When discussing squat shoes and deadlift shoes they often get defined as being similar and used interchangeably. There may be some instances where the shoes that you squat in also serve as the shoe you deadlift in, but it can be useful to differentiate between what a formal squat shoe and a deadlift shoe is.
Squat shoes, more commonly referred to as weightlifting shoes or lifting shoes, are constructed very differently compared to true deadlift shoes. In fact, these two styles of shoes are like polar opposites in respect to their construction and how they’re designed to be used in the gym.
In this article, I’m going to help you understand the differences between squat shoes versus deadlift shoes. By understanding their construction differences, we can make better shoe selections based on our activities.
- What Are Squat Shoes?
- What Are Deadlift Shoes?
- Squat and Deadlift Shoes Difference 1: Stack Height
- Squat and Deadlift Shoes Difference 2: Heel Height (Heel-to-Toe Drop)
- Squat and Deadlift Shoes Difference 3: Functionality
- When to Use Squat Shoes
- Are Deadlift Shoes Worth It?
If you’re interested in other training shoe options, make sure you check out my cross-training shoe finder to be matched with the perfect models for your needs.
What Are Squat Shoes?
Squat shoes are weightlifting shoes. Far too often, lifters try to differentiate the two and say squat shoes are different from weightlifting shoes, but that’s not true, and this is a good example of establishing a singular cohesive definition that should be used across the industry.
In reality, squat shoes are weightlifting shoes and this should be the formal way of describing them, in my opinion. My guess though is that they’re often referred to as squat shoes by lifters who use them specifically for squats and don’t necessarily compete in weightlifting or have never used them for weightlifting despite them being technically weightlifting shoes.
Weightlifting shoes have purposefully elevated heels to support lifting performance by improving how we’re able to maintain positions through various ranges of motion. More specifically, the elevated heel will help lifters keep a more upright posture when at greater squat depth.
And truthfully, I guess any pair of shoes that you use specifically for squatting could technically be called your squat shoes for yourself, but I don’t think that’s productive for establishing buckets where we put certain shoes based on the context in which we use them for performance. If this were the case, then my Birkenstock’s could be my squat shoes.
What Are Deadlift Shoes?
Deadlift shoes are shoes specifically designed to support one thing — and that’s deadlift performance. These shoes will generally have a minimalist feel and look and this is to support the goals that come along with deadlifting.
When training heavy deadlifts, one of the main goals is limiting the total range of motion of one’s pull, so a flatter and minimalist deadlift shoe that’s lower to the ground will support this goal. Basically, if we can remain closer to the ground, then we can limit some of the distance that we need to pick a deadlift up from.
Interesting Read: 3 Big Reasons Why You Should Deadlift In Weightlifting Shoes
Like squat shoes, you could technically call any pair of shoes that you deadlift in your deadlift shoes. However, once again, I think it’s more important to bucket shoes accordingly and then relate a shoe’s construction to their performance intent.
Squat and Deadlift Shoes Difference 1: Stack Height
The first difference between squat shoes and deadlift shoes is each model’s stack height. Stack height is the amount of material that separates your foot from the ground.
Weightlifting shoes will have relatively low stack height in the forefoot, then an elevated stack height at the heel due to the heel being elevated to anywhere from 15mm to 25mm (.5″-1″). This difference in stack height will then increase the overall heel-to-toe drop that is present in squat shoes (weightlifting shoes).
A deadlift shoe’s stack height will be consistent throughout the forefoot and heel and will usually have a 0mm heel-to-toe drop. For this reason, you’ll often see deadlift shoes like the Sabo Deadlift Shoe which features a 2-5mm stack height, or the Lifting Large Deadlift Slippers which pretty much give you a “clothed” barefoot feeling.
Another popular option that’s used as a deadlift shoe by a lot of lifters is Converse and this is due to their price point, versatility (you can wear them out of the gym unlike the options above), and 0mm heel-to-toe drop.
