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Do shoes matter in powerlifting?

Written by Anjelica Harberlein

One of the more intimidating aspects of powerlifting, aside from the actual lifts, has to be the specialty equipment usually required to participate. A lifter can choose to participate with or without a belt, knee sleeves or wraps, elbows sleeves, wrist wraps, etc and each piece of equipment has its place and purpose, but this article will focus on the one item that could arguably make an even bigger difference in the numbers an athlete is able to achieve…shoes. 

A quick glance around nearly any commercial, or even specialty gym can reveal a huge variety of footwear! There are squat shoes, deadlift slippers, running shoes, Converse, barefoot inspired shoes, the list goes on and the questions keep mounting, which one will be most helpful?

Spoiler alert, ultimately, it really and truly comes down to each individual athlete to decide what’s best for them since even scientific studies have shown that, at least for the squat, the differences in performance can be quite minuscule. Let’s explore two big points we should keep in mind while we’re considering what to put on our feet when we compete.

THE SOLE OF THE MATTER

One thing that can be pretty widely agreed upon in research, as well as personal anecdotes, is that shoes with a lot of cushion are not great for squats or deadlifts. The more padding a shoe has, the more power an athlete risks losing! Think about what an athlete is trying to accomplish during either of those lifts. They want to create as much force through their feet as possible to drive that weight either back up out of the hole or up off the floor. The padding literally absorbs and displaces all of that force, making the athlete work that much harder to move the weight. Shoes with little to no padding allow the athlete to drive hard into the floor, use their entire foot to max efficiency and create a ton of force to lift without losing any power in a marshmallow cloud.  

FORM FIRST

Shoes designed specifically with a hard sole and a slightly elevated heel are generally thought to help an athlete maintain better form while also getting deeper into their squat by elevating their heels. This can be beneficial for athletes who are nearly achieving the required depth for their squat but need just a bit of help due to a lack of ankle mobility. In general, it would be better to work on that mobility instead of relying on assistance from elevated heels, but sometimes past injuries or structural deviations of the skeleton can make achieving depth more difficult for some athletes than others which is where a solid squat shoe can be very helpful. 

Again, it all comes down to preference. If the elevated heel of a squat shoe makes an athlete feel unbalanced then obviously the shoes won’t have a positive impact on their performance. If padding keeps an athlete’s feet comfortable through the long meet day, then by all means, keep them! Ultimately, sleeves, wraps and shoes are all just tools available to be used as needed to aid in an athlete’s quest to lift as heavy as possible. 

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