Looking at getting a pair of weightlifting and/or CrossFit shoes but you aren’t sure where to start? You’re in luck, because below I will break down the different types and how each one can be used to your advantage. Then once you’ve made your decision I will link you directly to the perfect place to purchase a pair for yourself. But first things first…
What’s the difference?
There are three main types of shoes when it comes to weightlifting, CrossFit, and cross training shoes. The first is the purist’s weightlifting shoe, the second is the weightlifting/CrossFit hybrid, and the third is the Cross trainer Hybrid. While quite often some shoes blur the line between each category it’s best to consider what type of training you will primarily be doing before making a purchase. Let’s have a closer look at the three main categories.
1. Weightlifting shoes
These shoes are used when performing Olympic style lifts. If you clean, jerk, snatch, and squat regularly then these are a good option. Using these shoes will give you a distinct advantage with the hard soles and raised heels which will allow you to lift more weight. This is certainly a bonus for competitions. Unlike traditional training shoes or even the CrossFit shoes, the sole is for the most part rock solid allowing you to transfer as much energy as possible from the ground to the bar. More on that later.
2. Weightlifting/CrossFit Hybrid
These shoes offer a lot of the same features as the weightlifting shoes but have varying degrees of flexibility, cushion, and toe drop. They also tend to be a little more stylish with bright colors to suit the broader appeal of the fashion-forward CrossFitter. They allow just enough flexibility to help you power through the most insane WOD and still provide enough power transfer when 1RMing on Oly lifts. Although not as rigid as the weightlifting-specific shoe, they still provide the stiffness and power transfer demanded by a lot of athletes. Typically these are suitable for short runs and sprints.
3. Cross Trainers
The third style is the Cross Trainer. These are the shoes for those looking for more cushioning for longer runs but still, want some stiffness when performing Oly lifts (some people just want it all). If there was a Swiss Army shoe this might very well be the candidate. This offers all the advantages of a raised heel, solid power transfer, and enough comfort for longer runs. Of course, being the jack of all trades doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll ever Ace anything. Something to consider before purchasing.
Why you should consider expanding your shoe collection.
Mechanical advantage and power transfer
Next time you’re in the gym slide a couple of small weight plates under your heels and do a squat. If you’re using proper form, you’ll immediately feel the difference. Depth, power, and even confidence will increase with this little adjustment. Why? Simple, you gain a mechanical advantage. Among other things, you take the majority of the work off the weaker hamstrings and the mechanically disadvantaged glutes and place it on the power-house quadriceps.
To a lesser extent, that’s what you get with the raised heel of the weightlifting shoes. They will actually improve your form, allow you to lift more weight, and possibly result in less injury, but there is one word of caution. If you cannot perform a traditional bodyweight squat with heels flat on the ground you’ve got some work to do. Seriously, you shouldn’t even consider maxing out on anything until you improve your form and range of motion.
Additionally, the stiff soles of the weightlifting shoe also mean more power transfer from the ground to the bar. If you are to perform an Olympic lift while wearing running shoes, you would have a cushy barrier between you and the floor. When this cushy barrier compresses it translates into lost energy. That energy could’ve gone into moving more weight from point A to point B. Certainly, a disadvantage when it comes to competitive lifting.
It’s a give and take relationship
The Weightlifting/CrossFit hybrid allows for a lot of the same advantages you get with the weightlifting shoe but with varying degrees of cushion, flexibility, and drop. All of which are important when it comes to making a purchasing decision. It really comes down to what you are planning on doing with these shoes.
More cushioning will make for more comfortable runs and jumps, but your power transfer will suffer when it comes to Olympic style lifts. It will also affect ground-feel and could be detrimental to overall confidence. Ground feel is the degree of tactile sensation between your feet and the ground. Imagine standing barefoot as opposed to wearing bulky combat boots. This can give you an idea of the varying degrees of ground feel.
More flexibility will allow for a more minimalist barefoot feel but if your foot and leg muscles aren’t developed enough it could lead to injury. That being said if you are doing a lot of running you do want reasonable flexibility. Stiff soles make for poor running.
Drop is how much the toe box drops in relation to the heel. As stated above the more the drop the greater the advantage when weightlifting. On the flip side if you get too much drop it will put more strain on your knees and you will lose confidence when doing certain exercises. Especially where you need more ground feel or you are doing lateral movements. Imagine trying to work out in high heels (if you can). For most of you, it should seem a little awkward.
Assessing your strengths, weaknesses, and objectives is key to choosing the right shoe. For example, if you want to improve the strength in your glutes you’ll want to look for a shoe with less drop. With the heels at a more neutral position, you will be forced to engage your glutes more during squats and Olympic lifts. That being said if you are looking for a competition shoe you will want as much of an advantage as possible so the higher heel maybe just what you need.
If winning WODs is your goal and you are a weak runner but a strong Oly lifter you may want to consider getting a shoe with greater cushioning and flexibility. Unless you prefer the minimalist style then you are better off with less cushioning and support. Use caution though as this could result in injuries such as plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, or even a sprained ankle.
The all-around performer
The cross trainer is designed to take anything thrown at it. That being said it doesn’t mean it’s the right shoe for every occasion. If you’re not sure if today is the day you’ll either be running a 5k or doing sub max Oly lifts then you should probably reach for these. They typically come with a modest toe drop and cushioning for comfort and stability during MetCons and runs but take away from the mechanical advantage of the greater toe drop and power transfer. They also vary in degrees of cushioning but for the most part, have a good amount of flexibility in the toe box with a cupped heel for added support. A good compromise for Olympic lifting and running.
Choosing a pair for you
If you can afford it certainly go with more than one style. A running shoe for running, a CrossFit shoe for CrossFit, and a Weightlifting shoe for weightlifting. Those are really the only three shoes you need for training.
Me personally I’m not much of a runner. That’s why I stick with the weightlifting/CrossFit hybrid style simply because it suits me more. If you’re in the category where you don’t do Olympic lifts often and just need some trainers to workout in then the cross trainers are probably your best option.
(Check out my Running Shoes Review Here)
Let’s talk weightlifting shoes. If you’re eager to start upping the weight on the squat, clean, snatch, and jerk you need to look into grabbing a pair of these.
For those who are interested in doing a little more outside of Oly lifts your going to need something with a little more flexibility. These shoes are great all-around performers with the exception of long distance running. Don’t expect to feel comfortable running much more than a mile in them. They are typically limited with the amount of cushioning and flexibility.
Suited for those who love mobility and support and aren’t going to be doing much beyond good old fashioned weight lifting. That being said these vary greatly in terms of drop, flexibility, and cushioning. For the most part, they are not as nearly as supportive as the weightlifting shoe and some are about as close to the barefoot style as you can get. So choose wisely and assess what you’re going to be doing with these kicks before purchasing.
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