If you read a book on lifting, it’ll eventually have a section on gear, and if it’s any good that section will talk about shoes. Most will tell you not to lift in squishy-heeled cross trainers or the like — not that this stops anyone — because the lack of heel stability will fuck you right up. Instead, they’ll tell you to pick a shoe with a “flat, solid sole”. The better books will briefly mention weightlifting shoes, then suggest Converse All-Stars and simply lifting in your socks as “practical” options for “real-world” lifters. I presume some of the newer books mention minimal shoes like Vibram Five-Fingers.
Mark Rippetoe doesn’t fuck around in Starting Strength:
Shoes are the only piece of personal equipment that you really need to own. It takes only one set of five in a pair of squat shoes to demonstrate this convincingly to anybody who has done more than one squat workout. […]
Just buy the damn shoes.
I squatted for years in a pair of Converse All-Stars and “never had a problem with it”. About a month ago I just bought the damn shoes. (I’m linking to those shoes because they’re the ones I bought, not because I think they’re the best there is or because I’ve sold out to Rogue. This post is about lifting shoes in general.) I really should’ve bought them earlier, say five years ago.
The lifting shoes give me two things that Cons or Vibrams or skate shoes don’t. The first is a slightly raised and rock-solid heel. It’s not an enormous lift, but it helps free up my ankles at the bottom of a squat, and I think the heel-to-toe slope helps my knees track better over my toes. The second, most transformative, thing is incredible stability. Between the tarsal straps and the shoe’s construction, my feet just don’t fucking move within the shoes. I didn’t think they moved in the Cons either, until I switched. Basically that means that there’s less slop in my feet and ankles and I’m more efficiently putting power into the floor. One of the strong people at the campus gym where I used to lift claimed that proper lifting shoes would put forty pounds on your squat, and now I believe him.
The downside is that the sole doesn’t flex, at all. This is part of the upside, but if you like to bring your feet way back towards your shoulders when setting up your bench, as I do, you’ll need to find another way to do it. Also you’ll need to bring along another pair if you want to sprint after lifting. If you have to mix up squats and sprints, or whatever you Crossfit guys do, these look like a decent compromise.
I’ve done a bunch of lifts in these shoes and have some comments on each:
- Squats — back, front, or overhead, welcome to the easiest PRs you’ve set in years. All that tension you used to spend trying to stop your feet from squirming around — “spread the floor apart!” — now gets to go straight into moving the bar. You’re probably not going to ditch all of your form issues — for me, the big one is corkscrewing counterclockwise as my right knee compensates for my lack of left ankle mobility — but they’ll probably get a lot better. And because you’re not wobbling around in the hole, you might find yourself sinking a couple inches deeper than usual and thinking “man, that was easy” as you drive out of the hole.
- Cleans and snatches — as long as you don’t get shoes with a stupid-high heel your pull from the floor shouldn’t be affected. When I started doing cleans in lifting shoes, I realized that I was a lot closer to a full squat clean than I’d expected. No shit, Sparky, huh. Maybe weightlifting shoes really do make weightlifting easier.
- Deadlifts — see previous comment about “pulls from the floor”. You might be pulling the bar an extra half inch depending on how much of a heel you get, so lifting shoes might take a pound or three off of your absolute max. I haven’t pulled an absolute max in about five years, so I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re that serious about your deadlift you probably pull in socks anyway. SGDLs and RDLs seem unaffected.
- Bench — the bad news is that I can’t set up the way I like. The good news is that I have slightly better leg drive in the setup I don’t like. If I was training for powerlifting I’d probably bench in different shoes; as it is I probably lost five or ten pounds. That might come back if I find a better setup.
- Press — in theory I should have a stronger base; in practice I probably need to put in more core work before I can get anything extra out of the shoes.
I’m with Rippetoe on this one — just buy the damn shoes.