Wearing the right footwear can not only keep your feet safe and comfortable when you’re strength training, but lacing up a high-quality pair of sneakers can also motivate you to go to the gym in the first place. Just like running shoes, weightlifting shoes have specialized features intended to help you maintain proper form and, ultimately, feel more confident while you exercise.
For more info on how to pick the pair that’s right for you, we spoke to Future trainers Lauren Powell, PhD, CSCS, and Tiffany Thompson, a NASM-certified personal trainer, as well as Jared Gremillion, DPM, a podiatric surgeon at Holston Medical Group in Bristol, Tennessee.
What are the benefits of weightlifting-specific shoes?
A pair of shoes designed specifically for strength or cross-training is a solid investment for any dedicated lifter. That’s because weightlifting shoes are designed to be stable and supportive, so you can firmly plant your feet and generate the power you need to move heavy weights, Dr. Gremillion tells SELF. They’re different from many running shoes, for instance, which often have a curved rocker sole. Those bottoms are designed for forward movement, which can throw off your balance while lifting.
What should you look for in a weightlifting shoe?
Let’s make one thing very clear: Stability is key for weightlifting footwear. Shoes made with sturdy materials and a stiff, wide sole will contribute to that grounded feeling you want while strength training, Dr. Gremillion says.
On that note, Thompson says you don’t want too much cushioning underfoot, as excess padding can throw off your form and balance. We love a good foam-laden sneaker (and your shoe can have some cushioning if you plan to use it for cross-training) for lots of activities, but a harder sole is the better choice for strictly lifting.
While some weightlifting shoes are completely flat-soled, others feature an elevated heel—the best option for you really comes down to personal preference, Dr. Gremillion says. The former enables you to push through your heels, helping you move the weights up with more force, which is particularly useful for exercises like deadlifts. On the other hand, an elevated heel increases your ankle’s range of motion, which can help you maintain your posture and get deeper into the lift, Thompson explains. This kind of heel is often helpful for back squats. Dr. Gremillion adds that shoes with raised heels may be useful if you’re working on improving form, as they can help keep your torso in a straight position that’s optimal for lifting. If you go that route, the heel of the shoe will likely have a height between 18 and 20 millimeters, though you can find lower and higher options (trying on a few different pairs can help you find your preferred height).
If you prefer a more snug fit, consider a pair that has both traditional laces and an adjustable midsole strap—that combination should keep your feet from shifting mid-rep. Also, for people who tend to get sweaty feet, a shoe with mesh panels and perforation holes can allow for breathability without sacrificing structure.
Ultimately, the shoe you choose should make you feel comfortable and confident, not distract you from your lifts, Dr. Gremillion says.
The best weightlifting shoes
With the experts’ criteria in mind (and our own sneaker buying guidelines), we chose the best weightlifting shoes for everyone from Olympic-level pros to strength training newbies.