A lot of shoe-related questions that I field on this site and my YouTube channel involve when to wear certain shoes. In this article, we’re going to focus on weightlifting shoes specifically and discuss when you should use them for deadlifts, and when you shouldn’t.
I think a lot of the confusion that surrounds when to wear certain training and weightlifting shoes relates to the poor definitions our industry gives them as a whole. To the weathered lifter, these definitions are easy to understand, but for someone who’s just starting out, it can be a little confusing to understand why you wouldn’t want to do something like deadlift in weightlifting shoes.
Below, we’re going to clear the air for when you should and shouldn’t deadlift in weightlifting shoes. Plus, we’ll define exactly what weightlifting shoes are and when you should use them.
- What Are Weightlifting Shoes?
- Why and When to Use Weightlifting Shoes?
- Why You Shouldn’t Deadlift In Weightlifting Shoes
- When You Should Deadlift In Weightlifting Shoes
On the market for new cross-training shoes and don’t know where to start? Check out my cross-training shoe finder and calculator to find the best shoes for your needs.
What Are Weightlifting Shoes?
Weightlifting shoes are shoes designed to support lifters who partake in the sport of weightlifting and lifters and athletes that want to lift with an elevated heel. They are not cross-training shoes. Weightlifting shoes should be used with intent for specific lifting purposes and they should not be used as an “all-around” training shoe.
Weightlifting shoes all have very specific construction traits that run true to some variance with every weightlifting shoe model on the market. These construction traits help weightlifting shoes excel for certain activities but limit their potential for others.
Three common construction traits that you’ll see in weightlifting shoes include:
- Purposefully elevated heels
- Heel elevation can range from anywhere between 15mm to 25mm, AKA .5 in – 1 in.
- Stable and Very Hard Outsoles
- Outsoles are generally made with a very tough and compression limiting rubber.
- Additional Mid-Foot Security
- Oftentimes, you’ll see weightlifting shoes use one or two straps for mid-foot security.
If you can identify the three construction traits above in weightlifting shoes, then it gets easier to identify the differences between weightlifting shoes and things like cross-training shoes. In addition, recognizing these construction traits can help you further understand when to wear weightlifting shoes which we’ll discuss below.
Why and When to Use Weightlifting Shoes?
When we wear weightlifting shoes, we are purposefully elevating the heel to a greater degree than what we would receive in normal training and cross-training shoes. This purposeful heel elevation is done to support biomechanics when lifting, and more specifically when performing movements like squats, snatches, clean & jerks, and other accessory exercises that we want an elevated heel for.
Why Use Weightlifting Shoes
A weightlifting shoe’s elevated heel will help support forward knee translation without having to forcefully drive the knees forward as hard or fight to have greater levels of dorsiflexion. Basically, the elevated heel will help assist knee tracking due to it creating a more biomechanic-friendly environment.
Dorsiflexion = when we try to raise the toes upward toward the knee.
This forward knee tracking will then result in an increased ability to maintain a more upright torso position, and this can be especially important through greater ranges of motion in exercises like squats and Olympic lifts.
Oftentimes, lifters assume that weightlifting shoes increase dorsiflexion, but that is not true. They simply put our lower limbs into an environment that feeds better into these movement patterns.
For a contextual example, think about standing backward on a hill and squatting. It’s much easier to do this and hit really good squat depth because the hill’s elevation allows us to sit back onto a stable surface while feeling stable and assisting with forward knee traction.
When to Use Weightlifting Shoes?
Now that we’ve identified what weightlifting shoes are per their construction differences from training shoes and why we would use them in the first place. It’s time to understand when we should use them and this is where context matters.
Weightlifting shoes should be used for lifting occasions where biomechanical performance indicators can make or break performance. In layman’s terms, we should use weightlifting shoes when their construction can positively influence our performance in the gym and our sport (weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, etc.). Think about weightlifting shoes like soccer cleats, they’re pieces of equipment to help you perform better per your sport and exercise’s physical demands.
Note, this doesn’t mean every lifter needs to wear weightlifting shoes or has to in order to excel in their desired activity and sport. It’s contextual!
In fact, some lifters prefer having a lower heel elevation when training because it more or less aligns with their preferred style of lifting and feeds well into how they’re built and their lifting mechanics.
All that being said, I have four takeaways for you when it comes to when to use weightlifting shoes to support your lifting performance.
- Do you perform better and feel more stable with an elevated heel when performing things like squats, clean & jerks, snatches?
- Yes? Wear weightlifting shoes.
- Do you find that performing lower body exercises feels better with an elevated heel and you’re able to hit more goal-focused ranges of motion?
