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September 18, 2023
When I started out in the fitness industry in the mid-1980s, squat shoes weren't even a thing. It was common back then to see all sorts of footwear, including no footwear at all. Today, squat shoes are an everyday sight.
What's changed between now and then?
Well, for one thing, shoe manufacturers have discovered a market gap and filled it. At the same time, however, a decent amount of research shows that wearing dedicated squat shoes will make you a better, safer athlete.
For this article, I've waded into the crowded squat shoe market to identify the eight best squat shoes for a range of categories. The article also delves into the science of squat shoes and provides a comprehensive buyer's guide to help you find the best shoe to make you a better, more powerful, and safer squatter.
The former powerhouse of squat shoes, the Reebok Legacy Lifter II, has evolved into the even more impressive Reebok Legacy Lifter III. This state-of-the-art squat shoe is made from mesh and perforated leather. The leather provides the strength and durability needed in a lifting shoe, while the mesh allows for breathability and extra cushioning around the heel.
The heel height on the Reebok Legacy Lifter is 0.75 inches, the industry standard for a squatting shoe. It's made from a hardened TPU material to provide the rigidity you need when you've got a heavy weight on your shoulders. This shoe also offers excellent lockdown, thanks to the double straps complementing the lacing system. When I squatted in these shoes, I found the best feel for me was to use the laces only on my sub-max sets and then add the straps for my last couple of super heavy sets.
The rubber outsole on the Reebok Legacy Lifter III has a diagonal pattern that enhances traction and grip ability. Additionally, this shoe is available in two colorways -black and white and black and gold - both of which look pretty sharp.
The Adidas Adipower III is a fantastic squat shoe that is especially beneficial for people who require extra support. The heel height is slightly higher than the Reebok Legacy Lifter at 0.86 inches. That makes this a good choice for taller people and those with trouble getting down low enough in the bottom squat position.
This shoe is available in a broader range of sizes than most brands, so you should be able to find the ideal fit for you (Adidas training shoes generally fit true to size).
You get a lot of midfoot support in this shoe thanks to the high-density TPU material in the midsole. Lockdown includes a single metatarsal hook, loop strap, and laces. A larger-than-standard heel surface improves the ground contact area, giving you more traction and ground force.
The combination of a higher, thicker heel and enhanced midfoot support makes the Adidas Adipower III a good choice for advanced lifters.
The Nike Savaleos have been specifically designed for CrossFitters who are going to move from squatting and other Olympic bar lifts to plyometrics and calisthenics movements in a single workout. As a result, they are less of a pure weightlifting shoe and more of a multi-exercise shoe. The sole endeavors to provide the traction grip needed for squats while providing the flexibility needed for agility and plyometric movements.
The heel height of the Nike Savaleo is 0.59 inches, which is considerably lower than you'd see on a dedicated weightlifting shoe. This allows you to perform other CrossFit moves without compromising your balance, stability, or agility. You will also notice that this shoe features more padding than you'd see on a dedicated squatting shoe. That's designed to provide more joint impact reduction when you're doing plyo and agility-type CrossFit exercises.
Overall the Nike Savaleo is a very functional CrossFit shoe but isn't the best choice if you're looking for a dedicated weightlifting shoe.
The Nike Metcon 8 is designed to be an all-around cross-training shoe. As such, it endeavors to meet that middle ground between being a squat shoe and a plyo and agility shoe. It does a decent job of providing the support and stability you need for weightlifting while providing the cushioning and lateral flexibility required for the rest of your workout.
As with any general-purpose training shoe, there are some compromises regarding squatting in the Nike Metcon 8. For example, the heel height is substantially lower in cross-training shoes than on a dedicated squat shoe, so you won't get as much positional support as you would with a shoe like the Reebok Legacy III.
The thick heel of the Metcon 8 provides plenty of springy cushioning to mitigate joint stress when running and jumping. However, that's not ideal for squatting, as you may sink into the heel, offsetting your upward power drive.
If you're doing a few sets of squats as part of a general gym workout, the Nike Metcon 8 will fit your purpose. However, this is not the shoe to choose if you plan to spend most of your gym time in front of the squat rack.
The Reebok Lifter PR II is Reebok's most budget-friendly lifting shoe, which comes for under a hundred dollars. It's got a raised heel to support optimum squat form and allow for a deeper descent. This shoe is made from 100% nylon and has a rubber sole that provides solid traction and surface grip. The toebox allows for a decent amount of wiggle room, allowing for the natural toe splay that happens reflexively when you lift a heavy weight overhead.
The EVA midsole in this shoe provides ample cushioning for support without being so much that it robs you of your firm lockdown when squatting. In addition, the textile upper provides flexibility and breathability.
This shoe is available in three color schemes: black, white, and chartreuse.
The Inov-8 Men's Fastlift 360 is one of the lightest weightlifting shoes you will ever come across, weighing just 360 grams. It features an external heel cage and patented Powertruss technology to enhance support and stability through the heel when squatting. Powertruss consists of triangular-shaped structures integrated into the sole and designed to spread the weight across the shoe evenly.
A single strap across the midfoot of the Men's Fastlift 360 enhances the lockdown provided by the lacing system. The sticky rubber outsole provides a high level of traction and grip ability, being suitable for both secure lifting and lateral agility moves.
This shoe also features Metaflex forefoot technology, which is designed to enhance the flexibility of the upper so that the shoe moves naturally with your foot. This technology also supports people with wider than standard feet.
As the name suggests, the Adidas Powerlift 5 has been specifically designed for powerlifters. However, it is also suitable for Olympic lifters. It's got a lower-than-average heel height, as powerlifters don't customarily descend into the squat as low as standard gym lifters.
The anti-slip rubber outsole of this shoe provides excellent grip and traction; this ensures that you aren't going to experience any lateral foot movement that could dissipate your lifting power. The toe box of this shoe is also very flexible, allowing for toe splay without hitting the side of the shoe.
Another feature I really like with this shoe is the heel collar pull tab, which makes it easy to get on and off.
The Adidas Powerlifter 5 represents very good value for a dedicated Powerlifting shoe, being considerably cheaper than most competing products.
A squat shoe is a gym shoe specifically made for squats and other weightlifting exercises. Flat soles and elevated heels are prominent characteristics of squat shoes. The elevated heel enhances ankle mobility and permits a deeper squat, while the flat sole offers a stable platform for lifting heavy weights. This helps people with restricted ankle mobility or tight calves do squats safely and effectively by allowing them to maintain good form throughout the exercise.
Squat shoes may contain a strap or lacing system to add additional support and stability during lifting. For support and endurance during heavy lifting, the shoe's upper may be composed of materials that can withstand wear and tear, such as leather or synthetic materials.
Squat shoes are recommended for gym goers serious about weightlifting or strength training since they can enhance performance and lower the chance of injury.
Squat shoes have four key parts. Knowing about each area will help you to choose the best squat shoe to meet your needs.
The shoe's upper is the material above and around the toes and forefoot. The upper material can impact the shoe's strength, flexibility, and support. For added support and endurance during heavy lifting, it may be made of leather or synthetic materials, which tend to be more durable.
The upper's design impacts how well the shoe fits and feels. While some squat shoes have a high cut that adds more ankle support, others offer a lower cut that allows for more flexibility and range of motion.
The fastening options on squat shoe uppers include laces, straps, or both. A solid closure system ensures that the foot won't slide around within the shoe when doing heavy lifting.
The upper of some squat shoes may contain mesh panels or ventilation holes to help keep the foot dry and cool during strenuous exercises. The upper may also include reinforced stitching to provide ample support for the ankle and foot.
The section of material between the outsole and the insole is known as the midsole. It is typically constructed of sturdy and supportive material like EVA foam, polyurethane, or TPU. The midsole affects stability and support and helps to distribute weight across the foot evenly.
The midsole may have elements like arch support, cushioning, and shock absorption to lessen the strain heavy lifting places on the joints and muscles.
A dual-density midsole uses various materials in different parts of the midsole to offer varying levels of support and cushioning.
The part of a squat shoe that contacts the ground underfoot first is known as the outsole. It provides traction and stability when squatting.
Squat shoes often have an outsole with a flat, non-slip surface that helps to prevent slipping and sliding during the workout. The tough rubber or synthetic material utilized in the outsole often provides a mix of traction, stability, and durability.
A metatarsal strap, which spans the forefoot of the shoe and adds additional support and stability during lifts, is sometimes added to the outsole of a squat shoe.
The heel of a squat shoe is a vital part of the design. It largely determines the range of motion and ankle mobility. Most squat shoes have an elevated heel. The heel height usually ranges from 0.5 to 1 inch.
Squat shoes with high heels serve to increase ankle mobility by limiting the range of motion of the ankle during squats. Those with restricted ankle flexibility or mobility concerns may find this especially helpful. An elevated heel can also reduce stress on the knees and enhance posture and alignment when squatting.
The elevated heel also helps shift the lifter's weight forwards, enhancing balance and stability throughout the exercise by limiting the range of motion in the ankle.
EVA foam, polyurethane, or TPU are common examples of solid supporting materials used in the heels of squat shoes. These materials offer stability and support and aid in distributing weight uniformly across the foot while lifting.
Olympic lifting shoes usually have a higher heel than those used for powerlifting.
Here are four reasons why you should consider wearing a squat shoe:
Without an elevated heel, a squat requires the ankle joint to dorsiflex (bend upward) in order for the knee to advance. A forward-leaning posture and lower back curving can come from the lifter having to lean forwards at the hips to maintain balance during this forward knee movement.
Raised-heel shoes reduce the amount of forward knee movement necessary during squats because the ankle joint is already slightly dorsiflexed. As a result, the lifter can maintain a more upright posture and improve spinal alignment by lessening the forwards lean at the hips.
Squat shoes with a higher heel aid generally give better posture and alignment, which can lower the chance of injury during weightlifting.
Effects of footwear on sagittal plane kinematics and kinetics during the barbell back squat in resistance-trained males by Sinclair et al. is one study that shows how squat shoes can improve posture while squatting. This study looked at how different types of footwear affected male resistance-trained subjects' posture during a barbell back squat exercise.
According to the study's findings, squat shoes enhance posture during squats by encouraging a more upright torso and minimizing forwards lean. This was linked to more ankle and knee flexion, allowing for a deeper squat while putting less strain on the lower back.
The study found that by encouraging a more upright torso and lowering pronation, squat shoes can enhance posture during the barbell back squat exercise in resistance-trained men.¹
Squat shoes give the lifter a firm and sturdy basis, lowering the possibility of swaying or instability during the workout. This steadiness can be especially helpful while lifting heavy because even a small loss of balance might result in harm.
A squat shoe's supportive and solid materials help distribute weight more evenly over the foot. This can help increase general balance and stability during lifts and lessen pressure on certain foot pressure points.
The outsole of a squat shoe is constructed from a durable, non-slip material, giving excellent traction. This ensures that your foot will not move laterally when you are coming out of the bottom squat position.
A solid, secure base may also help you lift more weight when squatting.
By limiting the range of motion required at the ankle joint during weightlifting activities like squats and lunges, the elevated heel of a squat shoe helps to improve ankle mobility. Lifters with restricted ankle flexibility or movement may find this to be especially helpful.
Squat shoes can help to lower the risk of ankle injuries like sprains or strains by adding extra support and stability around the ankle joint. This is crucial since the ankle joint is put under a lot of stress when performing activities like jump squats or box jumps.
The enhanced ankle support can also help to increase stability and balance when performing weightlifting workouts. This can be especially helpful for workouts like single-leg squats and Bulgarian split squats that need a high level of balance.
Squat shoes can assist in lowering the risk of knee problems like ACL tears or meniscus damage by increasing ankle mobility and lowering stress on the knee joint.
As covered above, squatting shoes can greatly increase ankle mobility. By enabling the lifter to squat deeper, squat shoes with a higher heel can also help to increase hip mobility. This helps the lifter may keep a more upright posture and reach a deeper squat position without sacrificing form or technique.
You need to know what to look for to get the best squat shoe to meet your training needs. Here are the six key areas to focus on:
The stability, support, and durability required for heavy lifting all depend on high-quality construction. These are all influenced by the materials used in its upper, midsole, and outsole. Be on the lookout for premium materials like leather, synthetics, EVA foam, and TPU.
The shoe's stitching needs to be even, tight, and free of loose threads or frayed edges. Poorly stitched shoes may come apart or become unsteady when you're lifting maximum weights.
The shoe's heel should be solidly built, long-lasting, and have a cushioned sole. The heel shouldn't jiggle or move during lifting.
Features that support and stabilize the best weightlifting shoes include straps, laces, and higher heels. These components must be well-built and firmly fastened to the shoe.
Here are the most common materials used in making squat shoes:
Leather: Because of its strength, flexibility, and propensity to gradually take the shape of the foot, leather is a common material used in squat shoes. It also offers a comfortable, snug fit, stability, and support during heavy lifting.
Synthetic materials: The uppers of many squat shoes are made of synthetic materials like PVC or nylon mesh. These fabrics might be breathable and light, offering a cozy fit while also enabling flexibility and range of motion.
EVA Foam: EVA foam is a lightweight, long-lasting substance frequently used in squat shoe midsoles. It can absorb shock and offer padding without too much cushioning.
TPU: The outsoles of squat shoes frequently contain a robust and long-lasting thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) substance. It allows for flexibility and range of motion while also offering good stability and support during heavy lifting.
Neoprene: Neoprene is a synthetic rubber material frequently used for squat shoes' straps or laces. Although still allowing for flexibility and range of motion, it can offer a secure and pleasant fit.
A raised heel is the main distinguishing feature of a weightlifting shoe. When the heel is elevated, the knee is able to track forward over the toe. This provides greater quadriceps activation while also keeping the body in a more upright position. You are also able to go down into a deeper squat with a raised heel with less stress on the ankle joint.
Heel heights can range from 15 mm (0.6 inches) to 24.8 mm (1 inch), with the average being 19 mm (0.75 inches). Finding the ideal height for you is a matter of experimentation. Before buying a weightlifting shoe, you can do this by squatting with small weight plates under your heels at different heights.
A crucial component of a squat shoe's design is the material that the heel is made of. It has an impact on the shoe's stability, comfort, and performance during heavy lifting. Here's an overview are some of the most common materials for squat shoe heels:
Wood: Some contemporary squat shoes still feature wooden heels, which were frequently utilized in old weightlifting footwear. Hardwood heels are strong, offer a secure basis for lifting, and have shock-absorbing capabilities.
EVA foam: Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam is a regularly used lightweight and long-lasting substance in athletic shoes. EVA foam heels can cushion and absorb stress, which can lessen the strain that heavy lifting places on the feet and joints.
TPU: Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is a robust and long-lasting substance that is frequently used in sports gear and footwear. TPU heels provide flexibility and range of motion while also offering good stability and support during heavy lifting.
Leather: Heels made of leather are frequently found in weightlifting shoes, and they can offer a solid and long-lasting base for lifting. The fit and comfort of the shoe may be enhanced as leather heels gradually mold to the curve of the foot.
Artificial materials: The heel of some squat shoes may be made of artificial components like rubber or PVC. However, they might not offer the same level of stability and support as other materials. These materials can, though, offer good traction and longevity.
Squat shoes' straps and laces are crucial components of their design since they can impact the shoe's comfort, support, and stability during heavy lifting.
Some squat shoes contain one or more straps that wrap over the ankle or midfoot to provide more stability and support during heavy lifting. The quantity and arrangement of the straps can impact the shoe's fit, comfort, and level of support.
The straps' tensile strength and ability to offer stability and support can be influenced by the material they are made of. Some squat shoes have straps made of leather or synthetic materials, which can be sturdy and offer a tight fit. Others have straps made of elastic or neoprene, which, while more flexible and comfy, might not offer as much support.
