If I buy them, will they increase my performance? Will I lift more? Which kind of strength athlete would benefit most from them? Which strength athletes shouldn't bother? Or does every lifter need to own a pair? As lifters, our gear is very important to us. So we spend time and put much effort into researching what kind of shoe would give us the most edge. For new lifters, strength athletes, and CrossFitters, the topic comes up often: Olympic weightlifting shoes -- to buy or not to buy? Ice Runner Strength investigates...
Part I: Olympic weightlifting shoes
This is Part 1 of a three-part blog series on lifting shoes and which you should buy. This first post will focus on Olympic weightlifting shoes, the second post will dive into Chuck Taylors and other powerlifting style options, and the series will end with Olympic lifting shoes vs. Chucks: which is better? Throughout this series, I will rate each type of shoe for the various strength athletes: Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, Strongmen (and women! Represent!), other strength athletes (whose sports have a large barbell training component), CrossFitters, and those who strength train on their own.
So on to the first post. I get asked a lot about Olympic weightlifting shoes by a variety of strength athletes: what I think about them and whether or not they should invest in a pair. But first, lets get into the characteristics of Olympic lifting shoes, for the uninitiated.
What is an Olympic weightlifting shoe?
Olympic weightlifting shoes are, well, shoes for Olympic weightlifting. They are specifically designed for the sport and the athletes who compete in it. As you can see by the Adidas Power Perfect II, these shoes have a distinctive look and shape: the heel is raised by three-quarters of an inch to one inch and made of solid wood or another hard, rigid material. They lace up the front and have a strap on the upper with which to tighten and narrow the fit. There's just enough traction on these shoes for what a lifter on a platform needs: to not slip and slide when under a heavy load. Olympic lifting shoes are heavy and awkward but are built with one purpose in mind: to allow the Olympic weightlifter to apply maximum force into the ground while lifting a heavy weight.
Will they make me lift more weight?
Not really. Unlike some other pieces of gear, you're not going to see a radical increase in your lifting numbers by wearing Olympic lifting shoes. The value and benefit from the shoe comes primarily from the stability you receive (and feel) and the efficient application of power in your lifts. Even though the shoes will maximize your ability to apply your force into the ground, that doesn't automatically translate to increased poundage from the start. Many other factors also contribute to whether or not you make or miss a lift or hit a new PR.
Who wears Olympic lifting shoes?
Olympic weightlifting shoes are worn by, well, Olympic weightlifters. As stated above, they are specifically created for the sport of Olympic weightlifting. If you look closely enough at the pic to the left, you'll see another benefit of the shoe: how that extra heel height really comes in handy in such a deep squat. You will find some Powerlifters wear them too, as well as Crossfitters (during their specific Olympic lifting training), and those who strength train on their own. These shoes have gained wide appeal in all areas related to strength training, especially in recent years.
Now on to the Pros vs. Cons:
Very stable surface.
Thanks to the heavy base of the shoe, you really feel firmly planted into the ground, almost like you have tree roots. This firmness feels good when you're lifting.
Good for Ankles Lacking in Mobility.
If you have a hard time dorsiflexing your ankles all the way in a squat or clean position, Olympic weightlifting shoes will help. Because of the raised heel, less ankle mobility is required. This works great for the starting position of cleans & snatches as well as an Olympic-style "ass-to-grass" (A2G) squat. Feels great doing front squats too. This is going to be a far better option than placing plates under your heels...that sh*t just looks janky. Which leads me to my next point...
Looks legit and fancy.
These shoes look the part... well sometimes, they can also look like bad bowling shoes, depending on the brand. But with the right shoe and with so many stylish options available today, you certainly look like you know what you're doing.
These shoes will last a long time. A good pair can last a few years, depending upon the wear and tear you put on them. They can take quite a beating.
Makes you taller:
This may seem like an odd "con" for some of you, but it can make a difference for us taller people. The extra inch that the shoe adds to your height can sometimes mean the difference between making or missing a heavy lift, due to the extra distance (already on top of your height) that you have to travel to get under the bar. This is more apparent with the "power" versions of the Olympic lifts, where you only dip partially under the bar. Of course, I know this sounds lazy ("well how about you work on getting under the bar better??"), but when going for a max effort when every inch counts, the last thing you want is to put yourself at a disadvantage. The height equation also applies to deadlifts, especially if you already have long legs, where every inch is important on a max lift.
Not gonna lie, these shoes run a bit steep. I paid about $120 for my Risto's and many brands run $150-250. However, you generally do get great quality for the price.
