Are You Wearing the Right Shoes for Squatting?
If you’ve ever been to a CrossFit or powerlifting gym where Olympic lifting is taught, chances are you’ve seen people wearing weightlifting trainers. These shoes go by many different names, and to the uninitiated, they look like weird wedge trainers with a platform shoved in the heel.
The reality is that squat trainers can be an invaluable asset for the stability and foundational support they provide.
If you’re new to Olympic lifting, or if you’re wondering whether or not a squat trainer is worth the money, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common questions about Olympic lifting. Let’s take a look at what these shoes can do for you and if you even need them in the first place.
Weightlifting trainers have been around for a long time – used mainly by competitive Olympic lifters and powerlifters to assist in squat depth. Compared to standard trainers, these shoes are generally heavier, with a flat sole, some Velcro strap, and a raised heel. The heel is made from hard, non-compressible material – typically some sort of composite plastic.
Back in the day, heels were made from wood, but you’d be hard-pressed to find wooden soles these days. If you ever manage to happen upon a pair of wooden-soled trainers, grab them! There’s nothing like the sound of a wooden heel striking a wooden platform. But more on platforms and flooring later. For now, let’s take a look at squat shoes in-depth and try to answer the question, “Do weightlifting shoes really make a difference?”
Our Top Picks at a Glance
- adidas Adipower
- adidas Crazy Power
- adidas Leistung 16 II
- adidas Powerlift 3.1
- Reebok Men’s Legacylifter Fitness Shoes
- Reebok Lifter PR Men
- Reebok Legacy Lifter Women’s Training Shoes
- Rogue Fitness Do-Win Classic Lifter
- Nike Romaleos 3 XD Weightlifting Shoes
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon.
Why Do I Need a Weightlifting Shoe?
If you’ve been following our series on squat mobility and depth, you’ll know already that one of the deciding factors in a powerful squat is the ability to get to your spine’s version of parallel. Once there, driving up with force and control helps you execute the lift properly.
For those who don’t have fantastic flexibility in their ankles and knees, or for anyone who has shallow hip sockets, an Olympic trainer can help augment the mechanical angles at the bottom of the squat position. Let’s unpack that because it probably warrants a micro-lesson on anatomy.
The raised heel of a squat shoe means your ankle has to perform less dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is just a fancy word for raising your foot toward your shin in an upward direction.
So, when you have on a pair of weightlifting trainers, your ankle has to flex less to reach the bottom of your squat. That’s not to say that these shoes make dorsiflexion easier, just that it reduces the amount of flexion required for the movement. By changing the angle of your foot, it makes the flexion easier.
The weight and flatness of squat trainers also help to increase your stability. These shoes help you lock in and feel rooted to the ground – critical when you’re trying to push the earth from beneath you and drive up on a heavy lift.
Other Types of Shoes
You might see people attempting to squat barefoot, assuming that without a shoe, their squat form might somehow be better than it was before. While it’s true that it might help improve balance if you’re lifting lift and working on technique, the advantages completely disappear once you start lifting heavy.
Taking away the sole of the shoe that acts as interference between you and the ground might help you learn to stabilise and engage more. That’s an advantage if you’re brand new to barbell lifting and want to feel the movement. But for any serious training, there’s no real benefit from squatting barefoot. It might lead to injury instead.
Wearing no shoes doesn’t help improve form unless you’re a person who never wears shoes. In which case, it’s probably very comfortable for you to squat shoe-less. For the rest of us, when attempting to squat shoe-less, the following things happen.
Barefoot squatting increases the muscle activation of the tibialis anterior. This muscle is involved in the dorsiflexion of the foot and helps you maintain balance. The increased activation of this muscle is likely because there’s a decrease in stability while lifting barefoot.
When you have a lot of weight loaded on the bar, the very last thing you want is unsure footing. It’s more likely to happen if you’re attempting to squat barefoot than in a pair of trainers. Remember that the more weight on the bar, the more your foot needs to be securely supported.
Without support from the arch of the shoe, you’re at risk of losing your balance. You might lean on the ball of your foot and not push from your heels, which can ultimately lead to failed reps.
