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The first time I ever saw someone wearing weightlifting shoes, I probably thought something along the lines of, “aw, he got the velcro!” That was quickly followed by acknowledgment that the dude knew something I didn’t because he was warming up with my max.
Here’s the thing: those funny-looking shoes you see people carrying around the gym aren’t a thrift-shop special and they aren’t for show. Weightlifting shoes are just as legitimate as belts and protein powder — and if you want to get strong, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ll be the first to say that the road to Strongtown, USA starts with good form. It requires hard work, dedication, and humility. But the right gear can make a difference, too. If you’ve immersed yourself in the world of powerlifting, researched the Olympic greats, and memorized the words of Jim Wendler, Dave Tate, Stefi Cohen, and Oleksiy Torokhtiy, you’re ready to invest in your fitness with the proper equipment.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to become a gear-assisted squat specialist or polish your technique on the snatch: the Rogue Do-Win can do it all well and it will probably save you some money along the way.
Starting from the ground up, the Do-Win offers a hard plastic sole that transfers energy to the floor without the destabilizing squish you’d get from normal gym shoes. The 0.75-inch elevated heel is a noticeable difference for anyone coming out of a flat shoe. Traditional laces are simple enough and not one, but two metatarsal straps lock in place to tighten up support around the foot.
To keep the Do-Win affordable, Rogue had to shy away from some of the more premium materials out there. The plastic sole is perfectly fine, although it doesn’t have the same flash as stacked leather or polished wood. The textile upper doesn’t have the same premium feel as leather, either. That doesn’t bother us, though, because you’ll still get a quality item that’s stable enough for powerlifting and flexible enough for Olympic lifting. We recommend you read on to see what else made our list, but if you don’t, you’ll still end up with a great shoe.
- Heel elevation: 0.75 inches
- Midsole material: Plastic
- Upper material: Nylon, synthetic leather
- Metatarsal straps: two
Good for powerlifting and
Olympic weightlifting Lots of support from the two metatarsal straps
Get more for your money
Wide toe box provides a stable platform
Textile upper flexes more than leather
Relatively low production numbers limit size selection
Look elsewhere if you have narrow feet
I can already hear the gear snobs whining about how the Converse Chuck Taylor isn’t a real weightlifting shoe. Sure, it was never built to perform in the gym, but do I need to subject you to the endless library of videos showing world-class lifts being performed in humble Chucks? I didn’t think so.
The Chuck Taylor isn’t great because of what’s inside, but because of what’s left out. The shoe is as bare-bones as it gets, meaning there’s less material between your foot and the platform. That means less shifting during any lift, and less distance for the bar to travel during the deadlift. Don’t forget that the other shoes on this list are limited to use on the platform; the Chuck Taylor, on the other hand, can be worn for your warm-up, mobility work, accessory lifts, and drive home.
This shoe is a compromise, for sure. It can’t hang with a dedicated lifting shoe in peak performance but it’s a capable shoe nonetheless. I’ve worn holes in the sides and bottoms of many pairs over the years and always keep a few on hand. For those of you just getting into lifting, it’s also nice to spend less and get a more versatile shoe. This one’s a classic for a reason.
- Heel elevation: None
- Midsole material: Rubber
- Upper material: Canvas
- Metatarsal straps: None
Price is easy on the wallet
Thin sole is great for deadlifting
Versatile enough to be your only gym shoe
Huge opportunity for customization
Flimsy canvas offers little to no support
Won’t last near as long as dedicated weightlifting shoes
Too narrow for many people
Sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself, and weight-room treats don’t get much sweeter than the Nobull Lifter. This premium weightlifting shoe rises so far above the competition in terms of fit and finish that the sky-high price seems pretty reasonable.
The stacked leather midsole creates a rock-solid platform to press against and looks fantastic. The leather is cut, prepared, assembled, and buffed to create an alternating pattern of light and dark layers–nice touch. The upper uses leather and textile add equal parts support and style. A single metatarsal strap fastens high on the shoe, near the ankle. Inside, a removable sock liner can be cleaned separately to keep the shoes smelling like fine leather rather than a dirty gym bag. One set of waxed flat laces and one set of round boot laces are included.
Many of the features that make the Nobull Lifter are more style than substance. As great as the handmade craftsmanship is, it doesn’t necessarily translate to better lifting and there are plenty of shoes that work just as well for half the price. Still, we can’t help but love the skill and attention to detail that goes into building this shoe and we’re sure it will last long enough to earn its keep.
- Heel elevation: 0.73 inches
- Midsole material: Stacked leather
- Upper material: Leather, textile
- Metatarsal straps: One
Extremely high-end materials and build quality
Washable sock liner mitigates gym-shoe smell
Who doesn’t love a stacked leather midsole?
