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As I understand it there is a general recommendation towards wearing weight lifting shoes when lifting heavy weights for three main reasons:

  • Less compression in a weight lifting shoe's than in a normal training shoe
  • A more favourable angle for a more 'upright' position(surely just a more hips forward position)
  • General support of the foot

One of my goals through lifting (I am referring to barbell Olympic-style lifts) is to strengthen the musculature and connective tissues of the hands and wrists. As such I opt to not wear wraps or gloves when lifting, which I imagine will at some point limit the amount I can safely lift (but not for some time).

By extension I wonder if there is development of the muscles of the foot, ankle, and shins to be gained from unsupported feet.

Has anyone experimented with this? Are there compelling reasons not to embark on shoeless weight lifting? It seems that the first feature of a weight lifting shoe would be provided by a raw heel, and the third seems subject to the same caveats as bare-foot running.

I'm particularly interested to hear from experienced lifters who would be willing to experiment with lifting without shoes and give their thoughts.

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I do all my lifting in Vibrams (and would go completely barefoot if the floor weren't quite so dirty) and I love it. I would also like to know if anyone can come up with a reason against it. The most obvious, of course, is less protection from falling weights. –  Greg Dec 8 '11 at 13:55
2  
I must second Greg. The book "Born to Run" talks about bare-foot running and it is mostly what inspired the Vibram "barefoot" shoe craze. It doesn't have any specific information about bare-foot weightlifting, but it does have some compelling arguments about why you should be living barefoot. I personally lift in flip-flops. I had a 45-lbs weight dropped on my toe through a shoe in H.S. and the shoe didn't seem to provide a lot of protection. Barefoot is obviously slightly riskier, but probably not much more, unless you're wearing steel-toe boots. –  Ross Rogers Dec 8 '11 at 19:49
    
I'm inclined to agree that in the absence of steel-toe caps a weight-lifting shoe is unlikely to provide much protection from a falling weight.. –  silasdavis Dec 13 '11 at 15:37

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Most weightlifting shoes were designed for OLYMPIC weightlifting - the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. You can read all about it on the web including the history and evolution of the shoes. Basically you absolutely need the heel to perform Olympic lifts with any real weight on the bar.

With that said, I do not believe in wearing shoes for power lifting - no shoe really helps you squat better, or deadlift more weight. You should be able to get your body into the correct position without the help of a shoe, which is the argument that people use for why you should wear a shoe for heavy power lifts.

I take the minimalist approach here as well - chances are if I need to move some heavy weight one day, I won't have a pair of shoes designed especially for it lying around anywhere.

Now if you are still interested in shoes I highly recommend you check out WLShoes.com. They maintain a database of all weightlifting and training shoes and people post reviews and comments on them.

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Although this answer covers similar ground to Berin's I'm accepting it since it makes specific reference to the Olympic lifts –  silasdavis Dec 13 '11 at 15:44

All weightlifting shoes have one thing in common: an incompressible sole. The more inexpensive shoes use a hard plastic, and the more expensive shoes use wood. At one point in time there were power lifting shoes that had a flat sole. I haven't been able to find any of these lately, and almost all have a heel.

Whether a heel helps or not depends on the lift, as well as how much of a heel. For example:

  • Deadlifts are best performed with no heel. Pulling with a heel increases the distance you have to pull, and puts you at a slight disadvantage leverage-wise.
  • Squats work best with a heel, particularly front squats.
  • Bench press can use a heel to improve leg drive, but it's not necessary.
  • Any fast pull like cleans & jerks, snatches, etc. are best done with a heel.

At the end of the day, it really can be a personal preference. I know of many people who take their shoes off for deadlifts. As long as you are on a solid surface, you will have the best leverages this way.

If you need a heel, use weightlifting shoes. If not, go barefoot.

NOTE: Do not use your weightlifting shoes to do plyometrics and box jumps. The soles are not supposed to be flexible and they are not designed for that type of work. Take the weightlifting shoes off and either do it barefoot or with a different set of shoes.

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Some of the more successful heavy lifters at my Crossfit Box swear by firm shoes with elevated heels, but only when doing some very heavy loads.

To me this approach makes a lost of sense. If you're trying to exercise a muscle by performing a movement that is unnatural or really difficult, something like this may put your posture into a form more suitable to handle the load safely.

However, if like me you're typically only lifting to maintain decent health and strength then it may be a bit overkill to use special shoes. I can tell you from personal experience that after months of lifting barefoot or in vibrams/minimalist shoes I happened to try and do back squats in tennis shoes and found it extremely difficult to control.

Just my perspective, I tend to go minimalist with everything and only make modifications when safeguarding against injury.

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