bar just as much as a veteran lifter who reps out with 600 pounds. Weightlifting shoes won’t turn you into a 660-pound lifter, but they will put your body into the ideal alignment for doing squats.
As a result, you have increased stability and solidity when you are squatting. This will allow you to lift more weight. When you are lifting from a more stable surface, you are naturally able to lift more weight. It all goes back to an old saying that you can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe. You need to have a solid base or all of your power will be dissipated. Traditional trainers normally provide the bottoms of your feet with a lot of cushioning around the sides and bottom of the heel. This is the weight training equivalent of shooting a cannon from a canoe; you will lack the solid base that you need to propel the force upward. That’s because the soft cushioning will absorb the force. That is the last thing that you want when you are lifting heavyweight.
The raised heel style weightlifting shoe is ideally suited for back squats. It will also improve your execution, stability, and power when performing front squats, clean and jerk, snatches and overhead squats. They will help your performance whether you are pushing for a new one-rep max or if you’re doing a lightweight of 20 reps.
You should not do deadlifts when wearing raised heel weightlifting shoes. When you are deadlifting you actually want your heels to be as close to the floor as possible. Traditional raised heel weightlifting shoes do just the opposite. That, in effect, means that you are deadlifting in high heels, putting your body at an awkward angle of alignment. Because you are higher from the ground, it also means that you have to lift the bar that little bit higher to get into the top position of the deadlift.
As with most things, however, there is an exception to the don’t deadlift with weightlifting shoes rule. Some guys training with an elevated heel on purpose on the deadlift in order to make themselves stronger in competition when they revert back to standard flat heel shoes. This should only be done under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach as it does carry enhanced risks.
If you are doing multiple exercises in the gym, ranging from squats to plyometrics or upper body exercises, you will probably be better off with a pair of cross-training shoes. You should also avoid wearing your raised heel weightlifting shoes outside of the gym so that they won’t wear out (wear normal trainers to the gym and swap into your weightlifting shoes in the locker room).
If you are a Strongman athlete, Olympic weightlifting shoes may not be the best option for you. Although they will put you in the ideal positioning for squats and provide enhanced stability, they are not conducive to the combined speed and strength moves such as the farmer’s walk or the yoke exercise.
Powerlifters will be less likely to benefit from weightlifting shoes with raised heels than Olympic lifters. That is because powerlifters require less ankle mobility. The added height that you get with the raised heel will also require you to cover more distance in your lift.