Another alternative to squat shoes is to wear zero drop shoes. This is a type of shoe where the heel is at the same height as the ball of the foot. It helps to mimic how you stand without shoes on. Since most of us wear shoes that have a heel drop, our feet become inflexible and less strong over time. Shoes act like casts on feet, so zero drop will help keep feet in their natural position.
Posture and overall alignment tend to improve in zero drop shoes since they’re more stable and help increase balance. The stability that comes with wearing zero drop shoes makes them a good choice for functional fitness athletes who need to perform many different types of movements in a single training session. They’re never going to take the place of a good pair of squat trainers, though since they do very little to concerning arch support and foot stability inside the shoe.
The very last kind of shoe you want to wear while squatting is the same pair that you wear to run a 5k. Running trainers are meant to roll to the ball of your foot, which is the exact opposite movement you want while squatting.
A Raised Heel Is Going to Change the Way You Squat
Squat trainers shift the emphasis of a squat from your hips to your legs. That doesn’t mean your hips totally come out of play. Relative to squatting in zero-drop flat bottomed shoes, heeled shoes mean you use your hips a little bit less. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on your goals.
If you’re trying to get as strong as possible, then focusing on your largest muscle groups is key. That probably means wearing squat trainers if your leg muscles are strong and wearing them until your hip musculature develops. If your goal is shoring up your weaknesses, then you should focus on your weakest muscle groups. So, in that instance, wearing flat shoes might be better.
A heeled shoe is going to change the way you squat because the heel acts as a counterbalance for whatever is on the barbell. It helps to keep your centre of gravity more neutral. Whether or not this is critical depends largely on your own goals.
Hip mobility, ankle and knee flexibility, and proper breathing are all important when you’re squatting. One part of the body that often gets overlooked is your feet and how they contribute to the success or challenges of lifting heavy with proper form.
The foot has over 25 bones and four different joints, making it capable of lots of different kinds of movement. Since a secure foot is integral to a quality squat, it’s imperative that you create stability at the foot. This means having a neutral arched position.
Arches and Width
Flat arches often lead a knee to track inward, essentially caving in on heavy squats. This can cause injury, obviously, but can also decrease the amount of weight you’re able to push successfully.
Addressing flat feet with strengthening exercises is important, but the progress is often slow and takes a while. If you have anatomical structural issues like that, they’re always going to exist, no matter how much you shore up your weakness.
So, choosing shoes that have good arch support can help offset the flatness of the arch. Squat shoes tend to have excellent arch support, making them a good choice for anyone who has this anatomic issue.
Next, the width of your feet significantly factors into squat trainer purchasing decisions. If your shoes are narrow and your feet are wide, it’s going to be tough to find a shoe that allows you to push your feet out against the sidewall. In time this can lead to improper recruitment of the posterior chain on compound lifts, which will eventually lead to significant deficiencies and injury.
How to Squat in Weightlifting Shoes?
Since wearing squat trainers changes the range of motion of the foot and ankle, they also help with producing as much force as possible to help you get up off the ground.
The elevated heel will allow you to get deeper into your squat, with your knees tracking out. Increased ankle flexibility means the load of the bar is evenly displaced throughout your body, not just at pivotal joints. People with tight ankles will benefit from wearing squat trainers – especially if they’re unconcerned with working on flexibility and mobility issues.
Squat shoes come with straps that help feel your foot snug and secure, making it easier to hold a squat at depth. This is instrumental in working on the drive up since more power and force means more strength.
When Should You Use Squat Shoes?
Just like all other gear, squat trainers are a tool that can be used effectively. Or they can turn into a crutch that prevents true growth. Before you consider wearing weightlifting trainers, make sure you know how to squat. What this means is that you’ve been squatting long enough that you could squat with the perfect form with your eyes closed.
Why Is This Important?
Well, if you’re still learning to squat, you haven’t developed enough muscle memory to benefit from squat trainers. Even more importantly, there’s important proprioceptive feedback that squat shoes might cover-up. The most important reason to know how to squat before donning a pair of Olympic trainers is that you never want to use gear to cover up mobility or flexibility issues.
In short, trying to wear shoes to cover up your inability to reach your version of parallel will only cause problems later. A raised here essentially trades flexibility required for a balance requirement. It’s generally easier to develop flexibility than it is to perfect your balance.
If this even remotely sounds like you, then consider learning proper form before letting your ego guide your purchases.
