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Lifting Shoes for Deadlifts?

It doesn't matter what kind of lift you are performing. If you are standing, you want a stable surface under your feet. There are few options for stability as good as a lifting shoe. The last thing you want is a running shoe or some other squishy, shock-absorbing piece of footwear between you and the floor.

Lifting Shoes for Deadlifts?

By: Nick Soleyn, Editor in Chief

*Originally published 8/09/2019 in the Friday Five Newsletter

Lifting shoes are one of the few pieces of personal equipment needed to train safely and effectively. You can find bars, plates, and racks to use. You can train without a belt if you must. Lifting straps and wraps are nice but not necessary. But shoes are essential.

For convenience, coaches at Barbell Logic recommend that most lifters deadlift in their lifting shoes. Training at home may be an exception, but most lifting environments require you to be shod. And you spent all this money on beautiful heeled shoes that you can’t wear anywhere else, so why not use them for deadlifts as well as squats (and presses and bench presses)?

Sure, lots of people—especially competitive lifters—deadlift in flat shoes or slippers. Many others prefer to chuck their kicks in the gym and deadlift in socks. Why? If you are going to lift in your squat shoes, you should know your options.

Why Shoes?

The standard lifting shoe—what we sometimes call squat shoes—come from the sport of weightlifting. Until about the 1970s, there weren’t many options for lifting shoes. Work shoes or boots or Chuck Taylors were the go-to shoes for competitive weightlifters. Those lifters wanted a shoe that was stable (not squishy) and had a non-compressible sole.

When you lift while standing on your feet, you must produce force against the ground. That force travels from the floor, through your body, to the bar. Any compressible found within that chain will do what they were designed to do, compress, absorbing some of the force that was meant for the barbell.

Imagine deadlifting while standing on a trampoline: as you try to impart force to the barbell, you end up just pulling yourself down into the trampoline. Your standing surface must resist the force needed to make the bar travel vertically upward. Ideally, 100% of the force that you produce with your muscles will push against the solid ground and transfer to the barbell.

A shoe is an artificial surface you place between your feet and the floor. Weightlifters understood that, in a sport that depends on the quick and efficient transfer of force, a shoe is a critical piece of equipment. Any compression in the shoe would mean lost force, less power, and possibly a failed lift.

A shoe might also improve competitive lifts. The bottom position of a clean is a front squat. As you may note in our front squat tutorial, the lift requires an almost vertical torso, making it a challenging position to hold, especially when you are catching hundreds of pounds on your shoulders. From the side, you can observe an interesting concept: the lifter’s back angle, knee position, and ankle position are all connected, as if the weight of the barbell pins them into position, and they cannot change one of those angles without changing the others. The more vertical the torso, the more forward the knees—with a more acute angle of knee flexion—and the more acute the angle of the lifter’s ankle. In the front squat, your knees won’t have a problem getting into this position, but your ankles might.

Connecting the hip bone to the leg bone to the ankle bone, someone realized that a slightly raised heel would remove some of the ankle flexibility from the bottom of a clean. And, because the slight heel also makes other types of squats more accessible and possibly more effective, weightlifting shoes became synonymous with squat shoes.

It doesn’t matter what kind of lift you are performing. If you are standing, you want a stable surface. Few shoes provide this better than a lifting shoe. Do not put a running shoe or other squishy, shock-absorbing piece of footwear between you and the floor.

Lifting Shoes are Deadlift Shoes

Deadlift ShoesA quality lifting shoe has an incompressible sole, a slight heel raise, and a metatarsal strap to keep your foot from sliding around in the shoe. Heel heights are usually ½-¾ inches.

There is a trade-off when you deadlift in heeled lifting shoes. Think about the woman who puts on high heels; she’s artificially taller. Though the heel on most lifting shoes is modest, it has the same effect. You are a little bit taller than you would be in your socks. If you are taller, then the distance you have to pull the bar is farther. More distance to pull the same weight means more work. More work takes more energy. So, arguably, when you deadlift in lifting shoes with heels, you are giving yourself a slight handicap.

Also, the extra height turns the lift into a slight deficit deadlift compared to lifting barefoot. A ½” heel is ¼ of the way to a deficit deadlift. Deficit deadlifts increase the range of motion and also challenge the lifter’s bottom position at the start of the deadlift.

There is a benefit, however, to the lifting shoes’ heel. The slightly raised heel puts your knees in a greater degree of flexion, adding a little bit of muscle mass to the lift. Added muscle mass may improve the overall training effect of the lift. Whether this is true for you is going to depend on your build. Every lifter is a little bit different, and how a heel affects the kinematics of your lift is entirely up to you—or rather to your genetics and anthropometry.

Lift and Learn

So, what should you do? Start with lifting shoes, and train enough to have an opinion validated by your experience and personal preference. The design makes lifting shoes useful for each of the basic barbell lifts, and shoes will keep your feet secure and protected while you train.

For a very long time, the only method of improving your lifts that you should care about is getting stronger and perfecting your form. At some point, you will have enough reps under your belt that you will notice the difference half-an-inch makes.

Experienced lifters have to be self-experimenters. The worst thing you can do is try something new when you haven’t yet perfected your form. The next worst thing is to stick to one way of doing things without developing an opinion or preference of your own.

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