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Footwear for Powerlifting and Strength Training
By Gary F. Zeolla
Most powerlifters and those who lift weights for general strength training purposes do not give much thought to their footwear, but they should, as footwear can make a significant difference in the performance of the three powerlifts (squats, bench presses, and deadlifts) and auxiliary exercises. I provide an overview of footwear for powerlifting in my book Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting. But in this article I would like to expand on that section. Pictures of all of the shoes mentioned in this article can be found at: Footwear for Powerlifting and Strength Training – Pictures.
I started lifting weights in the early 1970s in junior high school and started powerlifting in senior high and continued to do so through college and shortly thereafter (1978-1985). At first, as with most, I wore sneakers for all three powerlifts and other lifting exercises. I was still wearing white Nike sneakers when I won National Collegiates in 1981 as a sophomore. I know they were white Nikes as I still have pictures of me performing each lift at that contest that appeared in Powerlifting USA magazine. These can be seen on the pictures page.
Shortly after that contest I changed my footwear on squats and deadlifts. For squats, I began wearing a pair of brown boots I bought at some store at Penn State. They were high-top leather boots with a hard sole and heal. That design gave me a more stable base for squatting. And my squat went up significantly by Pennsylvania Sate Collegiates the following year, from 352 @ 114s (3.09 times bodyweight) to 425 @ 123s (3.45 x bwt).
For deadlifts, I switched to white Nike wrestling shoes. Such shoes have a very thin sole, thus shortening the pull, and no heal, thus they do not cause a forward lean that would need to be overcome during the pull. And again, my deadlift went up from 385 @ 114s (3.37 x bwt.) to 435 @ 123s (3.53 x bwt.).
Whether those increases had anything to do with footwear is hard to say, especially given that my bench also went up significantly, for which I did not change footwear, from 205 @ 114s (1.8 x bwt.) to 240 @ 123s (1.95 x bwt). But still, the boots and wrestling shoes provided good support and simply felt much more appropriate for squats and deadlifts. Both of these pairs of shoes were also high-tops, and they thus provided ankle support. That is helpful as I use a moderately wide stance on squats and a sumo (wide) stance on deadlifts. But ankle support might not be that important for those who use a close stance on squats and a conventional (close) deadlift stance.
When I started powerlifting again in 2003, I dug these same boots and wrestling shoes out of storage and initially used them. But then in March 2005, I got a pair of white Crain Power Squat Shoes, and they were a big improvement over the boots. They are high-tops with a hard sole like the boots. If you measure the heel in the back, it is about ¾”, but the sole in the front is about ½”, so the effective heel is about ¼”. That is just right. It helps me keep my balance but without tilting me forward and thus throwing off my form.
What makes the Crains especially nice is they have two Velcro straps, one across the ankle and across the width of the foot. I can pull the straps very tight for a set, but then loosen them between sets. In that way, I have the support for the lift, but without my feet feeling “choked” as a workout progresses. Of course, this gives me one more thing to do to get ready for squatting, but it's worth it. I just need to remember to tighten the Velcro straps before wrapping my knees or pulling up my knee sleeves. I have also found that if I point my toes out as much as possible before tightening the straps I can get them really tight. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing all of this, so it is not an issue.
The Crains are also lighter than the boots and thus easier to walk the weight out with. They are a bit pricy, costing $125. But as of this writing (May 2015), I have been using them for over a decade, and they are still in good condition.
Meanwhile, my white Nike wrestling shoes from college got worn out, so in the spring of 2005, I got a new pair of black Nike wrestling shoes from Dick’s Sporting Goods for about $50 and have been wearing them ever since. They are thus also a decade old and are still in very good condition. They have one Velcro strap, near the top of the shoes, but it is not that sturdy. Rather than to give support, it is probably just for wrestlers to cover the knot of their laces so that it does not get caught in someone’s fingers during a match. But still, I usually pull them tight before work sets.
Throughout the 00s, I was wearing a pair of red/ black/ silver Nike sneakers for benches. But they got worn out, so in the fall of 2010, I got a new pair of red/ black/ silver Nike sneakers. They were the perfect shoes for benching, so I had been using them exclusively for that purpose so that they would not wear out. The reason they are perfect for benches is they have a higher heal than most sneakers, thus they enabled me to get into an arch while still keeping my feet flat on the floor, which is what I prefer and is required in some federations. Plus, the soles had a very good grip on them, so my feet would not slip.
By early 2015, these Nike sneakers were still in very good condition overall, except they were not gripping the floor as well as they used to, and thus my feet began slipping. As a result, I began looking for a new pair of sneakers. But I couldn’t find any I really liked and that fit the parameters of having a decent heal and good grip. Then in the powerlifting forum I participate in, someone posted about getting a pair of weightlifting shoes. That spiked my interested, so I began researching such shoes.
