Squatting: What Shoe Is Right For Me
The right pair of shoes gave Calvin Cambell the powers to play professional basketball as a young teenager in the movie Like Mike. Although no lifting shoe will provide as much power to squat 1,000 pounds, choosing the right shoe may help you break past personal records in the gym and help improve your performance.
No matter what gym you walk into you are destined to find a number of different shoes on peoples feet. Adidas, Nike, Crossfit shoes, running shoes, Chuck Taylors; the list just goes on and on. You may even find someone wearing those weird webbed Vibram shoes where each toe is separated. That's just weird. With all these different available options to choose from, it can be an overwhelming task to decide what to wear when you're being a badass in the gym.
It all starts with your feet. The feet set the ground work for every single movement we perform. You've often heard your body is a temple. Imagine that now and the base, the sturdiest part of the temple, is your feet. Without the foundation there is nothing else. If we want to squat with proper and good technique, we have to pay attention to what's going on with our feet. The foot is comprised with over 25 bones dispersed across 4 different joints. Our feet are very mobile and when we squat we need to create stability at the foot. We do so by creating the neutral arched position. Whatever footwear you choose for training it must be compliant and support the arched stance. Without it, your temple will collapse.
The Running Shoe
As by it's name, this shoe is worn for the sole purpose of running. If you're going to run a race or any long distance it's a great idea to purchase a pair of running shoes. However, if you bought a pair and planned on wearing them for squatting, or any other compound movements in weightlifting, stop right now, find your receipt and return them immediately. Running shoes are designed to absorb and evaporate forces that occur when the foot strikes the hard ground repeatedly, reducing the impact shock from the foot strikes which could eventually cause injury. If we were squatting with running shoes we wouldn't want any of the force to be taken away by the air based sole. We're trying to maximize the force production into the ground to lift the weight. Imagine going to hit someone but first you wrapped your fist in bubble wrap. The bubble wrap would absorb some of the force you're trying to deliver upon impact, not the goal usually when you're trying to hit someone. Great for running, but lets keep these to the trails and out of the weight room.
Weightlifting Shoes (Olympic Shoes)
This shoe is most commonly worn by weightlifters as opposed to powerlifters. The weightlifting shoe is made to be stiff, non compressible (As opposed to the running shoe) and has a raised heel (2.5cm). With the raised heel in the weightlifting shoe, the lifter is able to squat deeper, dropping the hips below parallel while maintaining an upright chest position. When wearing the weightlifting shoes as you descend the knees will track further forward towards the toes because of that elevated heel. With the chest being able to stay more upright, it puts less force into the low back due to not having as much of a forward trunk lean. Individuals with a history of low back pain may benefit from this type of shoe when squatting.
Another factor to think about when picking your shoe is what type of squatter you are. Are you a quad dominant squatter of hip dominant squatter? How do you place the bar on your back when you squat, high or low? If you are a quad dominant squatter or like doing the explosive olympic lifts then the heel lift is the shoe for you. Because your hips are lower than normal when you are squatting wearing the raised heel shoes, you are activating more muscle fibers and placing a greater amount of force into the quadriceps, helping you get bigger quads. If you have goals to be a bodybuilder or have tree trunks for quads then weightlifting shoes are your go to.
Flat Sole Shoes (Chuck Taylors)
This style of shoe is very popular in the powerlifting community. The Chuck Taylor offers a flat sole or a 0mm drop (As compared to the 20mm drop of weightlifting shoe). Being that this shoe does not offer any wiggle room for ankle mobility, those with stiff ankles who try to perform other lifts with this shoe may run into some issues. More often than not this shoe is worn by powerlifters who have a hip dominant squat, meaning usually a lower bar placement. In the wider stance low bar squat the hips move back and the knees are not tracking forward nearly as far as they do when we wear the heel lift. If your goal is to squat as much as possible then 1) you are probably an advanced squatter as is and 2) you've done your research. Anyone who has a record setting squat doesn't use the latest high tech colorful $200 olympic style weightlifting shoes, they use the $50 pair of flat soled Chuck Taylors. If you want to develop a big squat I would trust the stats and use flat soled shoes to squat in.
As Louie Simmons says, "As far as shoes go, Converse Chuck Taylors are best. Don't have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat."