HAVING THE right shoes for weightlifting, powerlifting, or recreational strength training is anything but an aesthetic choice. Picking the appropriate style for your training type and particular emphases is key for contributing to your lifting performance and keeping you protected against injury. What many people don't realize is that the type of lifting you're doing in the gym makes a big difference in what you want to look for in a shoe.
When it comes to Olympic weightlifting, we're referring to a very specific set of exercises. "The sport encompasses two events: the snatch and the clean and jerk. Both movements are complex and explosive, relying as much on power and technique as on brute physical strength," said Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., strength coach and former fitness editor at Men's Health.
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"Very generally speaking, weightlifting shoes are made with more restrictive material such as leather but are known for their thick, solid base of the shoe," says Men's Health Advisory Board member David Otey, C.S.C.S., an NYC-based strength coach.
The right weightlifting shoes will heel elevation to help the lifter access more efficient range of motion for loading in the various Olympic lifts.
Ultimately, their goal is to help you create more force while maintaining safe alignment.
And science backs it up. One 2012 study found that when lifters performed a one rep max barbell back squat, they were more likely to maintain proper form and reduce lower back strain while wearing weightlifting shoes versus basketball sneakers. Another more recent study similarly found that compared to more general athletic shoes, weightlifting shoes reduced ankle movement and helped lifters maintain an upright torso during squats.
"Weightlifting shoes are important for generating more force on heavy moves such as deadlifts, lunges, and squats. The goal is to have the shoe help you generate more force through a harder sole surface with manual cushioning," says Ridge Davis, CPT, owner of Ridgid Fitness in Los Angeles. "They also provide ankle stability so the knees and hips don’t compensate. General exercise sneakers and running shoes tend to have too much cushion and absorb a fair amount of force needed for weightlifting."
But most people lifting weights in the gym aren't doing Olympic lifts, are they? If you're looking for a stable, durable shoe to stand up to dynamic HIIT workouts, outdoor training or even CrossFit classes, what you really need is a strength trainer.
Which is why we've included our top picks for strength trainers in this article, too.
Strength training shoes—often branded 'cross-trainers'—are designed to be versatile in their performance, unlike weightlifting shoes. They don't feature significant heel elevation, meaning they'll be more reactive for explosive movements, but can still provide enough stability for heavy lifts. This is the type of trainer you'll benefit from if you aren't as specific in your training routine, and want to be able to transition from plyometrics to lifts in the same session without sacrificing support or bounce.
So, if you're interested in upping your weightlifting or strength training shoe game, you came to the right place. Here are 12 of the best weightlifting shoes and strength trainers of 2023, according to trainers.