- Yes? Wear weightlifting shoes or elevate the heel.
- Are you a strength sports athlete that has trouble maintaining lifting mechanics when performing heavier loads in things like squats and Olympic lifts?
- Yes? Wear weightlifting shoes.
- Do you have specific performance-focused exercise goals where an elevated heel helps? This could mean using a heel wedge to promote more knee tracking toward the quads when performing something like split squats.
- Yes? Try elevating the heels!
Remember, when and why we wear weightlifting shoes needs context, and understanding biomechanics for various exercises can really help you dictate when you should elevate the heel. If you ever have questions on this topic, always feel free to reach out!
3 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Deadlift In Weightlifting Shoes
When discussing deadlifts in weightlifting shoes, we need to identify what we’re trying to achieve when deadlifting and how a weightlifting shoe’s construction can influence performance outcomes and lifting mechanics.
The goal of performing deadlifts is to pick up weight from the ground by utilizing mechanics to put us into the best and strongest positions possible. A weightlifting shoe’s construction can sometimes take away from our deadlift performance, and here’s why.
1. Elevated Heels Mean More Deadlift Range of Motion
The last thing we want when deadlifting is to add more range of motion to our pull, especially at heavier loads. A weightlifting shoe’s elevated heel will add more range of motion to our deadlift which can then result in more work output and barbell displacement.
A 2021 study published in Sports suggested that lifters who used various means of footwear experienced higher levels of work output and vertical barbell displacement. (1) While this study didn’t use weightlifting shoes specifically it still speaks to the point that an elevated heel can add more range of motion to a deadlift resulting in greater work output, AKA less efficient deadlifts.
2. Elevated Heels Can Change Deadlift Hip Mechanics
From a coaching point of view, inconsistency is the bane of steady progress. The hips can make or break great deadlifts and if we’re elevating the heel by .5 inch or 1 inch due to wearing weightlifting shoes, then we’ll likely alter our normal hip mechanics.
When we consider the first point above about range of motion, we also need to consider the fact that we need to establish a consistent hip position that feeds well into how we’re built and how we can leverage our hips to the fullest when deadlifting.
If we elevate the heel, then we’ll have more forward knee translation which can then result in deeper knee flexion during our deadlift setup. Deeper knee flexion can, at times, then result in loss of posterior tension in the hamstrings and glutes, thus making weightlifting shoes for deadlifts suboptimal.
3. Elevated Heels Can Effect Pre Deadlift Tension
We briefly touched on this above, but if we elevate the heels, then we’ll likely experience greater levels of knee flexion during our deadlift setup. Knee flexion isn’t necessarily bad in the deadlift. In fact, I adapt a slightly more forward knee position in my deadlifts.
However, when said knee flexion is to a degree in which our hips get pulled under us and our setup looks more like squat, then we can lose the ability to pull the slack out of the bar before we break the floor. Basically, lower hips can mean less potential to create tension between the body, barbell, and floor if we’re not accounting for how a heel’s elevation is changing our setup mechanics.
When It’s Appropriate to Deadlift In Weightlifting Shoes
Every trainer and coach will have their own rationale for deadlifting in weightlifting shoes, but for me as a coach, I think it’s only relevant for those who are training or competing in the sport of weightlifting and CrossFit when heavier Olympic lifts are present.
When thinking about the sport of weightlifting, one of the biggest performance aspects that can hold back lifters is their ability to maintain form when breaking the floor in their first pull. For example, if a lifter is working to clean & jerk heavy weight and when they break the floor their hip mechanics breakdown, then they’ll likely have less success in this lift.
In this context, it makes sense to have this athlete practice clean pulls (which are different than deadlifts, but similar in nature), and even deadlifts at times to practice the skill of maintaining their form when breaking the floor. For this example, the use of weightlifting shoes in clean pulls and deadlifts is a sport-specific means, and for the general lifter, they won’t really get a lot out of this especially if they don’t train the Olympic lifts.
That all being said, you can deadlift in weightlifting shoes, but I think it should be reserved for specific strength sports goals and needs. Weightlifters and serious CrossFit athletes are two of the populations that would contextually benefit from pulling in weightlifting shoes here and there.
Wrapping It All Up
Weightlifting shoes are shoes designed with specfiic construction traits to support different activities. They are not training and cross-training shoes and should be used with intent and purpose, and not as an “all-in-one” training shoe.
When it comes to deadlifting, most lifters will benefit from using cross-training shoes with lower heel-to-toe drops or lifting barefoot as these footwear options will support deadlift performance. There is a time and place when you can weightlifting shoes when deadlifting, but it’s contextual per one’s strength sport needs.