What do weightlifting shoes do?
Firstly, it’s important to point out that no non-weightlifter needs weightlifting shoes. If they aren’t in your budget right now, then don’t worry – you can still master solid techniques without them. In fact, some coaches actually recommend not using them at first, so you don’t become overly reliant on their benefits. But what are those benefits and why do people wear weightlifting shoes?
We mentioned earlier that weightlifting shoes have a built-up heel – this is the secret to their benefit. If you’ve ever performed a squat, you may have struggled to get as low as you were aiming. This is often a result of having poor mobility at the ankle. It’s something that can be improved over time but certainly isn’t something that will change overnight. A raised heel helps with this by increasing the tibial (shin) angle, meaning that for the same bend at the ankle, you’re able to get down lower. In fact, when wearing weightlifting shoes, you actually bend your ankle less and compensate by bending more at the knee and hip than when wearing normal trainers.
This can also lead to helping more experienced lifters to maintain a more upright torso during some lifts – something that can be really advantageous as it keeps the centre of mass towards the middle of our base of support (basically, directly above and in the middle of our feet). This is especially important as the load increases because it prevents us from losing balance and dropping the weight in front or behind us. It also makes the lift a little easier too.
These changes in position are not to come at the expense of improved mobility and technique, though. In fact, this trunk position benefit has not been shown in less trained back squatters wearing weightlifting shoes. However, considering all we’ve discussed, it seems weightlifting shoes would be advantageous in either of the Olympic lifts as well as other similar movements, including squat and leg press variants.
Beyond the change in shin angle provided by the heel, the wedge itself is very firm. So, unlike a cushioned trainer, when you push down hard during a lift, none of that force is absorbed into the shoe. This is really effective when you get to your heavier loads as you can utilise all produced force in the lift and not lose any through the compression of your shoe heel. It’s the same principle that led to some very quick sprint times at the recent Olympics. In Tokyo, it was the track track that was firm, meaning all force the athletes produced was rebounded back by the springy soles of their shoes, keeping them moving quickly.
Having said that, it’s important to highlight that weightlifting shoes are not essential. Similarly, it’s also important to point out that you don’t need to be an advanced lifter to want to own a pair either. If you’re enjoying lifting and would like some of the benefits, then go for it.