I eventually ordered a pair of the shoes the poster mentioned, but they did not fit right and were not quite what I was looking for, so I tried a different brand of shoes, then another, then another. It took four tries, but I finally got lifting shoes that I really like. I will review each of the shoes I tried and the ones I finally settled on.
Sizing, Color, and Brand Preference
Before proceeding, it would be helpful to point out that I normally wear a size 6.5 (I'm 5'1"). That is an “odd” size and often hard to find, as boy’s sizes usually run up to 6.0 and men’s start at 7.0, so shoes stores often do not carry 6.5s. They can even be difficult though not impossible to find on the Internet. But ordering shoes on the Internet can be frustrating, as you cannot try them on, and sizes often differ between brands and types of shoes. My Crain squat shoes and Nike sneakers are a size 6.5, but my Nike wrestling shoes are only a size 5.5.
Also, my favorite color is red and color scheme red and black, thus most of my powerlifting gear is red and/ or black. The Crain squat shoes only came in white with black Velcro straps when I got them, but they are now also available in all black. Looking at the black ones, I cannot help but think how much nicer they would look if the Velcro straps were red. If I could get shoes like that, I might do so even though my current shoes are still in good shape. And it is no accident my Nike sneakers are red/ black/ silver and the Nike wrestling shoes are black. Thus in looking for new shoes, I wanted to get red and/ or black ones.
Also, I prefer Nikes as they tend to fit me best. My Nike sneakers and wrestling shoes fit just fine. The Adidas shoes I wear for walking are 6.5s, but they are a bit narrow. That makes them snug fitting for my walks, but not very comfortable. They’re white and look okay. I also have a pair of New Balance sneakers that I have been using for other lifting exercises and hitting my heavy bag. They are also a size 6.5 and comfortable enough, but they are grey and not very nice looking. They were also getting rather worn.
With that background, onto the reviews of lifting shoes.
Adidas Powerlift 2.0s, Size 6.5, Black/ Red
The shoes that were mentioned in the forum were Adidas Powerlift 2 Trainer shoes, so I looked into them first. They are available in a wide variety of colors. I was tempted by the yellow and black ones as they look like Pirates/ Steelers/ Penguins black and gold. But the yellow (gold) would clash with my other powerlifting gear, so I got the black and red ones from Amazon for $90. They are also available on Adidas’s site for the same price. I read many of the reviews on both websites, which were mostly positive.
The description said they fit “true to size,” meaning you should get the same size as for regular shoes, and many reviews said the same. But others said to get a half a size smaller for the tighter fit that is needed for weightlifting. I even used the online chat on Adidas’s website and was told to get the same size I wear for Adidas sneakers, so I got size 6.5.
When I got the shoes, the red and black color scheme looked really nice. But the main thing I noticed about them is how light they were. And when I put them on, they were very comfortable. I tried pushing my feet on the floor, and the grip was amazing. The shoes did not slide at all.
But when I took a step forward my heel came up partly out of the shoe. Even with pulling the Velcro strap as tight as I could, my heel still was moving around. If I had gotten a half size smaller, it would probably have been about right. However, they fit just right in the width of the shoe, snug, but not too tight. Thus, if I got size 6.0, they would probably be too tight in the width, so I knew I needed to return them. But no matter, as there is about a ½” sole, and the effective heel is less than ¼”, so I they wouldn’t have worked for benches anyway. But I am glad I got them through Amazon with Amazon Prime, as it was free shipping both ways.
At that point, I used Adidas’ online chat again to ask about how the Powerlift 2s compared to their more expensive AdiPower IIs. I was told the later fit the same, but they were of a higher quality and durability. They better be given that they cost $200. I was also told they had a higher heel than the Powerlift 2s. As such, I considered ordering them, but if I was going to spend $200, I figured I might as well go with lifting shoes for about that same price in my preferred shoe brand.
Nike Romoleos 2s, Size 6.5, Black/ Red/ White
Nike’s lifting shoes are called Romoleos (I have no idea why). But they are also version 2.0. I also have no idea why I could not find them on Nike’s website, so I Googled and found them on Rogue Fitness for $189. They are also available in several different colors, including black/ red/ white and red/ black/ gold. I didn’t particularly like the gold in the latter, so I got the former. But again, I wasn’t sure what size to get. The description said to “Choose normal Nike tennis shoe size,” so I ordered size 6.5.
When I got them, they were also very nice looking, similar to the Powerlift 2s. But the first thing I noticed was how much heavier they were. They have two Velcro straps, not just one. The soles are very thin, less than ¼”, but then they have a significant heel, about ¾”. When I put them on I felt like I was wearing platform shoes. For those who grew up on the ‘70s, you know what I am talking about here. For those who don't, it feels somewhat like being raised up while wearing roller skates or roller blades. They gripped the floor very well.
