Weightlifting shoes have become a popular item to accompany many gym goers training sessions, however a large amount of owners don’t really know how they work. This article is going to look at the difference between normal shoes and weightlifting shoes, the biomechanical effects of these shoes and weather you should buy a pair.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the difference between normal trainers and weightlifting shoes. The normal trainers you’ll see most gym goers wearing are designed primarily for running. This means that they are designed to absorb the impact from each step you take. When weightlifting such as a squat or a deadlift, it is important that the lifter has a strong stable base that allows for effective energy transfer from the ground upwards. Due to the compressive nature of running shoes, the soles tend to absorb a large amount of this energy, making it harder to complete the movement.
Running shoes are also made to be agile for changing directions. This means they don’t have a flat sole or a ridged structure to allow for more ankle movement. While this allows for a more comfortable running gait, it creates a less stable surface to push off of, creating a harder and less stable weightlifting pattern.
Weightlifting shoes on the other hand are much more ridged and will have a base with a large, flat surface area allowing the lifter to lock in to the ground more effectively. This creates a much more stable position, a more comfortable movement and therefore a stronger lift.
The Biomechanics of Weightlifting Shoes
As previously spoken about the aim of weightlifting shoes is to create a more stable surface and improve technique on the key weightlifting movements. A plethora of research has been completed on mechanics of weightlifting in different types of shoes (Legg et al 2016 ; Schermoly et al 2015 ; Fortenbaugh, Sato and Hitt, 2014). In particular, the barbell squat has been analysed and critiqued. Due to the high demand on both the upper and lower extremities, often lifters suffer from a variety of different compensations. The main compensations seen within squatting are over pronation of the ankle, knee valgus, excessive lean forwards and an asymmetrical weight shift.
These compensations are often caused by a lack of mobility or over activity of specific muscle and/muscular systems which cause altered arthrokinematics (joint movements). The main feature of weightlifting shoes is a raised heel. This raised heel allows the lifter to start in more plantar flexion with the toes pointing down. By starting the ankle in this “open packed” position it means the lifter will benefit from an increased range of motion. This is vital as often the compensations previously mentioned arise from a lack of ankle mobility, causing the client to over pronate and roll on to the inside of their feet. This over pronation causes a knock on effect further up the kinetic chain as seen in figure 1 below.
Figure 1 – Effects of Over Pronation on the Kinetic Chain (Clark and Lucett, 2011)
The raised heel also allows for the lifter to keep their heel in contact with the ground throughout the lift. Often lifters will want to raise on to their toes when squatting which displaces the rest of the body and causes an inefficient bar path. Fortenbaugh, Sato and Hitt (2014) found that in the analysis of a squat with lifting shoes, the torso was more upright and the bar path was more vertical with less anterior placement, as opposed to the same subject squatting with running shoes. This finding can be seen across a few different studies (Legg et al 2016 ; Schermoly et al 2015 ; Fortenbaugh, Sato and Hitt, 2014).
Are they Worth the Purchase?
This article only covers the surface of the biomechanical improvements that weightlifting shoes have on the body, but it is clear to see the benefits are well documented. The simple science is that running shoes just aren’t made for the bigger compound movements such as squats, especially if you’re going to be lifting heavy. The unstable surface can exaggerate any compensations and make your chance of injury higher.
Barefoot lifting is regarded as being better for these lifts, however the lifter will need very good ankle mobility to successfully complete the lift and sometimes the solid ground can be uncomfortable on the lifters feet and ankles.
If you’re going to be spending a large amount of your workout time on compound lifts such as these, or aiming to go heavy, then weightlifting shoes are a must. Simply put, they will make you more comfortable while lifting, decrease injury risk and increase the weight of your lifts.
Legg, Hayley S. et al. “The Effect Of Weightlifting Shoes On The Kinetics And Kinematics Of The Back Squat”. Journal of Sports Sciences (2016): 1-8. Web.
Schermoly, T, I Hough, and D Senchina. “The Effects Of Footware On Force Production During Barbell Back Squats”. Journal of undergraduate kinesiology research 10.2 (2015): n. pag. Print.
Fortenbaugh, D. Sato, K. Hitt, K. (2014) The effects of weightlifting shoes on kinematics. Colarado : American Sports Medicine Institute
Clark, M. and Lucett, S. (2011). NASM’s essentials of corrective exercise training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins