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Most gym goers wear the same shoes for running, squash, treadmills, hiking, machine weights, squatting, and deadlifting. They're usually a pair of running shoes that cost a fortune 12 months ago but are now falling apart.
Whilst there is nothing particularly dangerous about doing this, running shoes are not going to help you get the most out of your strength training program. For that you need proper lifting shoes.
This article is going to talk about the right shoes to wear for squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and Olympic lifts.
Best Footwear for Deadlifts
The purpose of deadlifting shoes is to get the person as low to the ground as possible, the higher up a person is, the further the bar has to travel – making the deadlift more difficult.
So for deadlifts your shoes should be flat heeled. This exercise more than any other suffers from incorrect footwear, wearing running shoes in particular with their elevated heels will prevent you from maximising your lifts.
There are a couple of options for deadlifts, you can wear very flat soled shoes (converse shoes are very popular), alternatively you can wear ballet slippers, or even go barefoot! This way you're nearer to the ground and you have excellent stability for lifting.
Best Footwear for Squats
There are many different types of squats, and which squat you are performing can affect which pair of shoes are required.
Front squats or overhead squats would benefit from Olympic Lifting shoes as they have a wedged heel. This allows you to squat lower then you would in flats.
High bar squats could also benefit from Olympic lifting shoes. However low bar squats are better suited to flat shoes, this is because the wedge can actually push the squatter too far forward for this movement.
For low bar squats a set of converse shoes would be ideal, it is not recommended that you go barefoot for squats. This is because you won't have the traction needed to squat properly and your feet could slip out from underneath you.
This isn't a problem with deadlifts as you are on top of the bar, and the movement prevents slipping.
Best Footwear for Olympic Lifts
Exercises such as clean and jerks, and snatches require a lot of force to be generated.
This comes from the ground and a stable set of shoes can actually help harness this, Olympic lifting shoes are perfect for this job.
They are stable around the sides of the shoe as well which will prevent any loss of force there, they will also prevent the ankle from moving too much to the left or right.
The raised heel allows the lifter to get into a deeper squat position which means that the lifter will be more upright.
This will help keep the barbell overhead and prevent it from dropping.
Best Footwear for Crossfit
In Crossfit you are expected to perform a lot of the Olympic lifts, as well as squats and deadlifts so you might be thinking that a pair of Olympic lifting shoes would suit you best.
But while they are fantastic for Olympic lifting and squatting the extra stability prevents them from any flexibility, it's difficult to walk properly in these shoes let alone run around.
Luckily you can get hybrid shoes that have some of the support and stability of the lifting shoes but are also flexible enough to move around in.
Best Footwear for Bench Press
This might sound like an odd exercise to worry about your footwear choices, but in powerlifting and more and more in gyms people use their legs to drive the bar up.
Placing the balls of your feet into the ground and raising your heels in the air allows you to pull your feet back which creates tension in the quadricep muscles.
This tension help to create force so that you can lift more weight. Therefore the perfect footwear to achieve this would be shoes that allow you some flexibility around the toe end.
Olympic lifting shoes would not be helpful for this reason. Shoes that would work would be powerlifting shoes, converse shoes, or flat soled shoes.
Best Overall Footwear for Lifting
If you can only afford one set of shoes for the gym then the best choice would probably be the converse shoes.
They are great for squatting in (particularly low bar), deadlifting, benching, and they're also good everyday training shoes. One other advantage is that they can be a lot cheaper than the other shoes mentioned.
If you are looking for shoes for crossfit then the converse are an okay choice but you might benefit from a pair of the crossfit-specific hybrids. Which will help you perform Olympic lifts, but also allow movement so that you can box jump, run, and perform other athletic movements in them.