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Definitive Deadlift Shoes Guide | Benefits, How They Should Fit, and More

When considering deadlift shoes it can be really useful to do a bit of research before investing. As their name suggests, deadlift shoes are designed to support performance output with heavy deadlifts.

As a powerlifter, I try to optimize my deadlift performance for big pulls, and choosing the right shoes is part of this equation. That’s why I’m constantly trying out new models to find the strongest deadlift shoes on the market.

Plus, when working towards new deadlift 1-rep maxes, it can be a game of inches, so having the right deadlift footwear to support your performance is key to success. Not to mention, the correct deadlift footwear and knowing what to look for can help you leverage your biomechanics to the best of your abilities.

To help you decide if deadlift shoes are right for you, I wanted to put together an article and discuss the pros and cons of deadlift shoes and answer some commonly asked questions that I receive about deadlift shoes.

What Are Deadlift Shoes?

Deadlift shoes are shoes designed specifically for the act of conventional and sumo deadlifting. Deadlift shoes generally have flat heel-to-toe drops and possess less stack height than training and running shoes.

What are Deadlift Shoes
SABO Deadlift Shoes

These deadlift shoe construction traits help lifters root the feet and connect with the ground better to promote balance and power production. Additionally, the decreased stack height also helps to minimize the total range of motion for which a lifter needs to perform their deadlifts.

Essentially, with flatter shoes, a lifter will have to lift the weight through a slightly lesser total range of motion, which can be a big deal when working with maximal loads. Plus, you don’t want a shoe with a high heel-to-toe drop pushing the knees forward when deadlifting, since clearing the knees is incredibly important for this lift.

Benefits of Deadlift Shoes

For deadlift performance, there are generally three pros that come along with deadlift shoes.

  1. Optimize Deadlift Form
  2. Grip Most Surfaces Well
  3. Work for Powerlifting Competitions

The first pro is that deadlift shoes can help you optimize your overall deadlift form. By providing you with a minimal stack height and firm outsole, you’ll be able to create better balance and power through your deadlifts. Since deadlift shoes have flatter surface areas, the full foot can grip the floor and maintain a strong tripod position.

Tripod Foot Position: The contact and active engagement of the heel and base of the big toe and pinky toe with the floor.

What is tripod foot position

The second pro that often gets overlooked is that deadlift shoes generally grip every type of floor well. Since nearly every deadlift shoe has a flatter and rubber outsole, they’ll grip deadlift platforms, carpets (for meets), rubber, and concrete well. This takes the worry of slipping and losing balance out of the equation for sumo deadlifts.

The last perk of deadlift shoes is that they work for most powerlifting federations. For powerlifters and soon-to-be powerlifters, the last thing you want is to get to a meet, and then be told your shoes won’t work for deadlifts. With deadlift shoes, this is never really a worry and most models are perfectly fine for competition standards as they all have covered toes.

Deadlift Shoes Cons

To the lifter who isn’t super focused on optimizing their deadlift performance or concerned with powerlifting, there could be a couple of cons with deadlift shoes.

  1. More Costly Then Slippers and Barefoot
  2. Super Niche and Not Versatile

The first drawback is that deadlift shoes will cost more than deadlift slippers and simply lifting barefoot. For the recreational lifter or beginner, this could be less than ideal when you’re likely already investing in other gear.

Ten Thousand Merino Tech Hoodie Performance (1)

For example, if you already bought cross-training shoes and maybe weightlifting shoes, then you’ll likely not want to invest another ~$80 on deadlift shoes unless you compete or have a very specific need for them.

Another potential drawback for the general lifter is that deadlift shoes are exactly that — shoes just for deadlifting. Unlike Converse and Vans, deadlift shoes are much more limited with their scope of use and nature, so if you do want a pair of shoes for deadlifts, more recreational lifting, and day-to-day wear, then this could be a drawback to consider.

Who Should Use Deadlift Shoes?

Truthfully, deadlift shoes could be used by any lifter who wants to dive into the details of optimizing their deadlift performance. However, this does not mean they’re needed or that you need to invest. Below, are two populations that I think could benefit from the use of deadlift shoes.

The first group of lifters is powerlifters. If you’re a powerlifter, then you’ll want to find pieces of supportive strength gear to promote your performance and work with your biomechanics. On top of being granular with your form and equipment, you’ll also want to look into deadlift shoes for competition reasons.

Most powerlifting federations will allow pretty much any brand of deadlift shoe and the main rule to be cognizant of is that your shoes have a closed toe. On that note though, it’s always a good idea to double-check your federation’s equipment rules beforehand just to make sure your deadlift shoe will work — better safe than sorry.

Deadlifting in cross-training shoes

The second group of lifters is the prospective powerlifters and more serious lifters. Deadlift shoes are so niche in their scope that I often don’t recommend the general lifter to invest. Instead, I recommend deadlift shoes for lifters who plan to compete eventually or take their lifting and gym performance very seriously.

Prospective powerlifters, you’ll want to find shoes that you’re comfortable training in and competing in. For this reason, it can be a good idea to explore deadlift shoes because you’ll create a bridge between your training and platform deadlift performance.