But, if you can squat well already, then it’s still a great idea to have a pair of squat trainers in your gym back. Even still, it’s a good idea to use these shoes sparingly. Most of your slow lifts that require control and measures movements might be slightly easier when you’re wearing a squat shoe. If you’re not even remotely training for a competition, it might behoove you to stick to zero-drop shoes instead. The trade-off here is that when you’re wearing a squat trainer, you’re going to spend less time in full ankle dorsiflexion, something that will ultimately be a detriment in the end.
If you’re working your way through fast lifts like snatches and clean and jerks (and all their variations), then a squat trainer will be invaluable. They allow you to catch the barbell with stability. These shoes will help you feel locked in on the floor, helping you execute the lifts and helps you from overcompensating on other joints.
Keep in mind that much of this is largely dependent on the type of training you enjoy. If you’re a standard bodybuilder whose primary goals are aesthetics, then there might not be a benefit to purchasing squat shoes. If you’re experimenting with Olympic lifts as part of functional fitness training, then squat shoes might be worth it. Powerlifters generally benefit from squat trainers. So make sure you’re clear on your goals and then start to decide what kind of shoes will be best suited for you.
Deadlifts and Squat Shoes
Never should the two meet. No, seriously. Deadlifting in squat trainers is not only a fitness faux pas, but also puts you at risk. The reason is that squat trainers raise your heels, so you have to pull the bar a further distance when you’re deadlifting. That makes it harder to get it off the ground.
Because weightlifting shoes can shift your weight, it might make it more difficult to get into the proper deadlift form. Some people do use deficit deads as part of their training program, which is fine – just make sure you’re wearing your tried and true Chuck Taylors.
A Note on Gender
Squatting and Olympic lifting is becoming increasingly more popular among all genders and age groups. However, the limited supply of reliable squat shoes gendered for females is slim.
The truth is that there’s no different construction for male shoes versus female shoes. For females, simply size down on the “male” shoe.
The trade-off with wearing “male” shoes as a female is only aesthetic. Neither have any real gender qualities, making the marketing of the shoes to each gender a tactic just to increase sales.
What to Look for in a Squat Shoe
When you’re searching for the best squat shoe, you should keep in mind how the shoe will perform during your lifts. No matter if you’re simply training, attempting PRs, or competing, the best squat shoes will take into consideration some of the following factors.
Squat trainers have perforation holes and mesh panels to help breath and eliminate excess moisture.
One or two straps that help keep the foot in place
Increase ankle mobility and puts your hips and knees in a better position to squat deep
Flat, stiff outsole that doesn’t compress the foot and creates a stable platform
Stiff upper section
Wide toe box and a stiff upper sole gives support while also maintaining some flexibility to execute lifts
The higher the heel, the more dorsiflexion in the ankles. For people with a lot of mobility, lower heels are generally best. The opposite goes for those with less than stellar mobility.
|High heel >19mm||Standard heel 19mm||Low heel <19mm|
Best for athletes with long legs and long torso or legs longer than their torso
Good for those with limited ankle flexibility
High bar squats, safety bar squats, and narrow stance squats
Best for athletes with torso longer than legs
Good for those with decent mobility and dorsiflexion
Useful for all squat variations and Olympic lifts
Best for shorter athletes with short legs and torsos
Good for those with excellent flexibility
Use with a wide stance and low-bar squats and Olympic lifts
The best-fitting squat shoes will meet these six criteria
- Feet should not be able to move once laced and strapped
- Generous toe box
- No blood flow restriction after wearing them for a few hours
- No more than 3 mm of space between toe and top of trainer
- No pressure on to the top of the foot or big toe joint
- Snug fit with no heel movement
A Detailed Look at the Best Weightlifting / Squat Shoes
These unisex weightlifting shoes have venter holes for maximum breathability, so your feet aren’t going to get sweaty during lifts. With a heel height of just 9mm, this is the perfect shoe for athletes with short legs or short torsos. It’s the ideal selection for anyone who has excellent mobility and ankle flexibility. Perfect for low-bar squats and Olympic lifts.
