I am not a huge fan of equipment. After all, the human body is such an amazing collection of processes that adapt to almost any situation or challenge if given the time. As a result, footwear has never seemed vital to me, I would go barefoot all day if it were not so socially unacceptable to have hairy man feet all in plain, public sight. It’s so comfortable to be barefoot. But more striking, is that I have never seen extra equipment or apparel clearly proven to both prevent injury and improve performance. Yet while most of us perform resistance exercise, how many actually wear weightlifting shoes? No, I don’t mean “running shoes” or “trainers”. If you are unsure, then you don’t. And these stiffer shoes could save your joints, and boost your training numbers.
Why These Shoes Help
Weightlifting (WL) shoes provided an elevated solid heel, unlike a softer running shoe, and much stiffer lateral support, as you need your feet locked to the ground (GRF). In a January 2012 study, Dr Kimi Sato out of the Kinesiology Department at Arizona State University, examined the differences when performing a back squat wearing WL shoes. The authors found that wearing WL shoes reduced the overall trunk lean, which reduces the amount of shear stress in the lower back area. Shear stress are forces moving parallel across each other, like rubbing your hands together, except this time the stress is your vertebrae grinding.
The authors also found that the back squat with WL shoes increased the foot segment angle to cause greater muscle excitation in knee extensors (quadriceps). Because of the elevated heel, the quadriceps are more stimulated, giving you a bigger tear drop muscle down by your knee.
These findings are critical because one of the major goals of any squat variation is to increase LOAD, or the ability to stiffen and stop movement. The best muscle group to improve this GRF quality is the quadriceps, so wearing WL shoes are a great advantage for those already needing the stimulus of a squat. In short, it’s like giving you the superpower of more LOAD!
One of the major movement signaturesTM needing such LOAD, or quadriceps activation, is “loose,” which is shown in the curve to the right. Our athletes in this movement signatureTM have somehow missed, or avoided, the ability to stiffen up on both loading and landing. Many of you with knee pain will circumvent knee and ankle bending, preventing the use of your quadriceps to create LOAD.
So we have a “bowling alley” set up for those of our athletes who do not own WL shoes. We just cannot neglect the most clear equipment intervention that can both reduce injury and improve your performance. This clarity makes sense because the foot is the first segment interacting with the earth to create GRF.
Equipment, like training, is all about prioritization. So the question is do you FIRST choose the right movement/footwear or just do everything and anything?
Sato K, Fortenbaugh D, Hydock DS. Kinematic changes using weightlifting shoes on barbell back squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jan;26(1):28-33.