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September 08, 2021 10 min read

The squat is one of the big, bread-and-butter lifts. It’s an essential tool in any weightlifters toolbox for crafting an  impressive and strong physique—so it makes sense that developing your squat should be important in your training routine.

However, doing more squats, heavier squats, or squats with more perfect form isn’t the only way to improve this movement. The right equipment—especially when it comes to shoes—can offer a big help when you’re in the middle of an intense squatting session.

Squat and Weightlifting Shoes

Unlike deadlift shoes which are more specialized, there’s significantly more cross-over between squat shoes and general weightlifting shoes. Due to the way they’re designed, these shoes are optimal for things like the overhead squat, snatch, deadlift, and power cleans.

Muscular man training squats with barbells over head

They’re effectively great for Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, so you’ll be able to use your squat shoes for several other lifts as well. Either way, we’ll be mainly focusing on the squat as we look at the shoes down below.

What Makes a Perfect Squat Shoe?

One of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a squat shoe is the sole. It should be made from dense, yet durable, material. It should be dense so it can’t compress because compressing will throw off your stability during the heavier lifts. There should also be an angle to the shoe, with a heel that’s higher up than the toes.

The standard for this heel is ¾ inches above the toe, but the optimal angle differs from person to person. This allows for less necessary ankle mobility to get through the full range of motion, making it easier on your joints. The exception is with those who tend to squat with a wider stance.

This is because there’s much less forward lean with wider stances, and you don’t necessarily need the help from the heel elevation. Another reason is that flatter shoes allow you to sit back into a wide-stance squat. In the end, it comes down to the lifter’s preference and the specific muscles that one is trying to engage during the lift.

The Importance of Feet

Since the squat is a lower body exercise, it’s not hard to imagine that the feet play an important role in a successful squat. But looking at how exactly they play a role can help us in understanding what makes a good squat shoe. One of the cues that allow for a good squat technique is “spreading the floor.”

As the name suggests, the lifter is supposed to imagine themselves spreading the floor outward, between their feet. This is meant to better engage the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and helps to create tension which in turn helps to improve stability. Shoes that have a good grip on the underside are essential for properly “spreading the floor,” so it’s important to pay attention to the sole’s tread.

The other foot factor is toe splay. Spreading out the toes during the lift allows you to create a larger surface area between you and the floor, allowing you to better spread the load along the entire foot. This will help in better tracking of the knees, along with improved engagement of your muscles.

This is where the toe box comes in. Lifters that have wider feet could benefit their lift by choosing a shoe with a wider toe box, rather than a narrower one. Once you optimize your lift, you’ll better be able to transfer power through good toe splay.

Benefits of Weightlifting Shoes

A good pair of weightlifting shoes will improve your squat (and other lifts) through several different factors. You’ll have a more efficient transfer of force from your legs into the floor, due to the increased density of the soles. This should also improve your stability during the movement.

Your mobility should also see improvements, allowing you to enter into deeper squats with  less forward lean due to the heel of the shoe.

Your quads should also be better activated, and your lumbar spine won’t need to move as big of a load. Altogether, this will allow for heavier lifts, greater comfort, and increased safety.

What About Running Shoes?

You might be currently using your regular running shoes to squat, and with plenty of success—but regular running shoes are far from the best option when squatting. Running shoes are terrific for running because they have plenty of softer cushioning and soles that compress as weight is placed on them.

These factors allow energy to be absorbed into the shoe and dissipate, which makes for a more comfortable running experience and also reduces the chances of being injured from the repeated impact on the ground. However, these are all things that get in the way of a good squatting technique.

Soft soles—especially those that are “air” or gel-based—will significantly decrease the stability you have between your feet and the floor. This is because they will compress as more force is placed on them, making it particularly bad for heavy squats. Furthermore, the softness will also do nothing in supporting the neutral arched foot stance, going further to get in the way of proper form.

What About Going Barefoot?

Barefoot weightlifting has gained traction in the past decade or so, and while it may be an interesting choice, there is a method to the madness. If the aim of a good powerlifting shoe is to be as in contact with the floor as possible, then it makes sense that going barefoot would be a good idea.