A squat shoe's fastening options include laces, straps, or a combination of the two. During heavy lifting, a stable closure mechanism can help give stability and stop the foot from slipping inside the shoe.
A shoe's toe box is the area between the knuckles of the foot and the end of the toes. The toe box on weightlifting shoes is designed to be wider than other shoes. That's because getting a secure grip on the floor requires the toes to splay out.
If this natural toe spread is hampered by a tight toe box, the lifter will be denied maximum lifting advantage. Granted, it won't make a huge difference, but every bit of advantage matters when you're striving to move an extra couple of pounds.
Before you go shopping for your squat shoes, set a budget. Finding shoes that fit your budget and satisfy your wants and objectives is crucial.
Although more expensive, higher-quality squat shoes typically last longer and offer superior support and stability during heavy lifting. Finding shoes with a good combination of quality and pricing is crucial.
High-quality weightlifting shoe brands may be more expensive, but they also typically have a higher reputation and a longer track record of happy consumers.
Squat shoes may cost more than basic models if they have extra features like several straps, a higher heel, or a reinforced midsole. Take into account whether these features are required for your unique demands and ambitions.
If you intend to use your squat shoes frequently, spending more money on a higher-quality shoe that will hold up better over time and offer better support and stability may be worthwhile. A more affordable model can be adequate if you only want to use your squat shoes rarely.
Reviews from verified buyers of the squat shoe brand you're considering can be a big help when shopping for your next pair of specialty shoes. Look for reviews that speak to the shoe's support and stability. Evaluate whether users felt supported throughout the exercise and whether they found the shoe to be stable during heavy lifting.
Search, too, for reviews that discuss the shoe's durability. Check whether customers who left reviews thought the shoe held up over time and if they had any wear-and-tear problems.
When reading reviews, keep the brand's reputation in mind. Consider the overall satisfaction level of the brand and look for feedback from people who have used it.
Here's a popular thread on Reddit regarding squat shoes. The original poster asked: "What shoes do you guys use for squat, bench, and deadlift?"
Here were some of the top replies:
The best type of shoe for squats is a dedicated squatting or weightlifting shoe. These shoes have the following features:
If you're serious about weightlifting and will be doing squats regularly, you should consider investing in a pair of squat shoes. They can help you to stay more upright when squatting, putting less force on the lumbar spine. Squat shoes can also help you descend into a deeper squat and reduce stress on the ankle.
No, you should not wear weightlifting shoes for deadlifts. The elevated heel height of a weightlifting shoe will increase the range of motion to deadlift the weight. That extra inch needlessly makes your job harder. When dealing with max rep poundages, that can make a significant difference. As a result, you should deadlift in flat shoes with a minimum heel-to-toe drop.
Converse shoes (Chuck Taylors) are quite popular among weightlifters and are commonly worn while squatting. People like them because they have flat soles that provide a firm, stable base for lifting. They are also cheaper than squat shoes and can be worn for a wider variety of workout types in the gym.
However, Converse shoes do not have a raised heel, which is a key feature of squat shoes. As a result, Converse shoes provide limited ankle mobility and are harder to go deeper into the squat. They also don't have the same level of stability and support that you'd get with a dedicated squat shoe.
When wearing weightlifting shoes, they should be snug but not excessively tight. Both comfort and performance depend on how well the shoe fits. When trying squat shoes, you should check to see if your foot feels sturdy and secure inside the shoe. The foot shouldn't slide forward or backward, and there shouldn't be much movement inside the shoe.
Your foot should still be free to move inside the shoe, and your toes should be allowed to wiggle. The fit of squat shoes may also differ based on individual foot shape and size. Some lifters might prefer a tighter fit for increased support and stability.
Squat shoes can make you a better, safer squatter. If you are prone to rounding your back when squatting, have depth squatting problems, or have limited ankle mobility, squat shoes will be especially beneficial.
The best squat shoe on the current market is the Reebok Legacy Lifter III. This shoe features a high heel drop, a very stable outsole, and double straps for a secure lockdown.
As a final recap, here are all of our top picks for squat shoes right now:
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