For the serious/advanced lifters, if you’re trying to optimize deadlift performance and your gym frowns upon barefoot lifting, then deadlift shoes can be worth looking into.

Can You Compete In Deadlift Shoes?

Yes! This is why I recommend powerlifters and soon-to-be powerlifters to look into deadlift shoes. They tend to last longer from a durability standpoint compared to deadlift slippers and their outsoles grip the carpet well that most powerlifting meets have you pull from.

Pretty much every federation has the rule of your shoes for deadlifts needing a closed toe. Deadlift shoes all have closed toes, so they’re a viable option that works well for powerlifting meets.

How Should Deadlift Shoes Fit?

If you’re looking into deadlift shoes, then you’ve likely wondered, how tight should my deadlift shoes be. There’s no perfect one-size-fits-all formula with deadlift shoe sizing, however, I do have a few suggestions for lifters trying to perfect the blend of their shoe’s fit and performance.

How Tight Should Deadlift Shoes Be?

I recommend finding deadlift shoes that are a bit snugger than traditional general-wear shoes. Shoes that have around ~.3″ or less in the toe are a good bet. This doesn’t mean having the toes jammed in the toe box, more so that your toes are not swimming around or sliding into the toe during movements that could cause any shift in balance.

When deadlifting, you don’t want the foot to be sliding around mid-pull, so finding a snugger shoe is often a better bet for preventing this. Plus, if you’re a sumo deadlifter who spreads the floor when deadlifting, then a looser shoe will often mean toe jamming when spreading the floor and potentially losing your balance.

Where Can You Buy Deadlift Shoes?

Unfortunately, just like weightlifting shoes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find true deadlift shoes in most retail stores. This limits your prospects for investing in deadlift shoes solely to online retailers like Amazon, Max Barbell, and other specialty and lifting-focused online retailers.

My advice is to start by shopping around for deadlift shoes on Amazon, then once you find a model you like, cross-reference the brand that makes the shoe and check to see if they have a site that offers better prices. If you don’t find any deadlift shoes that you like on Amazon, then checking out Max Barbell can be a good bet, feel free to reach out to me and I can make some recommendations.

Deadlift Shoes Vs Squat Shoes

When talking about deadlift shoes and squat shoes, the key differences lie in their niche construction aspects. Deadlift shoes are flat with minimal stack height and squat shoes have purposefully elevated heels that put the heel anywhere from .6″-1″ higher than the toes.

When talking biomechanics, a weightlifting shoe’s heel height will create plantar flexion of the foot. The plantarflexion that squat shoes create will then shift the knees forward slightly and create an environment that is more conducive to dorsiflexion. This is why lifters use squat shoes for squats, snatches, clean & jerks, and other lower body movements.

squat shoes vs deadlift shoes

For deadlifts, you’ll want to limit how far your knees are tracking forward as this can then limit performance by taking away tension from the posterior muscles and make it more difficult for lifters to clear the knee. Squat shoes, for powerlifters and the general lifter, can limit deadlift performance. Note, that weightlifting athletes may be excluded here per their sport’s goals and training needs!

Deadlift Shoes Vs Wrestling Shoes

Of all the shoe choices you can make for deadlifts, deadlifts, and wrestling shoes are the most similar. Both styles of shoes generally have flat heel-to-toe drops, rubber outsoles, and additional ankle support through high-top construction. If you’ve worn a pair of wrestling shoes, then they feel very similar to something like the SABO Deadlift Shoes.

Wrestling shoes can be a really good option for the lifter who wants to pick up their shoes in a retail store and not go through the process of guessing their sizing online. Wrestling shoes can also be worn to compete in and generally have lower price points when looking at more budget-friendly wrestling shoe options.

Deadlift Shoes Vs Converse

One of the age-old battles between shoes for deadlifts includes using the tried-and-true classic Converse or switching over to deadlift shoes exclusively. Converse shoes are a popular deadlift shoe option because they have a 0mm heel-to-toe drop, budget-friendly price points, and fairly minimal stack height. Plus, you can wear them outside of the gym.

The only real drawback to Converse over true deadlift shoes is that they do have a slightly higher stack height compared to deadlift shoes. If you’re used to lifting barefoot and have your deadlift mechanics dialed into a tee, then you will notice this when putting on Converse after pulling from a completely flat-footed position.

In addition, Converse can be prone to ripping after prolonged daily wear and lifting use. Their upper material is made of canvas and with excessive stress, it can rip. I’ve had two pairs of Converse rip on me while lifting after about 8-months of frequent use. The positive though is that their price point isn’t terrible for having them break down slightly faster.

Deadlift Shoes Takeaways

Deadlift shoes are not a must or required by any means when talking about optimizing deadlift performance. If you’re a true beginner I’d suggest nailing your deadlift form and mechanics before investing in a pair of deadlift shoes. You can use shoes like Vans and Converse and save a bit of money and acclimate to a zero offset shoe.

For powerlifters, soon-to-be powerlifters, and serious/advanced lifters, deadlift shoes can be very useful and will generally last a while when worn exclusively for deadlifts. If you have any questions about deadlift shoes, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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