- Solid construction
- Foot stays rooted inside the shoe during both squats and speed movements like the snatch
- Proper heel height with no compression or restriction
- Single strap isn’t as stable as double straps
- Toe box is narrow, so might not be good for those with wider feet
- Lacing doesn’t have a placeholder in the middle, so the tongue of the shoe can slip if the straps aren’t very tight
These Adidas Adipower shoes have been around for a long time, and that’s because they’re quality squat trainers. With a nominal heel height and a single strap, they’re excellent for athletes who know how to squat and don’t need a lot of supplemental range of motion. These aren’t the shoes for those who have very limited flexibility or for athletes who are tall.
These Crazy Power Weightlifting shoes have a mesh toe box that helps to improve air circulation and breathability. The lacing system and strap keeps the foot in place and stable inside the shoe. An added sock-like lining helps achieve a close fit and keeps the foot snug against the outer walls.
- Solid construction
- The wide strap helps keep foot secure and reinforces dorsiflexion activation
- Might be useful for an athlete who is accustomed to squatting in running trainers
- Synthetic material means these shoes aren’t’ going to be around for a long time and can break down quickly
- Mesh toe box isn’t as solid as other squat trainers so feet might not feel stable on the floor
- Has more of a running shoe feel than a squat trainer
- Narrow toe box so sizing up is required, which negates having a snug fit
These trainers are made with synthetic materials and have a narrow toe box. For the price point, they’re a decent purchase. But as with all gym gear, you get what you pay for. These might not last through a few interactions of a decent squat program. These aren’t the shoes to purchase if you’re planning to train to compete, or if you’re looking to improve your speed with snatches or clean and jerk movements.
The strong upper portion of these weightlifting shoes gives a lot of extra stability during lifts, especially if you’re focusing on Olympic lifting technique and form. A firm midsole helps your feet feel connected to the ground at all times and might help improve your upward drive. The upper material is synthetic, made from a material that can flex as the foot moves.
- Boa system helps to keep shoes fitting snugly and is easy to loosen and tighten during a training session
- Perfect for speed movements; heel is ideal height to optimise squat depth
- Rubber sole doesn’t slip
- Synthetic materials mean these shoes might not last a long time
- Rear foot cradle can be uncomfortable if you have a wide heel
- Boa lacing system can put pressure on top of foot, making it uncomfortable
These Leistung 16 IIs have a high heel and feature a progressive lacing system that’s supposed to help your foot stay in place. The Boa system is an alternative to straps, and for a person new to squat trainers, it might be fine. For anyone who’s worn squat trainers for any period of time, the system can feel a little awkward and strange.
With a low heel and a single strap, these adidas Powerlift 3.1 squat trainers will help you achieve your goals in no time. The mesh collar and lining keep your feet cool during even the most intense lifting sessions. Because the heel is so low, these trainers can even be used in functional fitness workouts, making them exceptionally versatile.
- Low heel height makes these perfect for those with good ankle mobility
- Thick strap helps keep foot firmly in place, especially during speed lifts like snatches
- Good ankle stability
- Breathes well in hot gyms or during long training sessions
- Toe box isn’t super wide, so it can be uncomfortable for those with wide feet
- Generally, runs small, making it hard to size correctly
- Material is synthetic, so these won’t last forever
These Adidas Powerlift 3.1 shoes are decent for the price. They’ll serve well for those who are already adept at squatting and have decent foundational form. For Olympic movements the heel is pretty low, so they might not help with a lot of explosive power or force. The single strap could be improved to be a double, which would help keep the foot more firmly in place.
Reebok has been making lifting shoes for a long time, and it shoes in these LegacyLifters. The heel height and double strap make them ideally suited for those who need to feel super rooted on the ground but need the added heel height to achieve depth and mobility.
- High heel is helpful for taller athletes and those who don’t have stellar mobility
- Double strap across the toe box keeps feet firm and secure
- Heavy base provides stability for cleans and other Olympic movements
- Toe box is wide but it isn’t tall
- Toe box strap could be uncomfortable for some who have sensitive toe joints
If you’re looking for a high heel with a double strap squat trainer, this is the shoe for you. The 2 cm heel makes these perfect for anyone who struggles to get to depth. They’re perfect for speed movement training like heaving snatch balances and cleans. The double strap helps your foot stay solid while generating power and force.
