Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


by Mark Rippetoe | September 01, 2016

weight lifting shoes

The topic of footwear in the gym comes up quite often on the boards. So, here are my thoughts. Again.

First, if you think that the reason to wear flat shoes/wrestling shoes/Chuck Taylors/ballet slippers is simply because lots of guys have set records wearing them, and therefore this MUST be the way to set records, you’re simply not very intelligent – you don’t understand the difference between the observation of a phenomenon and its possible cause. For example, I’d guess that 90% of all lifters who’ve set records within the past year have, within that same year, eaten potatoes. It may be important, and it may be that potatoes are what they just happened to eat that year, but you can’t say that potatoes caused the record.

Barefoot is sometimes advocated for being more natural to the human foot. Hookworms, thorns, and frostbite are also natural to the human foot. For that matter, a barbell with a rotating sleeve and the car you drove to the gym is hard to justify if we’re really that Paleo. This particular line of reasoning exhausts itself quickly.

Shoes do two different jobs in barbell training. They support and protect the feet, and they provide a little heel lift to help with quadriceps recruitment even as you stay in the hips. Protecting the feet from both dropped objects and the floor itself is a necessary function, especially if you train in your garage or in a gym owned by an old bodybuilder.

Your arches should be protected as well, and a decent lifting shoe has an arch support and a strap that comes out of the arch-side of the shoe at the inward curve of the mid-sole and wraps the foot around the instep. It should do more than just suck the foot into the back of the shoe, like poorly designed shoes where the strap starts back at the heel – the strap should support the arch as well. When tightly laced and strapped, a shoe should function like a lifting belt for your foot.  

The stiff, inflexible sole of a lifting shoe allows your foot to interact as a single unit against the platform. The increased stability of this configuration is more noticeable the greater the distance between the load and the floor – no one can miss the improvement at the lockout position of a press, jerk or snatch.

The heels on a shoe generate a small amount of ankle angle than inclines the shin forward. This adds a little knee angle, which helps with quad recruitment even as hips remain the dominant mover in a squat and a deadlift. 

This, of course and like most other general recommendations, depends. In this case it depends on the anthropometry of the lifter. Flat shoes are useful for people with short tibias and long femurs, who will already have their knees forward because long femurs just do that to a guy. A moderate heel – maybe a half inch net height – is useful for people of normal anthropometry, for the aforementioned quad recruitment. And a taller heel is necessary for people with long tibias and short femurs (sprinters are designed this way) if they want to get the most leg work out of squats and deadlifts. I have personally used both flats and heels for my heaviest deadlifts, over 600, and I prefer the heels.

But nobody should squat in flat shoes just because somebody set a record wearing them. If you’re really that dumb, just go have some fries.

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