Blood, sweat, chalk, and a s*** ton of weight… Becoming powerful has recently become trendy again thanks to the the Cross Training community. However, modern-day powerlifting combines not only raw brute strength but modern techniques to develop the strongest bench press, squat and deadlift. With the addition of strength accessories such as wrist and knee wraps, wrist straps, and shoes, it leads us to the question - Are any of these really necessary? You may be surprised to find out the end all be all, in my opinion, for any solid lifter is the right shoe for one’s anatomy and training style to help suit their needs.
Weightlifting and powerlifting shoes, in most cases, are one in the same. Lifting shoes can be separated into two distinct categories depending on anatomy, style, and necessity.
- Flat soled "Chuck Taylor" style shoes
- Wedge-heeled weightlifting shoes
Let’s first take into consideration the tried and true flat soled style powerlifting shoe. Typically, a canvas or leather upper fabric affixed to a solid and flat rubber sole. In more experienced lifters some modifications to the basic flat soled style shoe are made to avoid blowout around the sole or rips in the fabric.
You will hear of pro lifters using duct tape within their shoes, heavy duty glues or double sewing an extra layer of canvas to the outside of the shoe to avoid issues such as blowout during the squat or sumo deadlift.
The flat soled style shoe is worn by many record breaking squatters whether they are geared (squat suit), "raw modern" with wraps or sleeves; or raw classic with the knees out to party.
Seeing as how a traditional powerlifting squat is very hip dominant due to the external rotation of the femur within the hip capsule and placement of the feet significantly wider than shoulder width, a flatter-soled shoe to accommodate angle at the ankle and maintaining a safely loaded spine would be preferred.
Once the hips are at depth, hips are conveniently loaded to drive hard through glutes in a short explosive acceleration. Another great perk to utilizing the flat-soled canvas shoe would be its application to the deadlift. Though you may see many Olympic style weightlifting athletes utilizing wedged lifting shoes for assistance work (snatch grip pulls, clean pulls, deadlift, etc.), within the powerlifting realm, pulling a solid and locked deadlift requires a very well-grounded heel with little possibility of leaning into the forefoot.
Being a conventional deadlifter myself with a little weightlifting under my belt, anything over 85% (of max) tends to flirt into my forefoot when pulling in weightlifting shoes, while barefoot or flat-soled sneakers allow me to stay grounded and sound, keeping my lift accelerating upward instead of forward.
There are, however, large communities of lifters with a much narrower squat stance than the traditional powerlifting squat. Typically ranging from mildly outside shoulder width to within, a more quad-dominant squat would benefit highly from the wedged weightlifting shoe. Having a wedge under the heel means one thing to a powerlifter, and that is less need for ankle mobility resulting in a more upright torso. Most squats are won and lost in the spine, whether the thoracic gives out at depth or a valgus collapse occurs due to an over-loaded lumbar.
The 1/2"-1” heel rise from a weightlifting shoe alleviates this issue by allowing the lifter’s knees to move forward and activating the quad much more within range of motion of the squat with the end result being acceleration from the appropriate depth for what would be considered a good lift.
Being more rigid and solid than a flat soled style canvas shoe, the weightlifting shoe’s sole is consisted of composites, polymers or wood with a much grippier contact point. This is mostly due to an Olympic weightlifter’s desire for grounding at the bottom of a clean without the worry of a leg kicking out during their catching point. Some may find this a huge perk for squatting while others might find the lack of flexibility in the sole as a downfall, again because of a wider stance and demand for a less rigid shoe. In some cases, the wedge may also come in handy for those utilizing a shorter frame while benching to allow a stronger heel drive and more aggressive arch to the spine while under load.
The lifters accessory world is growing bigger and bigger while becoming more affordable. Not everyone needs a .85in heel lift and full leather upper at a whopping $200+. Wedged weightlifting shoes are typically starting around $80 and capping out at a nice lofty $200-300. This is where your internet skills will really come in handy to be safe with your purchase and buy what will not only provide the best quality for your dollar but something that will fit properly and last some good time.
If you are new to the powerlifting world, investing into a pair of kicks to accommodate your training regimen would be a great start in your lifting career. In the end, the shoe must fit the lifter, not the other way around. Learn what is the most effective for yourself and then utilize the tools necessary to make them more efficient. Invest wisely and do your research as even one “model” of said shoe may not be the best overall fit while something with either a different material or shorter heel lift would be more appropriate for your lifting style.
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