Squat Shoes, Do You Need Them?

There is a lot of discussion that goes into whether or not squat shoes, also known as olympic lifting shoes, are beneficial and for who would they benefit.  I get asked quite often about what I think about them and if it will help performance.  The olympic lifting shoe has an elevated heel to provide increased range of motion for specific movement patterns while allowing a more vertical torso.  These shoes also maintain a very stable surface and are relatively rigid throughout the mid-foot (note some shoes like the ones made for CrossFit will “flex” a little more in the mid-foot).  When considering purchasing an olympic lifting shoe, you need to ask yourself several questions. How long have you been training? Do you have proper coordination with basic movement patterns to allow sufficient ankle/knee/hip range of motion? What are you using them for? Are you consistently performing lifts that would benefit from this type of shoe (ie squat, clean, snatch)? 

How long have you been training?

This question really takes into account general fitness, strength, overall movement, and work capacity. That is because if you have no established baseline with any of the aforementioned variables then it is similar to drinking green tea to “boost your metabolism” when the rest of your diet consists of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Bud Light, frequent visits to IHOP.  Just doesn’t blend well since the initial factors that need to be addressed are getting into the gym and establishing a baseline first. You need to learn basic movement patterns and do them consistently overtime before the shoe discussion comes up.  If you have been lifting consistently for 4 years and want a more upright/stable position in your squat then definitely feel free to try out a heeled shoe. 

What are you using the shoe for?

So imagine you already have a movement baseline down, you have a solid level of general fitness, your work capacity is up and strength is looking pretty good. Now you consider using a heeled shoe to make your squat deeper because ass to grass is badass, right? This depends on your hips and tissue throughout the lower body, but consider there’s no issue there and you have great control. Then it's time to try out some olympic lifting shoes!

Or maybe you just want to grow some quads so you purchase an olympic lifting shoe to place more emphasis on the quads for example in a single-leg elevated split-squat. That definitely works too as long as you have that established baseline movement, know why you are doing it, and then prescribing the right exercise volume with the end goal in mind. Bottom-line is to not use the shoe just because everyone else is walking around with one because chances are they have no idea why they are using them either.   

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using an olympic lifting shoe?

Advantages:

  • Solid foot support
  • Heel lift
  • More upright torso (for squats and oly lifts)
  • Need greater ROM in hips/ knees/ankle depending on depth

Disadvantages:

  • Need greater ROM (Not always favorable for powerlifting)
  • More upright torso (sometimes you may want more hip dominance)
  • Limits deadlift max strength
  • Does not substitute as teacher for proper movement

Who would benefit the most from the shoes?

The person who will benefit the most from olympic lifting shoes is the one who already has a foundation for movement, is consistent, and has goals to improve their squat, clean, snatch, clean-style deadlift, and/or increase quad mass. To reiterate, someone who can squat, deadlift/hip hinge, perform a basic single leg squat, and hip hinge on one leg is going to reap the most from olympic shoes.  Otherwise the shoe is not going to matter.

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