Whether you’re ready to step up your power cleans or you’re just looking for a way to squat big weight more comfortably, take a look at these proven and popular picks to wear at the gym.
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Okay, sure: You can probably lift just fine in your regular old sneakers. Hell, your old man probably lifted weights in his old Army boots. But if you want to really master the arts of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, you're gonna need some specialized footwear. Trust us: The last thing you want while hoisting a 200-pound barbell over your head is feeling unstable or off-balance. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from these days.
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," says Luke Pelton, C.S.C.S., the head powerlifting coach at Hofstra University in New York. "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 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, fall somewhere in between. Their raised heels help 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.
Ready to start pulling heavy weight? Consider some of these picks from the latest in weightlifting kicks.
Is there anything these shoes aren’t good for? With their hard rubber soles, durable canvas construction, and classic style, the original All-Stars have enjoyed a cultlike devotion among weightlifters for decades. Plus, unlike a lot of dedicated athletic shoes, they’re cheap and versatile.
“Go into any powerlifting gym and you'll see Chuck Taylors all the way to the horizon,” Pelton says. “Shoes like Chucks with a thin, flat sole allow the lifter's feet to be as close to the ground as possible, thereby reducing the bar’s total range of motion. It's only about a half an inch, but in top-level competitions, that could make all the difference.” But don’t limit them to deadlifts, he says: They’re also perfectly good for squats, bench presses, and hanging around at the gym after your cooldown.
“The CrossFit Lite TR was probably designed with the Chuck Taylor All-Star in mind, but as a new shoe for lifters,” says Pelton, who has worn them in the past. “They feature a wider toe box and cushioned ankle for increased comfort, and have special gripper pads on the soles that bring to mind suction cups. This is meant to allow the lifter to anchor to the ground with maximal traction.” Reebok’s site says the shoe has a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, but it’s probably closer to just about flat. They’re also known for having a significantly wider toebox than Chucks, so if All-Stars feel narrow on your feet, consider these instead.
Look, we know Arnold Schwarznegger loved to deadlift barefoot. But you’re not Arnold—and if you are, hi Arnold, thanks for reading—and doing anything barefoot in the gym is a good way to pick up all kinds of nasty gunk. So if you want a truly minimalist (and cheap!) foot covering for deadlifting, pick up a pair of deadlifting slippers, which are built with a hard rubber bottom, terry cloth top, and not much else.
“These slippers reduce your range of motion as much as possible,” Collins says. They’re also popular among deadlifters with relatively small feet, since slippers maximize their foot’s contact area with the ground.
As their name implies, the new Powerlifts are designed with powerlifters in mind. The sole is both extra wide and solid, offering plenty of stability for big squats and benches. “The heel isn't as high as the Olympic lifting shoes”—15mm, compared with the 19mm heels of most Olympic shoes—“so you're able to better leverage your hamstrings on powerlifting-style low-bar back squats," says Collins.
This is one seriously cool shoe. Instead of traditional laces, Inov-8’sFastlift 370 packs a clever BOA® dial system that enables the wearer to instantly make minute adjustments to the shoe’s tightness, without having to constantly untie and re-tie the laces. With a 16.5mm heel drop, they’re definitely designed for Olympic lifts—and they come in any color you like, as long as it’s red.
If you’re looking for a thick-heeled lifting shoe that really exudes old-school, he-man moxie, then take a look at the Olimpico. Made from high-grade leather with a thick wooden sole angled for Olympic lifts, the Olimpicos are renowned among hardcore weightlifters for their surprising lightness and flexible forefoot (which is ideal for clean-and-jerks). Note that they’re made to order, so they take 6–8 weeks to arrive—but when they do, expect to be the envy of the weight room.
VS Athletics may not have the name recognition of some other sports brands, but their weightlifting shoes are among the best models around, with simple leather uppers, two hook-and-loop straps, and a big, heavy-duty rubber sole designed for Olympic lifting. And while they’re pretty plain-looking, at nearly $100 less than some of the competing models, they’re a smart buy for the weightlifter on a budget.
The Nike Romaleos debuted as the official weightlifting shoe of the vaunted Chinese Olympic weightlifting team. The new iteration, the Romaleos 2, has earned a major following as one of the premier Olympic lifting shoes on the market. With a rigid plastic 19mm heel supported by a “Power Bridge” truss that cups the lifter’s foot, the Romaleos 2 is known for feeling roomier and more stable than other Olympic shoes. It’s a popular (albeit pricey) pick for the Olympic lifter with slightly wider feet who prizes a solid base on the platform and lots of colorway options. (Fun fact: “Romaleos” is Greek (often written ρωμαλέος) for “robust” or “brawny.”)
The unquestioned rival to the Romaleos, the Adidas Adipowers offer the same heel drop (19mm) and a similar trussed plastic heel. But whereas the Romaleos 2 is renowned for feeling chunky and solid, the Adipower is slightly narrower, more flexible, and made with more breathable material, making it ideal for lifters who prize a shoe that feels snug or those with smaller feet.