The best gyms are according to specificity. They have weights in steps of 2.5 pounds, endless machines, squat racks, barbells for squats and pulls, mobility keys, ribbons, cables and space: the useful accessories that take a workout from good to good.
But becoming strong is not an equipment-intensive endeavor. Gear does not work magic for lifters more than hard work does, and a simple home gymnastics – a pair of barbells, a kettlebell, straps, a pull-up bar – is enough to put on muscle and strength. Professional gyms free up lifters from even more equipment. We do not need that own anything. We just have to lift.
Shoes, however, are equipment of a different kind. Lifters carry different kinds, and the debate over what is best can get pretty crunchy. Why do shoes matter – or do they? And which ones to choose?
We can categorize lifters by everything from the programs they choose – or whether they even follow one – to their approach to cardio. Looking at their shoes may be the best way to find out their goals.
What are the best shoes for lifting weights?
Shoes should match the program’s most dominant exercises. Olympic-style weightlifters do their squats and lifts in sneakers with swollen, uncompressible heels – sometimes called squat shoes – or more official Olympic weightlifting shoes.
These lifts make up much of their training. The stacked heels, an inch or so high, allow the ankles to bend forward more than they normally would. This allows lifters to remain above the bar on snatches and stand upright when squatting. The heels sometimes remain by pull, the equivalence of the sport. Olympians tend to wear squat shoes from Adidas, Nike or Asics, but other brands, such as Do-Win, can be found cheaper and can be technically compared to people who have just started.
Bodybuilding, which emphasizes an aesthetic display of fairly large muscles, is darker because its lifts vary. Isolation exercises with dumbbells do not require special footwear, which is why you might see an incredibly broken person lift in. Timberlandsor sneakers with visible air.
Shoes are less insoluble from programming, though they do matter, especially on compound exercises. Many bodybuilding programs includes squats and deadlifts. Bodybuilders used to walk barefoot under the bar – check it out this picture of Arnold and these occasionally assembled elevators require either that or non-technical footwear. Squat shoes are fine and flat soles, uncompressible sneakers – specifically Converse Chuck Taylors or Vans – also work.
Powerlifting falls in the middle. Olympic lifters train only one kind of squat – high bar, more on that later – and bodybuilders can do more, but powerlifters competing in this lift tend to choose theirs. In this sport, squat is not a training boost, but a goal in itself, and so choices step into it. A squat is trained to dive. It is not made to build up dirt or lay on size, and it may not necessarily be vertical.
But which squat is best? This debate – how to squat – is behind the sneaker debate in the sport.
Shoes and squats: High bar or low?
There are two types of squats, high-bar and low, whose names correspond to where the bar is located at the back.
The distinction is important, but cloudy. Most programs do not say how to squat, just that you should. Consensus with high-low bar may depend on the year you enter the sport. Trends wax and diminish. But the way you squat really depends on your goals.
A high-bar squat rests the weight on the lifter’s trapezius muscles below the neck. It is the weightlifting version and forces the lifter upright. A high-bar squat goal quads mest – they lift the weight – and are designed to train weightlifting, where lifters stand vertically under a raised barbell.
It requires mobile ankles – try to sit in place with your back straight and your knees out and forward – which necessitates lifting shoes. Stacked heels can also prevent inner knee collapse on a lift. Squat shoes – Adidas Adipowers, Asics 727s Nike Romaleos, Do-Wins – make upright squats lighter and more stable and are almost necessary for Olympic lifters.
ONE low bar squat – the lifter hinged forward, the rod rests under their traps, locked inside with bent elbows, the feet are wide – is almost a different exercise than the variety with high rod. With the weight placed lower on the back, the torso leans forward and hips work more than with a high beam. A squat with a low bar is more an expression of strength than technique: with hamstrings and glutes more involved, a low bar squat can move more up and down.
For these reasons, this squat tends to be preferred by extremely competitive powerlifters, the kind who set records. A lever lifter who is already leaning forward can lean too far forward if they are wearing squat shoes. Often, chucks or vans are ideal.
One squat is no better than the other: low bar builds up power and the rear chain; high-bar strengths quads and spinal erectors. But choosing one over the other determines your path. Some lifters will be better for one or the other for biological causes, but all lifters must swing to one form rather than another. Lifting in chucks means you are either just starting out or are a serious powerlifter. Lifting in squat shoes means you are walking upright and possibly training other lifts. We can not always tell what program someone is on just by looking at their elevators. But we can get an idea if we check the shoes they are wearing on the main lift available.
Why sneakers shape training
There are not as many studies of squat shoes as there are on running shoes. A 2020 survey published in the journal PeerJ found the muscles were more activated on squats with low bars compared to high, especially the glutes and hamstrings. The study cohort – competitive powerlifters training for a meeting – may have been more versed in squats with low bars in the beginning, and the study is less about shoes than about the difference in lifts.
Shoes can define training, but they should have nothing to do with delaying it. Some lifters squat low bar in weightlifting shoes, and some do high in the Chucks, but there are affordable options for the former – Adidas and Rogue models can run at around $ 100, and Craigslist and eBay often have never worn pairs from lifters who have had heart changes.
If you can not get weightlifting shoes right away, you can squat in Chucks with plates under your heels. This may be the best option to begin with. Spend the money on a trainer and live down your squat form. You are probably not lifting a very heavy weight at this point anyway.
Chucks and weightlifting shoes are both fine for cardio, unless the lifter runs five miles after a workout. Hybrid shoes – Crossfit-type sneakers with uncompressible heels, only shorter – is another option. They are designed for running, squatting and circuits.
As lifters advance, they have a license to be more specific. I know an elite lifter who wears squat shoes for squats, wrestling slippers for deadlifts, Chucks for everything else and runners for cardio. It feels too much, but I’m not sure. It’s his money and he likes to train.
Sneakers in lifting are weird. They are not technical – they do not determine the results – but they shape training. The shoe you choose limits your ankle angle and defines your squat – and your squat defines your goals. In both cases, however, it is an uncompressible shoe without technology. Whether it is high or low, all that matters is the pound. The shoes can not put weight on the bar. It is a reminder of the hard, binary nature of strength.
LEG DAY OBSERVER is an exploratory look at fitness, the companion to GQ.com’s Snake America vintage column and a home for all things Leg Day. Due to the complex nature of the human body, these pillars are intended to be considered as preliminary instructions for further research and not as directives. Read previous editions of Leg Day Observer for more thoughtful approaches to lifting and eating.