These Lifter PR Reebok squat trainers are marketed for men, but they’re unisex enough in color and style that anyone can wear them. The low heel makes them perfect for athletes who are looking to replace or upgrade their current squat trainers.
A single strap at the mid-foot keeps your feet firm on the ground, while the synthetic toe box and heel help keep your foot cool and breathing during even the most difficult workouts.
- Air mesh tongue helps feet breathe
- Midpoint strap keeps feet solid and secure
- Low heel height makes these ideal for athletes who have a background in squatting or Olympic movements
- Sizing isn’t always accurate, making it difficult to find a good fit
- Low heel height means these aren’t suitable for athletes with limited range of motion
These shoes are great if you’re exploring the difference that a heel can make in your squat and Olympic lifting form. Because of the low heel height, they’re best for athletes who can already execute movements with good form. They’re not going to be the shoes you compete in but they’re certainly worthy of a few iterations of Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 programme.
Like the male version of these shoes, this Reebok Legacy is a quality shoe that’s built to last. It features a lot of ventilation, so your feet stay cool during even the most intense workouts. A rubber sole helps ensure no slipping, and the double straps offer an added layer of foot support.
- Lightweight material gives a lot of support to all sides of the foot
- Double straps keep feet secure during speed movements
- Open mesh helps feet breathe
- Low cut against the ankle helps with range of motion
- High heel height means these aren’t useful for those who have a lot of flexibility
- Straps go in opposite direction, making them annoying to take off after a long lift
These Reebok Legacy Lifters have a lot going for them. They’re well-constructed and feature thoughtful touches, like the lightweight material and the fitted straps. But the heel height is very tall, so they’re not ideal for all lifters. For those who are just beginning to learn how to squat and want to invest in a pair of temporary shoes, these might be the perfect choice.
The original Rogue Fitness weightlifting shoe, the Do-Win has been around for over twenty years. It features quality ventilation, double strap stability, and a heel made from leather. Made from suede and mesh, this is shoe that’s going to last for years.
- Rounded toe box shape makes it comfortable for feet of all shapes
- Heel made from leather, not synthetic materials
- Might not be the best shoe for competition because the suede can get hot after a while
These gender-neutral Do-Win’s have been on the feet of plenty of athletes for years. One thing that this shoe has going for it that none other have is the varying heel height based on shoe size. Rogue understands that the height of an athlete directly impacts how tall the heel should be.
Even better is that Rogue knows squat trainers don’t need to be gendered. One of the reasons for their success is in the simplicity of the design. The heel is made from leather so it doesn’t wear out. The shoe isn’t overly heavy, so you can conceivably train in these for a few hours without your feet becoming taxed.
This is the latest in the Nike Romaleos squat shoe family. The brand continues to hone the design of this shoe to offer a super supportive fit and a stable foundation. These are the shoes you want with you for during a functional fitness competition or a long day cross-training.
- Wide strap feels secure across the top of the foot
- Very lightweight and easy to move around in
- Low heel makes these perfect for those with a background in training
- Heel is made from TPU plastic
- Single strap doesn’t keep the foot as firm as it could be with a double
Light enough to be used for functional movements but designed with Olympic lifts in mind, these Nike squat shoes are well worth the price point. They’re going to last for a while and can help improve your performance on all of your lifts. Because they’re so lightweight, you can easily transition from cleans to box jumps without needing to change your shoe.
Remember that establishing the fundamentals of a proper squat is more important than footwear. Without this foundational knowledge, it’s impossible to understand how footwear impacts and affects your lift.
The right pair of trainers will help support your foot by reinforcing the arch and supporting the angle to prevent it from rolling. Support in squat trainers will help you spread the floor – that is, to apply force to the ground in an outward matter.
Make sure that your squat shoe fits snuggly to eliminate movement within the shoe. The best weightlifting shoes will have a strap to help keep the foot stable during the movement and a stiff, inflexible sole. This helps increase the transfer of force and reinforces consistent movement patterns since the foot is unable to move.
Always keep in mind that your shoe choice has as much to do with your anatomy as it does with your goals. If you’re quad dominant and spend a lot of time on speed-movements like the snatch or clean and jerk, then a raised squat shoe is going to be instrumental in achieving your goals. If you’re trying to put up the biggest number possible on the bar, squat trainers will be excellent to help you improve your form and in turn, push more weight.