Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


A Marine on Weightlifting Shoes

by Capt Grant Broggi, SSC | September 24, 2019

marines and boots

From day one of Marine Corps training, one thing is made very clear to all recruits and officer candidates: take care of your feet. I will never forget standing in the barracks every night as an officer candidate standing alongside other college graduates, while another grown man would inspect our feet. One by one he would inspect our toes, heels, and soles, looking for blisters, cleanliness, and overall care. If you had a problem developing he would make you fix it immediately. I did not understand why this was so important during Officer Candidate School. I assumed everyone cleaned their feet, took care of blisters, and ensured overall care.

Everything done in boot camp or OCS is intentional, and this was no different. Over time I learned that you must take care of your feet because they are literally what take you to the battlefield. You can be the strongest guy on the team, have the fastest three-mile, or be the best shot, but a bad blister, trench foot, or cellulitis will render you combat-ineffective. Every Marine is a rifleman, and it all starts on the ground, inside your boots with proper care of your feet. You must take care of and protect your feet to be an effective Marine. This is no different in barbell training. While you may not be headed for combat in your weightlifting shoes, they are the very place you produce force against the ground. They allow you to produce more force than if you were barefoot. They provide stability and protection for your feet, and they allow you to use more muscle mass.

It Starts on the Floor

There are two things you interact with in barbell training: the barbell and the floor. Every lift connects your body to the floor via your feet. Your feet are what you use to transfer force to the floor and cause the barbell to move up against gravity. Most new lifters at The Strength Co. own what we call a running shoe or an athletic shoe. It is usually constructed of some sort of mesh or nylon upper connected to a rubber sole that provides a cushion when walking or running.

While they may feel comfy walking around the shoe store, that cushion is useless to you in barbell training. It is detrimental, in fact. The squat: the bar is on your back, you’ve set your stance, and you begin to descend into the bottom position. Assuming you are performing the exercise correctly, you experience a stretch reflex in the bottom and begin to drive your hips up (applying force through your feet against the floor). If your shoe has a cushion, it absorbs some of the force you are producing and collapses under the compression of the load.

If the sole has a convex shape (to roll across as you run), then it’s likely to transfer your weight toward your toes. At heavy weights this can be horrific. The barbell must travel over mid-foot to stay in balance while working with heavy loads. A cushioned shoe with a convex sole makes this nearly impossible to do. Yes, when you first get started and the weight is light you can make it work, but it is far less than ideal, even on your first workout. Ditch the Nikes (for obvious reasons), and purchase a properly constructed weightlifting shoe that has a hard flat sole.

Surface Area

In barbell training, the more surface area you have against the floor, the more efficiently you can produce force against the barbell – balance is necessary to push hard, and easier if you have a larger area to balance on. If you are barefoot (or in a sock), your surface area ends at the ball of your foot – only the ball and heel will be in optimum contact with the floor. The overall area that generates force against and transfers force to the floor is now smaller than if you were in a shoe. A weightlifting shoe with a flat, hard sole and an arch support increases the surface area by allowing you to produce force from your heel all the way to the end of your toes. It also makes for a uniform contact between the sole of your foot and the floor by filling up the space under your arch. This allows you to move more weight. Don’t lift barefoot or in socks. It’s silly, and it’s less efficient.

Stability

Your foot has an arch in some shape, form, or fashion. Some have more than others, and your shoe should account for that. A tennis and/or running shoe protects your arches for running and walking, not for lifting. Converse All Stars (a popular flat shoe for lifting) or Vans (worn by all Californians) are better than a running shoe due to the fact that they have a flat sole. However, they provide no arch support when under load. A well-made weightlifting shoe will have a strap that begins on the medial side of the mid-foot, crosses the top of shoe, and then secures on the lateral side of the mid-foot. It locks your foot into position, providing support for your arches – as Rip would say, “It’s like a belt for your foot.” Arch support and the metatarsal strap provide stability against the floor while you’re in the bottom of a heavy squat or locking out a jerk overhead. Lace them up tight and secure the strap. Now you are ready to lift.

broggi rippetoe minigell starting strength weightlifting boot prototypepe

Protection

People drop weights countless times in the gym. I’m not sure why, but more often than not I hear iron clanking against the ground, making sharp loud noises furthering my hearing loss. You do not want to be barefoot, or even in your cute deadlifting socks, when this happens. If something falls on your foot in the gym or you stub your toe on the power rack, a shoe protects you from injury and thus allows you to keep training. Enough said.

More Muscle

Weightlifting shoes have a raised heel somewhere between ½ to 1 inch, depending on the shoemaker. The Starting Strength Weightlifting Boot will have an effective heel height of ⅝ inch, which is most suited for the average general strength trainee. This raised heel puts the tibia in a more forward position in the squat and thereby recruits more quadriceps during the conduct of the lift. More muscle mass = more weight = you get stronger. The majority of our lifters at The Strength Co. use their shoes for all the basic barbell lifts. There are occasional lifters with long femurs and short tibias who should wear flat shoes, but you should hire a coach to make that call when the situation arises.

Wear a weightlifting shoe. It’s not optional. They will allow you to produce more force, protect your feet, and potentially prepare you for combat. You will be stronger, and my former Drill Instructors will be happy knowing there are individuals ready for combat if the draft is ever reinstated. 


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