Almost too pretty to lift in
We’d prefer two metatarsal straps for this price
Doesn’t necessarily outperform less-expensive shoes
Pointed toe box seems like a cosmetic choice
The Adidas Adipower II excels in Olympic weightlifting, which involves more movement than powerlifting. The snatch and clean and jerk require quick, precise changes in foot placement. They also require more toe extension than stiff shoes can accommodate. As a result, many lifters to feel prefer a more pliable midsole than one made from wood, stacked leather, or hard plastic.
The updated Adipower II uses a thermoplastic polyurethane sole to balance power delivery and flexibility. This elevated TPU midsole will raise your heel more than three-quarters of an inch, so it’s a significant departure from a flat training shoe. The textile upper stays breathable and cool, which is helpful during high-volume dynamic workouts. The single strap is placed midway between the toe and ankle to secure your foot without impeding mobility.
You can certainly squat in this shoe, but don’t expect it to be great at transferring power directly into a wood platform. The Adipower II’s softness actually makes it suited surprisingly well to functional fitness training in addition to classic Olympic lifting. It’s a great choice for Olympic weightlifters and people who want to get a weightlifting shoe that’s relatively easy to adjust to.
- Heel elevation: 0.79 inches
- Midsole material: Thermoplastic polyurethane
- Upper material: Textile
- Metatarsal straps: One
Proven contender in Olympic weightlifting
More flexible than a powerlifting-oriented shoe
Cool, breathable textile upper
High level of build quality
Not as supportive as many other shoes
Narrow toe box can be a tight squeeze
Rather expensive for what you get
If you’ve ever seen a powerlifting meet, you might have noticed a trend in footwear: most people wear what looks like a high-top sneaker or skate shoe. You were probably looking at the Reebok Power Lite Mid, which could be considered the heavyweight big brother to the Converse Chuck Taylor.
The Power Lite Mid is designed for powerlifting over Olympic weightlifting from the very beginning. The rubber midsole is thin and flat, which is perfect for people who want a firm grip during the deadlift without extending the bar path any more than they have to. Soft rubber also adds much-needed traction for pulling sumo. The textile upper wraps above the ankle to provide stability during heavy attempts and stays cool during the 30-minute rest periods between sets. Because the heel is flat and the upper is pliable, this shoe is perfectly capable of handling the bench press and accessory lifts. It’s also an awesome choice for strongman events that involve lifting from the floor and walking under load.
The flat midsole is a great all-arounder, but it won’t give you the mechanical advantage of an elevated squat or Olympic lifting shoe. Can you get away with a pair of Chucks instead? Of course. Would we rather wear the Power Lite Mid? Hell yes.
- Heel elevation: None
- Midsole material: Rubber
- Upper material: Textile
- Metatarsal straps: None
Low profile is perfect for pulling from the floor
High-rise shape adds support
Flexible enough to be your go-to gym shoe
Awesome choice for strongman workouts
Lack of heel elevation might be a drawback
Doesn’t offer metatarsal straps
Big upcharge over a pair of Converse
Crossfit is a unique animal in the fitness world because a single workout often incorporates vastly different exercises from several disciplines. That calls for something that’s stable enough for Olympic lifts, perhaps with an elevated heel. A shoe should also be light and soft enough for short sprints and climbing rope. The ideal CrossFit shoe would look an awful lot like the Reebok Lifter PR II.
At first glance, the Lifter PR II doesn’t look too dissimilar from a running shoe. The EVA midsole looks supple and comfortable. The mesh upper is breathable and lightweight. The metatarsal strap is the first giveaway that there’s more to this shoe than meets the eye. Inside that soft-looking midsole is a firm heel riser that will set you up nicely for squats and Olympic lifts. When you need to pick up the pace with burpees or a series of sprints, you’ll be in much better shape than any poor fool trying to keep up in clunky, stiff, traditional weightlifting shoes.
The Lifter PR II is a product of compromises. So is CrossFit. No, it wouldn’t be our pick for a heavy five-by-five workout or fine-tuning our clean and jerk technique. But if we had to choose one shoe to lead us to success at the local CrossFit box, this would be it.
- Heel elevation: 0.59 inches
- Midsole material: Ethylene-vinyl acetate
- Upper material: Textile
- Metatarsal straps: One
Firm enough to improve lower-body workouts
Soft enough for sprints and dynamic workouts
Breathable and lightweight upper
Extra support from a well-placed metatarsal strap
Doesn’t excel in any one discipline
Less supportive than other weightlifting shoes
Lightweight mesh may not be particularly durable
Why you should trust us
As a lifetime member of the Marine Corps’ max-max-relax club, I can proudly say that I’ve never performed fewer than 20 pull-ups on a PFT, never been so unpopular that I didn’t receive a perfect score on those worthless crunches, and never run any faster than absolutely necessary to get a first-class score while maintaining my hard-earned leg day gains. Here at Task & Purpose, the quest for thickness continues. We take it upon ourselves to bring you gear guides on the best fitness equipment out there, whether you need a barbell or set of dumbbells for your home gym or just a gym bag to keep your gear organized.