During a WOD with Olympic lifting + other exercises, it will be difficult to do many other CrossFit exercises in Olympic weightlifting shoes due to the weight, awkwardness, and rigidity. Other recommendations are provided below.
Since most Strongman movements require you to be very mobile (i.e., hauling ass with a yoke), Olympic lifting shoes are not the best bet. They are too heavy and awkward to depend on doing yoke or farmer's carries with. The only exceptions would be the overhead pressing events
Breaking it down by athlete: Who should buy and who shouldn't bother
The answer is pretty obvious. These shoes were specifically designed with your sport in mind. Obviously, if you're an Olympic weightlifter or are training to compete in a competition anytime soon, get some and start training.
It's a toss up. Even though both sports require heavy lifts, at the end of the day, Powerlifting is a different sport. The same ankle mobility required in Olympic lifting is not required in Powerlifting and the extra height on the shoe can actually be a liability in deadlifts and the squat, as it requires you to cover extra distance. I personally would prefer a more flat -- yet stable -- shoe for Powerlifters, which I'll get into next post. Those that follow a Westside Barbell conjugate-style training will not find much use for Oly shoes either, especially in wide-stance squatting and sumo deadlifting as the shoes will feel very awkward in wider stances (not surprising as the shoes weren't designed for wider stances). However, if you have the change to spare, the best way to find out what's best for you is to buy a pair of Olympic weightlifting shoes and try them out. Ultimately, it comes down to your preference and if you suspect that you might like them, the best way to find out is to try it out.
Serious strength athletes:
Athletes whose sports may not be a strength discipline but who still devote considerable time to the Olympic lifts in training would also greatly benefit from ordering a pair. Especially if your strength coach requires you to frequently perform very deep A2G squats and full cleans and snatches.
Unless you do a significant amount of Olympic lifting in your training -- and I don't know many Strong(wo)men who do, besides continental axle cleans (which are a completely different beast anyway) -- I wouldn't bother. The vast majority of movements in Strongman, as discussed above, are very mobile and actually require you to haul ass. The Olympic weightlifting shoe will be much too awkward and immobile for you to do that. The only exceptions would be for the overhead lifting events. Otherwise, it probably isn't worth the investment. Unless you got some change to spare and are curious for the more stationary lifts. In that case, have at it.
Another toss up. Any serious CrossFit competitor should definitely get a good pair of Olympic lifting shoes, given the high volume of Olympic lifts in training outside of the WODs. If you're training CrossFit just for overall health and fitness, it really isn't necessary. In fact, you won't be able to use them in most WODs, especially in WODs with an Olympic lifting movement + calisthenic/running/jump rope/box jump/insert other CrossFit movement here. Olympic shoes are just too heavy and clunky to perform movements requiring any real mobility at all. The exception is if you also like to perform a considerable amount of Olympic lifting outside of the WODs- then you would definitely benefit from a pair. For those CrossFitters that simply like to come in, do a WOD, and go home, other shoes would serve you better, like the Reebok Crossfit Nano 2.0 (women's version here). Or if you want a happy medium Olympic lifting/Crossfit shoe, try out the Reebok R CrossFit Lifters.
My Two Cents:
Olympic weightlifting shoes can be a great option for strength athletes, especially those who commit serious gym time to the Olympic lifts in particular. But for all other strength athletes, it's really a toss up. They're not necessarily going to help you anymore than a good, flat shoe and in some cases these are not the right choice shoe at all. I personally prefer Chucks even after lifting in Olympic weightlifting shoes for awhile, which I will discuss in the next post. I even lift in chucks for most of my Oly-style movements. Some others may think I'm an idiot for doing so, but that's just my personal preference and at the end of the day, I go with what works. If I lift more wearing a pair of bunny slippers, then I'll lift in them.
Most importantly, don't listen to pretentious lifting zealots who proclaim to you "Uh, e-x-c-u-s-e me, but what are you lifting in? You must get Olympic weightlifting shoes if you're going to be taken as a serious lifter!!!" This "my lifting shoes could beat up your lifting shoes" nonsense is not even based on reality. As I've demonstrated above, Olympic lifting shoes are a great choice for some strength athletes and not-so-good for others. The "not being taken seriously as a lifter" bit only applies if Olympic lifting is actually your sport and you compete in that sport. Otherwise, try out both, and go with what feels good for you.
Once again, preference is the name of the game. Try something on for size, see if you like it and if you perform better. If so, great. If you don't, don't be afraid to do things the way you want to do them. Isn't that a novel idea?