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Squat Shoes Vs Deadlift Shoes (2024)

When discussing squat shoes and deadlift shoes they often get defined as being similar and used interchangeably. Squat shoes, more commonly referred to as weightlifting shoes or lifting shoes, are constructed very differently compared to true deadlift shoes.

Traditional weightlifting shoes and deadlift shoes are pretty much polar opposites concerning their construction, performance intent, and how they’re designed to be used in the gym.

As a strength coach and powerlifter, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing how and when to use each style of footwear with fellow athletes and clients. There are cases when each is appropriate and others where they’re not.

For example, it’s not wise to use weightlifting shoes for deadlifts because it will lead to sub-optimal performance, and this is why it’s useful to define squat shoes and deadlift shoes appropriately.

Improving Ankle Mobility for Squats

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Generally speaking, you WON’T want to use a weightlifting shoe for deadlifts. A weightlifting shoe will have an elevated heel that will typically range from .5 inches to 1 inch in height. This heel elevation can assist with achieving better squat depth and increasing stability while squatting.

However, when deadlifting, this heel can be less than ideal because it’s going to add more range of motion to your deadlift and it will change your deadlift setup mechanics. A higher heel will result in a change of hip and torso position when grabbing the bar, for example.

Conversely, you can technically use a deadlift shoe for squatting. True deadlift shoes and shoes that work great for deadlifts like barefoot shoes are built with 0mm heel-to-toe drops. This puts the foot flat to the ground resulting in more consistent setup mechanics.

Some lifters enjoy squatting with flat shoes and that’s where the deadlift shoes crossover can happen for squats. Its heel-to-toe drop and sole construction won’t negatively impact performance if you already like lifting with flat shoes.

squat shoes vs deadlift shoes and the details that make them different

What Are Squat Shoes?

Squat shoes are traditionally called 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.

when to use weightlifting shoes

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. 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.

Like squat shoes, you could technically call any pair of shoes that you deadlift with your deadlift shoes. However, once again, I think it’s more important to bucket shoes accordingly and then relate a shoe’s construction to its performance intent.

Squat vs 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 a 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).

Reebok Legacy Lifter 2 Pros

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 traditional 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 — this is also why barefoot shoes work great for deadlifts.

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 vs 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 vs Deadlift Shoes Difference 3: Functionality

On top of their construction, squat, and deadlift shoes will also vary in their functionality. Regarding 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)
  • Squats
  • 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 who 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 Chuck Taylor All-Star, 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 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 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!

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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