Types of weightlifting shoes
Weightlifting shoes are different from the shoes you wear to run or work out with the machines and dumbbells at your gym. They’re specialized equipment that works in very specific ways, so it’s important to use them properly. While the differences in various weightlifting shoes might be subtle, they are important. We’re here to help make sense of it all.
Olympic vs. powerlifting shoes
Most people throw both of these categories under the umbrella of weightlifting shoes, and that’s fair because you can have success lifting recreationally without getting too deep into the nitty-gritty.
Competitive powerlifting includes the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Many powerlifters prefer a flat shoe with a lot of ankle support, like the Reebok Power Lite Mid. If they do use an elevated heel, it’s strictly for squatting and the shoe can afford to be extremely stiff. Shoes that are tailored to Olympic lifting tend to be a little more pliable because both the snatch and the clean-and-jerk require more speed and mobility than a squat. The Adidas Adipower II is one popular option.
Raised-heel weightlifting shoes
Most weightlifting shoes have a very distinct look. They’re characterized by a very hard sole and a raised heel that’s typically about three-quarters of an inch high. They use traditional laces or a Boa system and get added support from a velcro strap over the tongue. Instead of the breathable mesh you typically see on shoes, weightlifting shoes often use leather.
All this adds up to a product that’s very stiff. The basic concept is that the less energy you expend trying to stabilize your body, the more can be directed to moving the barbell along the intended path. The raised heel can open up the ankle and support a more upright body position, especially during Olympic lifts and high-bar squats.
Flat weightlifting shoes
Fancy Olympic shoes are great at what they do, but there are times when simpler is better. For one, a thin sole is cheap to make, and reducing the amount of material minimizes the movement going on between your foot and the floor. There can also be a mechanical advantage, especially during the deadlift. Simply put, every millimeter you raise your heels is another millimeter the bar has to travel before lockout.
That’s why you see so many amateur and professional powerlifters swearing by Chuck Taylors. The Reebok Power Lite Mid is a beefed-up alternative that’s excellent for powerlifting and strongman alike. Some people go so far as to lift in just their socks–I’ve tried it and prefer shoes but that’s a personal choice.
Key features of weightlifting shoes
When comparing your options, there are a few key features you need to look for. How a weightlifting shoe is built will have a huge impact on how it performs, and just because it’s excellent at one thing doesn’t mean it’ll be useful for another. Run Repeat has an excellent breakdown of how various kinds of athletic shoes are constructed, and it’s a great resource if you’re hungry for more information.
The first thing you need to look for is a stable midsole. It doesn’t matter if you’re putting your heels in the air with a high-dollar Olympic weightlifting shoe or getting low with a pair of powerlifting shoes–movement under your feet is very bad.
Weightlifting shoes use hard soles to provide stability and help you feel the floor. Soft soles like the ones in running shoes absorb energy, which robs you of power that should be driven into the floor. This is great for compound lifts but terribly uncomfortable everywhere else, so wait to slip on your weightlifting shoes until you’re warmed up and ready to step onto the platform.
Weightlifting shoes are designed with specific goals in mind. Heel height varies from no difference compared to the forefoot to an elevation of up to an inch. The shape will determine how a shoe affects your biomechanics and will vary in effectiveness from person to person, depending on goals, form, and bone lengths. This video does a good job of explaining some of those concepts.
Generally speaking, raised heels are useful for Olympic lifts and various takes on the squat. Some lifters argue that the narrower your stance, the more you’ll benefit from a raised heel. Deadlifting is better served by a flat shoe, and upper-body movements like the bench press don’t require a specific kind of shoe.
Generally speaking, weightlifting shoes tend to be well-made and last several years. That’s good to know because they aren’t cheap–especially considering how little you’ll actually wear them. In order to be effective, weightlifting shoes use rigid materials like wood, leather, and dense composites for the sole. Uppers are similarly rigid to keep your feet locked in place.
Flat shoes like the ones from Converse are an exception to this rule. These shoes are effective tools in the gym, but they were never intended to take that kind of abuse so they wear out quickly. It’s not uncommon to see shoes blow out at the side where the upper meets the outsole. That’s a bummer, but at least they’re inexpensive. The best lifts of my life happened with toes poking out the side of my shoes, and I’m not the only one. If you want the same effect from a better quality shoe, the Reebok Power Lite Mid is a great alternative.
