Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Get Some Shoes

by Mark Rippetoe | November 30, 2021

close up of lifter wearing weightlifting shoes

I have been talking about shoes for 15 years, and many of you have not been listening. Once again, there are two basic reasons that a pair of weightlifting shoes should be the very first piece of personal equipment you buy.

For Your Feet

Shoes protect your feet, which are already the most heavily loaded part of your body in every barbell exercise except the bench press. A correctly-fitted pair of shoes tightens the foot and compresses the metatarsals, in addition to supporting the transverse arch, keeping the foot in the correct anatomical position to support the compressive load of the bar. The metatarsal strap – if the shoe is correctly designed – pulls the foot back into the shoe, keeping the toes away from the front of the toe box so the toenails aren't damaged, and further reinforcing the arch. They provide at least some protection in the event that you drop a plate or a collar (it does happen) or trip over a plate or platform edge.

For Your Lifting

The substructure of a weightlifting shoe is not compressible – it doesn't change shape when you apply a load to it. By wearing a shoe with an compressible heel, shank, and sole, you remove a significant source of variation in the transmission of force between you and the floor. If the shape of the sole changes during the rep, it is impossible to accurately reproduce the same force generation and transmission pattern across all the reps of the set. You are essentially squatting or pulling on your mattress.

This is so profound a factor that when we make our seminar attendees wear weightlifting shoes for the first time, they all say, “Yeah, I see what you mean, it's much better.”

Weightlifting shoes have a net heel – the height that the shoe raises the heel above the ball of the foot – that varies from a half-inch to more than an inch. This is perhaps the most difficult thing to explain to people who have not worn them: why does the heel help? Seems like it would just add to the distance the bar has to be pulled.

It adds a little, maybe 3/8”, since the bar is over the mid-foot at lockout, not the heels. But the effectiveness of the initial push off the floor more than makes up for the tiny distance. The first pull off the floor is properly viewed as a knee extension – you start the bar up by pushing the floor down, not pulling up on the bar. The heels help place your quads in a better position to do this. I'm not entirely sure why this is true, but trust me, it is. The heel works for anybody who does not have abnormally long femurs relative to tibias.

And since the sole of the shoe is flat, with all of the surface area of your foot in contact with the inside of the sole, your weight is distributed across the entire shoe sole surface area in contact with the floor. Barefooted or sock feet or ballet shoes or Saran Wrap means that the contact between your foot and the floor does not include your wiggly toes, the gap between the ball of your foot and your toes, and the area under your arch. Which means that those points of contact are loaded at a higher p.s.i. than the same foot in a shoe would be, since the force against the floor gets distributed across the entire surface of the shoe sole. This allows the mid-foot balance point to remain constant and to function more efficiently as a unchanging datum.

Shoes are an important development of civilization. They're why most of us don't have hookworms. They protect your feet, and if your feet are injured, you can't walk. Walking is important. You probably wore shoes into the gym, you probably wear shoes at work, and there's a good reason for this that also applies to training. Get some purpose-built weightlifting shoes and wear them when you train.

In the meantime, don't post barefoot form checks on these boards – they will be deleted. Really. Get serious about your training before you ask for our help.

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