Squat and Deadlift Shoes Difference 2: Heel Elevation
Another big difference that piggybacks off of stack height is the difference in heel height between squat shoes and deadlift shoes. For this difference though, I want to discuss how the difference in heel height will change lifting mechanics for the squat and deadlift.
A squat shoe’s (weightlifting shoe) elevated heel is designed to promote lifting mechanics in movements where a heel wedge is desired. If we place a wedge under the heel, then generally, we’re able to maintain more upright torso mechanics while moving through full deeper ranges of motion in squats, clean & jerks, snatches, and other lower-body focused variations.
Basically, squat shoes can help lifters who have trouble hitting certain ranges of motion move more fluidly and this is due to the elevated heel. In many instances, I often relate a weightlifting shoe’s elevated heel height to soccer cleats. You don’t need them to play, but they can certainly help when there’s a goal and intent behind them.
A deadlift shoe’s completely flat heel is utilized to once again limit the total range of motion, but also to provide a flatter surface area for the foot. In the deadlift, the feet serve as roots and we can maintain more surface area throughout the forefoot, mid-foot, and heel, then we can aim to create a more balanced level of force production as we drive into the ground and work to maintain balance.
Squat and Deadlift Shoes Difference 3: Functionality
On top of their construction, squat and deadlift shoes will also vary in their functionality. In regard to squat shoes (weightlifting shoes), their use will be anytime where a heel wedge is desired. This will limit their use in the gym and will give them a much more specific feeling and functionality.
Similar to our soccer cleat analogy, you’re not going to wear squat shoes for every gym-related task which we’ll talk about more below. For example, if you’re cross-training, then you’ll want a great pair of cross-training shoes and weightlifting shoes won’t cut it.
Unlike weightlifting shoes and cross-training shoes, deadlift shoes have a much more finite functionality. Their function is to support deadlifts and that’s pretty much it. You can wear them for other activities, but in reality, you’ll likely only wear them for pulling so you can preserve their health and durability.
When to Use Squat Shoes (Weightlifting Shoes)
Squat shoes (weightlifting shoes) are great tools for weightlifting-focused movements, squats, and other exercises where an elevated heel is desired. If you’re a weightlifting athlete (compete in the sport), then you’ll want a pair of weightlifting shoes for training as they have a sport-specific purpose for you.
Outside of weightlifting, if you’re a lifter that has squat-focused goals and you notice that an elevated heel helps support your form, then you’ll want a pair of squat shoes to support your squat performance. Additionally, if you like to train some exercises with a heel wedge, then squat shoes can also be useful tools to support your training-based adaptations.
- Weightlifting-Focused Exercises (snatch, clean & jerk, and their variations)
- Lower-Body Accessories With Heel Wedge
You won’t want to wear shoes for things like deadlifts, plyometrics, and other exercises where a heel wedge isn’t necessary for training success. Remember, an elevated heel will shift movement mechanics and in many scenarios, an elevated heel will be sub-optimal. For example, you’re not going to want to do box jumps with squat shoes (weightlifting shoes).
Are Deadlift Shoes Worth It?
Deadlift shoes can be worth it for the athlete and lifter that wants to compete or has very specific deadlift-focused goals. They are not an absolute must though and a majority of lifters and athletes can get by perfectly fine deadlifting in cross-training shoes, Converse, or barefoot.
I think if you’re in settings where you want to be relatively barefoot and have sport/deadlift-focused goals, and you can’t go barefoot due to your gym’s rules, then deadlift shoes can certainly be worth it.
If you’re not so specific with your deadlift goals and like to train in a versatile manner, then I’d suggest checking out these deadlift-friendly cross-training shoes. All of the models featured in that article I’ve deadlifted up to 500 lbs in and they were plenty stable.
The Bigger Picture
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to recognize that squat shoes and deadlift shoes are only small parts of the bigger picture. While these shoes can certainly help performance in some contexts, they’re not absolutely needed to excel with squats and deadlifts.
If you have any questions on specific shoe models and if you should invest, or anything else, feel free to drop a comment below or reach out via Instagram!