Benefits of weightlifting shoes
The whole point of weightlifting shoes is improved athletic performance. If you move more efficiently, you’ll lift more weight. If you put less strain on your joints, you’ll stay healthier. That being said, it’s important to use weightlifting shoes correctly and not throw gear at poor form and expect to be fixed.
Have you ever tried benching with your feet off the ground or squatting on a balance board? It’s deceptively difficult because your body has to work incredibly hard just to keep you from collapsing into the floor. That leaves less energy to use on the actual exercise and an unstable platform to push against.
Shoes work the same way. Many weightlifting shoes offer little to no cushioning because the soles are typically made of stacked leather, hard plastic, or (believe it or not) wood. That makes them pretty uncomfortable to walk around the gym in, but they transfer energy to the floor extremely well. Thick, supportive uppers hold your foot in place so there’s none of the sliding around you’d experience in a running shoe.
This isn’t universal, but you may experience improved mobility with weightlifting shoes. By lifting your heels, weightlifting shoes change your body position just enough to affect how your ankles, knees, and hips work together. For some people, this isn’t a significant advantage. For others, it can allow them to hit depth more easily.
To get an idea for how this works, place a 2.5- or five-pound plate under your heels and perform a few air squats next time you’re at the gym. Depending on your stance, bar placement, and overall form, you might find it easier to execute a clean squat with an efficient bar path this way. If so, elevated weightlifting shoes are for you.
Take off your shoes. Hold one foot in the air and look at how wide it is. Then stand on it and see if that changes. Now imagine that you have a couple hundred pounds on your back–that’s something to keep in mind when you’re buying gym shoes.
Most shoes are built to accommodate your feet when they’re at rest, walking, or running. They might not offer enough room for your feet to expand under the kind of load you experience in the gym. As every pair of Converse I’ve owned can attest to, the seams are going to give out eventually. Weightlifting shoes tend to run a little wide in the toebox for this reason and to let you spread (or splay) your toes to create a more stable platform.
Pricing considerations for weightlifting shoes
As is the case with running shoes, $75 seems to be the price that separates more relaxed equipment from the serious stuff. Most of the shoes you’ll find available for less than $75 are generic cross-trainers that are fine for jogging and handling more bodybuilding-style isolation exercises at the gym, but they don’t offer enough support for heavy compound lifts.
One exception is actually at the more affordable end of the spectrum. Shoes like the ever-popular Chuck Taylor are a staple in many weight rooms, and it’s hard to go wrong with this affordable classic. It’s also possible to find dedicated weightlifting shoes on sale for less than $100. When that happens, we suggest jumping on the opportunity.
Almost all serious weightlifting shoes cost between $75 and $200. The materials they use aren’t cheap; we’re talking about full-grain leather, carefully shaped wood, and heavy-duty thermoplastic polyurethane. Building them involves quite a bit of skill, and prices reflect these factors.
For your money, you’ll get to choose from quality products made by Addidas, Nike, and Reebok. These shoes have earned their place with countless lifts on the international stage and they’re up to whatever you throw at them, too. If you have particularly wide, narrow, flat, or high-arched feet, some shoes may be a better fit than others. If you really want to treat yourself, spring for a pair of Nobull Lifters for $299.
How we chose our top picks
For this gear guide, we focused on shoes that can boost performance in powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. Since Crossfit incorporates a lot of Olympic lifting, it’s covered, too. We sought out hard-soled shoes with a raised heel because variations of the squat, deadlift, snatch, and clean rely on a stable stance and can be improved by opening the angle of the ankle. Many people prefer a thin sole for the deadlift (and other movements) because they want to keep their feet as close to the platform as possible. For them, we looked for flatter alternatives. All our picks stand on solid reputations and come from brands we would wear into the gym with confidence.
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q: Can you run in weightlifting shoes?
A: Weightlifting shoes are built to step onto a platform, perform a lift, and step off–that’s it. Don’t warm up in them, don’t perform accessory lifts in them, and for the love of your knees please don’t try to run in them.
Q: Is it worth buying weightlifting shoes?
A: This is really a personal choice. Weightlifting shoes aren’t magic and they aren’t for everyone, but they can help. Think of them the same way you view belts and wraps; they’re all tools that can improve your lifts if you learn how to use them properly.
Q: Are running shoes good for weightlifting?
A: Absolutely not. Running shoes are designed to absorb impacts with padding. In the gym, that creates massive instability and can feel like you’re standing on marbles during a heavy lift. Besides, you’ll destroy an expensive pair of running shoes in no time by wearing them to the gym.
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Scott Murdock is a Task & Purpose commerce writer and Marine Corps veteran. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.