Which shoes are best for lifting weights? Why this gear matters more than you think


The best gyms are altars to specificity. They have weights in 2.5 pound increments, endless machines, squat racks, dumbbells for squats and pull-ups, mobility trinkets, bands, cables, and space: the helpful extras. that make a workout go from good to excellent.

But getting strong is not a heavy equipment effort. Equipment isn’t more magical for weightlifters than hard work, and a simple home gym – a few dumbbells, a kettlebell, bands, a pull-up bar – is enough to build muscle and strength. . Professional gyms free up weightlifters from even more equipment. We don’t need clean whatever. We just need to lift.

Shoes, however, are equipment of a different kind. Weightlifters wear different types, and the debate over which is better can get pretty tense. Why are shoes important – or are they? And which ones to choose?

We can categorize weightlifters based on everything from the programs they choose – or even if they are following one – to their approaches to cardio. Looking at their shoes can be the best way to determine their goals.

What are the best shoes for lifting weights?

The shoes should correspond to the most dominant exercises in a program. Olympic-style weightlifters do their squats and lifts in high-heeled, incompressible sneakers – sometimes referred to as squat shoes – or more formal Olympic weightlifting shoes.

These elevators constitute a large part of their training. The stacked heels, about an inch high, allow the ankles to lean more forward than they normally would. This allows weightlifters to stay on top of the bar on scraps and to stand upright when squatting. The heels sometimes stay in place during pull-ups, the equivalent of the deadlift in sports. Olympians tend to wear squat shoes from Adidas, Nike, or Asics, but other brands, like Do-Win, can be found cheaper and are technically comparable for beginners.

Strength training, which emphasizes an aesthetic display of fairly large muscles, is cloudier because its lifts vary. Isolation exercises with dumbbells do not require specialized footwear, which is why you might see an incredibly jacked individual lifting themselves up. Wooded lands, or sneakers with visible air.

Shoes are less inseparable from programming, although they are important, especially on compound exercises. Many strength training programs include squats and deadlifts. Bodybuilders went barefoot under the bar – check out this pic of Arnold – and those casual compound lifts require that or non-technical shoes. Squat shoes are thin and flat, incompressible sneakers – especially Converse Chuck Taylors, or Vans – also work.

The powerlifting falls in the middle. Olympic weightlifters train only one type of squat – the high bar, we’ll talk about that later – and bodybuilders can do more than one, but powerlifters, who participate in this lift, tend to choose their own. In this sport, the squat is not a training lift, but a goal in itself and therefore the choice comes into play. A squat is trained for the poundage. It’s not made to rack up the snatch or gain height, and it might not necessarily be straight.

But which squat is the best? This debate – how to squat – started the debate about sneakers in sport.

Shoes and squats: high or low bar?

There are two types of squats, the high bar and the low bar, whose names correspond to where the bar is placed on the back.

The distinction is important but murky. Most programs don’t say How? ‘Or’ What squat down, just as you should. The consensus of the high-low bar may depend on the year in which you enter the sport. Trends come and go. But how you squat really depends on your goals.

A high bar squat rests the weight on the athlete’s trapezius muscles below the neck. This is the weightlifting version and forces the weightlifter to stand up straight. A high bar squat targets quads the most – they lift the weight – and is designed for weightlifting training, where weightlifters stand under a raised bar.

This requires movable ankles – try to squat with your back wand straight and your knees forward and out – which requires lifting shoes. Stacked heels can also prevent internal knee collapse during a lift. Squat shoes – Adidas Adipowers, Asics 727s Nike Romaleos, Do-Wins – make vertical squats easier and more stable, and are pretty much necessary for Olympic athletes.

A low bar squat – the forward hinged lift, the bar resting under their traps, locked with elbows bent, feet apart – is almost a different exercise from the high bar variety. With the weight placed lower on the back, the torso leans forward and the hips are worked more than with a high bar. A low bar squat is more an expression of strength than technique: with the hamstrings and glutes more involved, a low bar squat can move more weight up and down.

For these reasons, this squat tends to be preferred by extremely competitive powerlifters, those who set records. A low bar lifter who is already leaning forward may lean too far forward if he is wearing squat shoes. Often times, Chucks or Vans are ideal.

One squat is no better than the other: the low bar increases power and the posterior chain; the fixed bar strengthens the quadriceps and erectors of the spine. But choosing one over the other determines your path. Some weightlifters will be better at one or the other for biological reasons, but all weightlifters will need to adopt one form over another. Lifting chucks means you are either a beginner or a serious powerlifter. Lifting with squat shoes means that you are standing up and maybe practicing other movements. We can’t always tell which program someone is participating in just by looking at their elevators. But we can get an idea if we check the shoes they’re wearing on the biggest lift there is.

Why sneakers are shaping workouts

There aren’t as many studies on squat shoes as there are running shoes. A 2020 study published in the journal PairJ found that muscles were activated more on low bar squats than on high squats, especially the glutes and hamstrings. However, the study cohort – competitive powerlifters training for a competition – may have been more familiar with low bar squats early on, and the study is less about the shoes and more about the difference in the lifts. .

The shoes of the Alberta Boatema Ampomah from Ghana. She competed in the Group A weightlifting event of 75kg and over at the London 2012 Olympic Games.YURI CORTEZ / AFP / GettyImages

Shoes can define workout, but they shouldn’t matter enough to delay it. Some weightlifters squat the low bar in weightlifting shoes, and some do it high in Chucks, but there are affordable options for the former – the Adidas and Rogue models can cost around $ 100, and Craigslist and eBay often have never worn pairs of athletes had changes of mind.

If you can’t get weightlifting shoes right away, you can squat in chucks with plates under your heels. This may be the best option to start. Spend money on a trainer and deepen your squat form. Either way, you probably won’t be lifting a very heavy weight at this point.

Chucks and weightlifting shoes are both great for cardio, unless the athlete is doing five miles after a workout. Hybrid shoes – Crossfit-like sneakers with incompressible heels, only shorter – are another option. They are designed for running, squatting and circuits.

When weightlifters advance, they are licensed to become more precise. I know an elite athlete who wears squat shoes for squatting, wrestling slippers for deadlifts, chucks for everything else, and runners for cardio. It’s too much, but I’m not sure it is. It’s his money, and he enjoys training.

Lifting sneakers are weird. They aren’t technical – they don’t determine results – but they shape workouts. The shoe you choose limits your ankle angle and defines your squat – and your squat defines your goals. In either case, however, this is an incompressible shoe without any technology. Whether it’s high or low, all that matters is weight. The shoes cannot put weight on the bar. It is a reminder of the harsh, binary nature of force.

LEG DAY OBSERVER is an exploratory look at fitness, the companion to GQ.com’s vintage Snake America column, and a home for all things Leg Day. Due to the complicated nature of the human body, these columns are intended to be considered as introductory prompts for further research, not as guidelines. Read previous editions of Stage day observer for more thoughtful approaches to lifting and eating.


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