OK, 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-lb 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.