There really isn’t any closer way you can be to the ground. And with your feet firmly planted to the floor, your stability and balance should also improve with time. There are, however, a few issues with this technique. For one, it depends on the type of squat you’re performing.

If you’re doing a  front squat or an overhead squat, where you’re trying to stay more upright, this is not ideal. Since you’re not wearing shoes with a slight heel on them, you’ll naturally lean forward in order to make up for the lack of a heel. And if you’ve got a history of lower back pain, you’ll want to stick with shoes as well.

This is because leaning forward ends up placing more stress on the lower back region, which can lead to pain and injury if the weight is too heavy. Not to mention the added risk of a plate falling onto your bare feet—something that we all want to avoid.

The Best Weightlifting Shoes

Taking into account all the factors we’ve discussed above, here are seven of the best shoes for squatting (and general weightlifting). They range from more specialized shoes to shoes you can wear out and about as well as in the gym.

Professional athlete makes squats with a bar in the gym

The best choice is going to come down to your needs, your budget, and your goals. But choose the right shoe, and you can expect impressive results in your most intense squatting sessions.

1. Nike Romaleos 4

These are some of the most well-known shoes in the world when it comes to powerlifting, and they’re often used by Olympic weightlifters in competition. This fourth iteration is the latest one that’s been released, and it includes some of the newest technologies for a better weightlifting shoe. Consider picking up a pair for their:

  • The heel-to-toe lift stands at a good ¾ inch, with a hard sole like other squat shoes.
  • The midsole also has some arch support, with an interchangeable insole between harder and softer.
  • With Flywire technology, these shoes really fit like a glove, offering unparalleled support for your feet—when the laces are tightened, the entire upper will also tighten.
  • The synthetic upper portion of the shoe is also very breathable, comfortable, and sturdy.
  • Whether or not it’s your thing, there’s a lot of colorways to choose from, letting your fit look as good as your squat.

Here are some things to consider:

  • For some, especially those with wide feet, the Flywire technology can be a bit too tight—even though weightlifting shoes are meant to fit tightly.
  • There have been reports of the tongue ripping from the shoe.
  • While the shoe is amazing, the price point reflects that, which can put it out of people’s budgets.

2. Adidas Adipower

This is another top contender when it comes to weightlifting shoes. It sports a standard ¾ inch heel, and is specifically made for lifting heavy weight. This makes it both a popular choice with professionals and amateurs who are serious about lifting.

This shoe is also particularly long-lasting because of the coated upper leather. It makes the Adipower very flexible and very breathable—although it does take a while to break them in. A big bonus is that the heel is made out of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).

This material offers the perfect mix of lightweight and rigidity, making it the best material for workout shoes. Neither will the heels compress, nor will they wear out if you use them frequently.

Some other pros to the Adipower include:

  • The outsole is solid, allowing you to feel the connection to the floor more effectively than other shoes.
  • They’re made to an extremely high standard, and you can expect these to last you years, even with regular use.
  • The heel is definitely a big pro: it’s durable and stuff, making the shoe an excellent choice for powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting.

Some things to consider include:

  • They’re made for narrower feet, so comfort may be an issue.
  • They don’t have a lower metatarsal strap for added support.
  • Some people find that there’s extra room in the toe box.
  • Since they’re very specialized, the price tag reflects that. They’re also only sized for men.

3. INOV-8 FastLift 335 Squatting Shoes

This is another pair of technologically advanced weightlifting shoes, also using TPU in order to provide a durable and firm construction in the heel and sole. This brand makes several different shoes, but these are particularly useful as a multipurpose shoe that’s useful for different lifts in the gym.

Part of the reason is that the heel is slightly lower, at 0.65 inches rather than the standard 0.75. This makes it easier to use with other lifts in the gym. This shoe is also lighter weight than many of the other shoes we’ll be looking at.

Some other benefits include:

  • A strap over the midfoot for additional stability and support.
  • Because of its heel angle, it has much more versatility in the gym.
  • If you have wider feet, this is definitely a shoe you should be looking into; the wide toe box will allow you to better splay your toes and improve the transfer of power.
  • The flexibility in the toe area also adds to the versatility of this shoe in other activities.