But once again, when I took a step, my heel came up part way out of the shoes, so they were about a half size too large. Even with tightening both straps, they still were loose, so once again I had shoes to return. Rogue Fitness has free shipping but not free return shipping, so it cost me $8 for postage (USPS) to return them.
Nike Romoleos 2s, Size 6.0, Red/ Black/ Gold
It only took a couple of days for Rogue Fitness to get the returned shoes and issue a refund, so I then ordered size 6.0 Romoleos. But this time I got the red/ black/ gold ones. The black/ red/ white ones were nice, but these looked flashier, and the gold was kind of growing on me. When I got them, I was glad I got the red/ black/ gold as they looked even nicer than the red/ black/ white ones, and the gold was barely noticeable, except for the Nike swoosh on the top.
When I put them on, they fit just right, except the insteps were too far back. They were digging into my heels, especially on the right foot. Looking inside of the shoe, the instep reaches all the way to the back of the shoes, not stopping an inch or more in front of the back as in my other shoes. I kind of figured right then I wouldn’t be able to do heavy squats or deadlifts in them.
As I moved around in them, the heel seemed really high, and with the platform shoes feeling, I just couldn’t see myself squatting in them even without the instep problem, and there is no way I could deadlift in them. For that matter, I couldn’t see doing any lifting exercise other than benches in them. But the high heel might be just what I wanted for benches.
The next day was my bench assistance day, for which I was doing decline benches then overhead presses. I figured a good test might be to do the presses with them. If the instep was a problem with them, then it would definitely be a problem on squats. I did my warm-up sets and first work sets wearing the Romoleos. The warm-up sets went okay, but I could feel the instep digging into my heel more and more with each set. Then on my first work set, I felt very unbalanced due to the high heel and resulting forward tilt. And the pain in my foot was getting rather pronounced. As a result, I got one less rep than I had planned on for that set. I then took off the Romoleos and put on my Nike sneakers, and my next two work sets went as planned.
I should also mention that one selling point of the Romoleos over the AdiPower’s is the former has a wider base than the latter. But it was that very thing that made them so heavy and gave them the platform shoe feeling.
Another issue was how inflexible the shoes are in the front half. I only used them for presses, but if I tried doing deadlifts or rows with them, it might have been difficult to kneel down and change the weights. For that matter, with the problem on presses, I couldn’t see myself doling any lift other than benches with them. And almost $200 is a lot of money for shoes to use for just one exercise, even if it is one of the powerlifts. So even without the instep problem, I doubt I would have kept them. But it cost me another $8 to send them back.
Adidas AdiPower IIs, Size 6.0, Red/ Black
I next went back to Adidas’ website to check out the AdiPowers in more detail. The first thing I checked was their return policy. I was pleased to see that like Amazon, they had free shipping for both delivery and returns. I wish I had noticed that before, as I might have ordered the AdiPowers before the Romoleos. But no matter as I am glad I checked out the Romoleos, as I would always have been wondering about them.
I was pleased to see the AdiPowers used genuine leather, not synthetic material like the Powerlift 2.0s and the Nike Romoleos. But they only come in two color schemes: white/ black and black/ red. I of course ordered the latter. I also ordered size 6.0, given my previous chat with Adidas that the fit was the same as the Powerlift 2.0s. I was also pleased that the price was only $162, marked down from the regular retail price of $200.
I rushed placing my order as only 3 pairs of that color and size were in stock, and I was a bit disgruntled that the site said it would take 1-2 days to ship and 4-7 for delivery. I was given the option of paying extra for quicker delivery, but I went with the free standard delivery. I’m glad I did, as they came two days later, just in time for that week’s bench workout.
The first thing I noticed once again was the weight. The shoes were as light as the Powerlift 2.0s. They also looked just as nice. The sole is about ¼” in the front, but ¾” in the back, so there is an effective heel of ½”, about the same as the Romoleos, although it feels like slightly less. The lone strap is sturdier than on the Powerlift 2.0s. When I tried them on, they fit just right! Actually, they are a little bit loose in the back, until I tightened the strap. Then they fit nice and snug. They also grip the floor very well.
There were some complaints in the reviews on Adidas’ website about the lacing, namely that there should be another hole near the bottom. It was said that the last hole before the bottom loop is too far up and thus it is hard to get them tight in the toe area. Looking at them, I thought that might be the case. But as seems to be the case with Adidas shoes in general, they are rather narrow. As a result, they fit very snug across the width of the foot and in the toe area, so the lacing was not a problem.Thus looking at them and trying them on, they looked very good and like just what I was looking for. But the importance question is: how did they perform in a workout? That question and many other issues will be addressed in Part Two of this article.
Footwear for Powerlifting and Strength Training - Part One. Copyright © 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this site June 1, 2015.
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