Which Shoe is the BEST Weightlifting Shoe?

While the question may seem silly, is there really a “best” weightlifting shoe? The shoes you wear can make a difference in both your performance in the gym, and how comfortable/safe lifting feels.

It can be overwhelming at first. “Should I get a heeled shoe?”, “Flat Shoe?”, “Do I need multiple shoes?”, “What shoe works best for what lift?”, “What brand is best?”, “Can I just cut out the middleman and go barefoot?”. But, once you understand the basics behind what qualifies as a “good lifting shoe” you’ll realize you’ve got many options to work with. Both in terms of the style of shoe as well as the cost. From there it simply comes down to your own personal preference.

(Beginner Lifter? Check out this article for 10 mistakes to avoid when starting out!)

Running Shoes:

Just don’t…moving on.

Kidding. The reason running shoes don’t work out for lifting is because…well…they were designed for running. This means a soft squishy sole and a naturally curved bottom. Both which, while great for trekking long distances, negatively impact lifting. It may not seem like a big issue moving around in running shoes with some lighter dumbbells. But, things change when you start loading more weight on the bar such as in movements like the back squat. When there’s a few hundred pounds on your back you want that guarantee that nothing is unexpectedly moving on you. Unfortunately, those soft soles tend to shift and sink when a lot of weight is in play.

Now maybe you are thinking, “Well I don’t lift that much weight that shouldn’t be a problem”. That’s where the natural curved design of a running shoe get’s in the way. The most common foot position for most lifts is maintaining your feet perfectly flat and balanced on the ground. With a running shoe this is usually impossible. Because the front toe box is curved up your forefoot won’t touch the ground even if you are standing “flat”. If the toe box is in contact with the ground that usually means your heel just lifted in the air. A similarly undesirable situation. Regardless of how skilled the lifter is running shoes make lifting needlessly harder, and objectively more dangerous the more weight is involved.

So, save the running shoes for running, and instead look to these other options for your lifting needs.

Weightlifting Shoes (Heeled Shoes):

These tend to be the first thing people ask about when it comes to footwear for lifting. “Do I need Weightlifting Shoes?”.

Answer, possibly…

Are you looking to get competitive? Is the hobby of lifting a big deal to you? If so these are probably something you want to pick up. While some weightlifting shoes can seem pricey the good news is it’s basically a one-time purchase.

Weightlifting shoes are generally only used in static movements like squatting, overhead pressing, and bench pressing. This means you aren’t going to wear them out the same way you would a running shoe or normal gym shoe. You simply aren’t going to be walking for miles on hand while you’re in them. They basically come out for your lift then go right back in the bag with little to no wear and tear on them.

Even if you practice a style of lifting with more movement involved such as weightlifting you’ll still find you’re not putting as much stress on them as you would an everyday pair of shoes.

Weightlifting shoes differ from a normal gym shoe in a few ways. Weightlifting shoes have a large/wide flat bottom sole to them. They are made out of hard wood or plastics so there is no “give” to the shoe like you’ll find in a running shoe, or even harder “cross training” shoes. Most noticeably, they will feature a raised back heel which is useful for increasing ankle mobility in movements like the squat. (Important) Not all weightlifting shoes have the same heel height so pay attention when you buy! 

The downside? Because they have both a raised heel and hard compact sole these really aren’t good for anything other than main barbell movements. So, if you plan on running, jumping, or otherwise just moving around in the gym you are going to need an additional pair of shoes.

Cross Trainers:

With resistance training becoming more popular, companies have launched “cross training” style shoes. They play the middle role between a weightlifting shoe and a general everyday running shoe/tennis shoe. Generally they are very flat shoes with a solid sole that has little to no give, but not quite so solid as the wooden or plastic sole found in weightlifting shoes. This means you get a nice all-around package. A shoe that is both good for lifting and getting some basic conditioning movements in. (Think your basic athletic movements, jumping, short sprints, footwork drills)

Shoes targeted towards resistance training include the Nike Metcons, Reebok Nanos, and the NoBull Trainers, but there are plenty more out there to look into.

These are shoes that I would recommend trying on before you buy. You want the shoe to be flat and you want the shoe to be firm with no real “squish” to it but there are differences between brands which can make people either love or hate a certain shoe so it’s best to just try them out for yourself.

The main downside to cross-trainers is they are all big-name brands. This means they will cost big name brand money. To get around this buy older versions of the companies’ cross-trainer. They are generally sold at a decent discount, and if we are being honest, almost exactly the same as the newest version they release.

Flats:

This category covers basically every other shoe you could possibly buy that counts as “flat”. Which is actually a lot you can get creative here.

Converse/Converse Clones, Vans/Other Skating shoes, wrestling shoes, a cheap pair of shoes that happened to be flat and have no sole from the Walmart discount section, you name it.

This is where you can end up saving a bit of money. You may need to do some searching but there are plenty of shoes out there with a flat bottom and no squishy sole to them. They just might not have that Nike logo on them.

You truly do not need the most “advanced” shoe to have a proper lifting shoe. It’s not uncommon to enter a serious strength training facility and see someone dead lifting serious weight in a pair of 20-year-old Chucks that look like they’ve been through war. Fancy and new doesn’t always mean better. Just find that flat shoe with a firm sole that you feel comfortable in. Your main concern is making sure that your foot isn’t going to suddenly shift or sink on you while you are lifting weights. Other than that you are free to buy what you like.

Keep in mind, if you intend to be doing any of that running and jumping mentioned earlier, not just heavy squats and deads, you’re going to want an additional pair of shoes.

If you attempt to take those converse out for a run believe me when I say you are going to feel every…single…step.

Barefoot Lifting:

And the final category, “Why do I even need to buy shoes in the first place? I have two perfectly good feet don’t I?”…true…

Barefoot lifting is usually hit or miss for people they either swear by it or absolutely hate it. First thing to understand is that there’s no crazy advantage to going bare foot for your lifts. People will swear up and down that it’s a lifting hack and the secret to untapped gains. But, if you are trying to compare lifting barefoot with lifting in a good pair of flat shoes, you’re going to be splitting hairs.

The good news is there’s no real disadvantage to going barefoot either. It’s the exact same idea as wearing a flat shoe taken to the max degree. The difference being that we all have different shaped feet, which is usually where the “love it or hate it” factor comes into play.

The shape of your foot can greatly determine how comfortable something like a squat or deadlift will feel barefoot. For many they just don’t feel that same stability they get when they are wearing a lifting shoe.

There’s also the minor detail that you are now barefoot in a facility specifically designed to house a whole bunch of heavy steel object. While I can agree that taking a 45lb plate to the foot is going to hurt no matter how you shake it shoe or not. I can’t say the same for accidentally kicking something in the gym without a shoe on.

You also have to keep in mind…does your gym actually allow barefoot lifting? You can almost guarantee a gym employee will be on you for lifting barefoot within 5 minutes in a commercial gym. One, because you are freaking out the other clients, and two, because you have now become what we like to call a “liability”.

If your gym owner is cool with it, lift away! But I’d highly consider getting a side pair of shoes if you are going to be doing any additional running, jumping, or otherwise in addition to your lifting.

In the end the choice is truly yours! There is no one “best weightlifting shoe” that ranks above all others. You have many options to choose from, both in style of shoe, and in price range. So, pick that shoe that makes you comfortable and that fits your budget!

Click here for more info on heeled lifting shoes and a review of a big name brand weightlifting shoe! 

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.