Some things to consider include:

  • If you’re looking for specialized squatting shoes, the heel-to-toe drop isn’t ideal since it’s at a lower angle than the optimal.
  • Due to the increased flexibility in the toe area, the shoe is less rigid and offers less security.
  • The upper material is also less durable than other shoes.

4. Reebok Legacy Lifter II

The strongest part of this shoe is the heel design, which makes them a terrific option for both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. While they’re not as versatile in the gym as some other shoe options, they’re some of the best when it comes to a pair of durable powerlifting shoes.

  • These shoes also offer lateral support, which is useful in helping to prevent you from sinking too low while also taking off unnecessary pressure from your back.
  • The toe straps are also reinforced, allowing for the optimal hold for maximum stability and tension.
  • They have an outsole of rubber coating, which is a big plus for durability.

Some things to consider include:

  • These are very heavy shoes, which is a big negative for versatility.
  • Overall versatility is the biggest con; these were made for nothing more than lifting.

5. Nordic Lifting Megin Powerlifting Shoe

Made specifically for powerlifting, these shoes are great if you’re looking for something on a budget. They also sport some of the largest heel heights, at 1.4 inches. This can significantly help with your squat technique if you don’t have enough hip or ankle mobility. However, that also means they’re not very versatile for anything else in the gym other than lifting.

Some things to consider include:

  • They don’t have the best traction, so be wary of slippage on moist surfaces.
  • The material, cotton mesh, also lacks a lot of durability, which is something to watch out for with heavy use.
  • Although the high heel is useful, it also prevents it from being used as a cross-trainer shoe.

6. Adidas Powerlift 4

This shoe is way less specialized than some of the other ones we’ve looked at, with a heel that’s only 0.6 inches tall. They’re also significantly lighter than some other options, which makes them a great transition shoe or cross-training shoe if you’re just a casual lifter and don’t need anything highly specialized.

  • These are great for general exercises as well as weightlifting, making them one of the more versatile on this list; they are good training shoes for CrossFit, for example.
  • They’re also lightweight with a lot of breathability, making them extra comfortable (along with being lighter than other models).
  • The price tag isn’t as steep on the Powerlifts.

Some things to consider include:

  • The raised heel isn’t optimal if you’re serious about powerlifting.
  • The heel and the overall build aren’t as durable as some other models.

7. Converse Chuck Taylors

The Chuck Taylor All-Stars have been a mainstay in gyms for a very long time, and for good reasons. These shoes are flat, and they lack a heel cup so you can really drive into the floor with your feet. While the soles do compress, they’re still relatively dense without much give.

  • These are an extremely versatile and cheap option.
  • The high-top version can offer some added stability if the laces are bound tightly.
  • They’re relatively durable and breathable.

Some things to consider include:

  • The lack of a higher heel will get in the way of optimal squat performance.
  • There’s also no rigid structure or straps, which is a big downside if you’re looking for extra stability and a snug fit.
  • The flat soles aren’t very grippy on some surfaces, getting in the way of a stable base.
  • Although the soles are a bit compressible, you probably won’t notice this unless you’re a powerlifter.

The Pair of Shoes for You

There is a much larger variety in “good” squat shoes than, for example, deadlift shoes. This is because of the mechanics of the movement and each individual’s own biomechanics (in terms of the length of their legs, flat feet, etc.). Throw in the different ways to do a barbell back squat and its variations, and you have as many shoe recommendations as there are shoes.

The key is to keep in mind your own fitness level, the mechanics of your body, and your future goals. Will you be bodybuilding? Olympic lifting? Just general weight training? Once you take these things into account, picking the right high-quality shoe will be much easier. Of course, comfort and price will be important factors as well.

However, when you do find the right shoes, they’ll very likely make a big difference when it comes to your intense lifting workouts. Regular old running shoes are going to hold you back if you’re serious about making serious gains over the long run.

If you want to build on these extra gains made by the right shoes, consider taking a supplement to further turbocharge your progress. If you’re doing the right workouts, eating the right food, getting enough sleep, and have the right equipment, a  mass stack is guaranteed to put some extra muscle on you.