Weightlifting shoes & gear – specifically getting the right kind for your budget and experience level – is something lifters ask me about all the time. I figured it was high time to give you a peek inside my gym bag and talk about what’s essential – and what’s just fluff – as you start your journey to getting stronger.
Today, I’m focusing on weightlifting shoes.
Note: The shoes covered in this post are often used by Olympic weightlifters (snatch, clean and jerk), some powerlifters for the squat, and others who are in the functional fitness / CrossFit communities.
My Philosophy on Gear
Look, when you’re first starting out, everyone’s going to give you their 2 cents about weightlifting shoes and gear. Coaches, training partners, people on social media, internet weightlifting coaches (jerks that come out of nowhere and analyze your form without you asking, thankyouverymuch) are all going to have their opinions.
All that analysis will give you paralysis.
My philosophy on it is two-fold:
- I almost never buy the cheapest gear. There’s a saying: Buy cheap, buy twice.
- I almost never opt for the most expensive stuff the first time I start something. Why? I don’t know if I’m even going to like the new hobby a couple months from now.
I usually aim for a mid-priced option because that leaves me the wiggle room to upgrade over time, but what I’m using now also won’t fall apart next week.
Definitely ask around and get opinions, but remember to consider what’s right for you, your goals, and your budget.
In this multi-part series, I’m breaking down your weightlifting gear essentials, starting with the most important first: shoes.
I’ve personally owned four pairs of weightlifting shoes – which I’ll detail below – since I first got into the sport six years ago, and I’ve got some pointers for you if you’re getting started or looking to upgrade.
Why Weightlifting Shoes Matter
Ah, weightlifting shoes. So important, yet often ignored.
When you’re lifting a barbell, you have two points of contact as you pull the bar off the floor: 1) your feet on the floor and 2) your hands on the bar.
Translation: As one-half of the contact points, having the right shoes matters.
Squashy-soled running sneakers are the worst platform upon which to perch your tootsies if you’re weightlifting.
Now, if you only do weightlifting once in a blue moon, fine. Get a pair of minimalist sneakers or flat athletic shoes like Chucks and have at it.
But if you’re weightlifting even once a week on a regular basis, you need proper footwear.
Hard-soled weightlifting shoes are key because they provide stability, and the force you generate doesn’t get sucked up by squishy bottoms. Efficient lifting means transferring the power your legs and hips generate into your arms and eventually, the bar. If you’re leaking power because it’s escaping through the marshmallow-y soles of your sneakers, you’re losing out.Hard-soled weightlifting shoes are key because they provide stability. Click To Tweet
The raised heel of a lifting shoe also puts you in a more upright squatting position.
What to Look For in Weightlifting Shoes
There are a few main factors to consider when you’re shopping for a weightlifting shoe:
Yes, there’s also the material the upper is made out of, but almost all are made from synthetic materials these days.
Heel height will vary slightly between brands, but even 1/4″ differences can have a big impact on your lifting, especially if you’re switching between brands. Recently, I experienced this when I swapped to Nike Romaleos after wearing Adidas Adipowers for two years. There was definitely an adjustment period of a few weeks until I settled in.
Durability and construction are most important when it comes to weightlifting shoes that are built to be multi-purpose. Some brands are designed only for lifting barbells (Adidas, Nike, Risto, VS, and Rogue Do-Win weightlifting-specific shoes come to mind). These will have a stiff upper, and you won’t find a ton of flex if you try to bend the sole.
On the other hand, Inov-8 and Reebok have multipurpose weightlifting shoes with semi-rigid soles designed with more flex. These are great if you do CrossFit or other types of functional fitness; they allow you to do workouts that combine lifting with cardio, calisthenics, or gymnastics.
I ask people, “Are you a weightlifter who does a little CrossFit now and then?” If the answer’s yes, opt for traditional weightlifting shoes.
Style, while many people don’t want to admit it matters, plays into weightlifting shoe selection. With the growth of the sport in recent years, it’s easier to find mega-cool, stylish shoes. Girlie colors, bright and bold looks, or neutrals like white and black abound; just do some searching to find what you like. Personally, I think Nike has the most variety in terms of color combinations.
Price may factor into the decision for you. Unless you’re seriously on a budget, don’t buy the cheapest pair of shoes. They probably won’t last long, and they’re likely to need replacing sooner. That being said, I rarely recommend newbies spring for Romaleos or Adipowers which both retail for about $180-$200.
Sometimes you can find closeouts on uncommon sizes – think teeny-tiny or gigantor – and score there, so look around online.
Here’s an easy retail price-ranking of some popular weightlifting shoes and models:
- Adidas Adipower ($$$)
- Nike Romaleos ($$$)
- Inov-8 FastLift ($$)
- Reebok CrossFit Lifter ($$)
- Risto Sports ($$)
- Adidas Powerlift ($)
- Rogue Do-Win ($) – these are discontinued but you can still find them for sale in some places
- VS Athletics ($)
A Word About Fit
If you can try weightlifting shoes on before you buy, do it. Even if you’re sticking your feet in your training partners’ lifters, give them a shot. Do some air squats. Move around in them.
You don’t want weightlifting shoes to be too lose or have too much give. Time and time again, I see folks with their feet practically swimming in their shoes.
The whole point is to build stability, and if the shoe is too big, your feet slide around too much inside them.
Even if you have wider feet – which I do – most shoes will give significantly in the toe box over time.
You don’t want your toes painfully jammed against the top of the shoe, either, but keep in mind that the uppers will stretch over time. Some brands even recommend going down a half size, so read their sizing charts carefully.
And ladies, be aware that most brands only sell “men’s” styles so you’ll have to convert the size to a women’s equivalent. Confusing, I know.
My Personal Experience with Weightlifting Shoes
I started out with a pair of Do-Wins back in 2010 and used them for CrossFit and weightlifting. As you can imagine, the shoes didn’t hold up well. They were an affordable entry point at the time. However, when Reebok came out with its CrossFit Lifter, I upgraded to those. Perfect for the sport, they lasted for a couple years.
In early 2014, I decided to focus on Oly, so I opted for a pair of Adidas Adipower weightlifting shoes. Compared to the CrossFit Lifters, they felt like big boots: super stable! After about six to nine months of 4-times weekly wear, they started to show signs of breaking down. Though I liked the heel height, I was disappointed with how quickly the uppers cracked / split.
I hung on to the Adipowers until early this year because my husband gifted me with a pair of Romaleos for my birthday – hey, I think it’s totally romantic! Reluctantly as I was to switch, I did. Though it took a few weeks of adjustment, I’m used to them now and really like how they feel.
We’ll see how they wear long-term, but for now it’s a bit early to tell.
The best advice I have is to use your weightlifting shoes for their intended purpose to give them the best longevity.
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