OK, sure: You probably lift just fine in your regular pair of sneakers. Hell, your old man probably lifted weights in his work boots. But if you want to improve your lifting from beginner squats to powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, you’ll need some specialized footwear. There are a lot of weightlifting shoes on the market, including Olympic weightlifting shoes, powerlifting shoes, squat shoes, and even deadlift shoes. It can be hard to choose what you need—but this guide will help you narrow down your options.
Types of Weightlifting Shoes
Lifting shoes generally fall into three categories. The most recognizable are shoes designed for Olympic lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk), which have thick soles and high, solid heels.
“The shoe’s raised heel allows for a deeper squat while still staying upright through the torso,” Luke Pelton, C.S.C.S., the head powerlifting coach at Hofstra University in New York, tells Men’s Journal. “If we think about an Olympic clean or snatch, the bottom position of the catch is an extremely deep squat, but the lifter’s torso is generally upright.”
On the other end of the spectrum are flat-soled weightlifting shoes, which are ideal for deadlifts and good for low-bar back squats because they maximize a lifter’s contact with the ground, reduce the range of motion in deadlifts, and improve balance.
“The flat, thin sole allows force to be evenly spread through the foot, allowing for maximal force production,” Pelton says. “The flat sole also removes the possible issue of falling forward, which some lifters experience when wearing Olympic shoes.”
The third category, designed for powerlifts like the low-bar back squat and bench press, falls somewhere in between. These shoes have raised heels to accommodate low squat stances, but “since they’re slightly shorter than the heels on Olympic shoes, they help powerlifters sit back and better engage their posterior chain,” says Sean Collins, C.S.C.S., a powerlifting coach, competitive powerlifter, and owner at Murder of Crows Barbell Club in Brooklyn.
Should I Lift Weights in Running Shoes?
Short answer: no.
You’ve made the right decision to get into weightlifting (the CDC recommends strength training for all adults as a basic health activity). But if you’re serious about progressing and want to avoid getting injured, you probably shouldn’t wear regular sneakers or running shoes while lifting weights. Running shoes are designed for the movement of running, and they generally don’t provide a stable, solid foundation for lifting. This means they can increase the risk of injury and hinder your progress by preventing proper form.