Since I started my cut about a year ago and dropping my body fat percentage to a definitely commendable level, I have been guilty of spending at least a couple hundred pounds on gym attire and other tight-fitting apparel for everyday use. Why not, right? Might as well show off all the hard work that I have put so far into this bodybuilding project! But until now, I had paid little attention to what could be considered one of the most important things you wear at the gym: your shoes. In this post, I shall hopefully help you identify what to look for when buying a gym shoe, why it’s important and give you a few recommendations of my own.
1. A hard sole
When trying to perform any of the big four lifts – squat, bench, overhead press and deadlift) – one of the big cues to follow is to drive with your legs. Think of your body as a tree and your legs as the roots; without a strong base, no matter how strong/big the rest of your body is, your weight-lifting performance will suffer.
If you look at the descriptions for a number of running shoes, most of them pride themselves upon having a cushioned sole that provides shock absorption. Whilst this may be beneficial for running, it has a rather detrimental effect when weight-lifting. With a cushioned/padded shoe, like the pair of Nike Air’s above, the sole can be compressed, which disperses or “dampens” the force that you applied directly to the ground, thus decreasing your ability to drive upwards when squatting. Long story short, look for a pair of shoes with a relatively non-compressible sole.
2. Elevated heel
This is probably the most noticeable thing about weightlifting shoes and what makes it stand out when compared to their flat-soled counterparts. The point of an elevated heel is to improve your ankle mobility, which is particularly important when squatting. Now in the interest of maintaining your interest and not boring you with the particulars of dorsiflexion etc., poor ankle mobility makes you more prone to injury, changes the way in which you perform a squat (by limiting your range of motion) and ultimately reduces the amount you’re able to lift.
Poor ankle mobility is not all too uncommon, mostly due to tight calves from our calves working hard in a limited range of motion (walking around, for example).
With that being said, there are other (more cost-effective) alternative ways to help solve your ankle mobility issues such as foam rolling your calves (something I highly recommend), using bands to mobilise the joint and squatting with small (2.5kg) plates under the heel of your shoes. All this will help improve your technique and maintain an upright torso, which is key when performing the lift, for at least half the price!
3. A tight fit
Like with a lot of recent “fashion” trends lately, it confuses me seeing guys (and girls) at the gym working out with loose laces or shoes way too big for them. Forget all that. If you look at the comments of most weightlifting shoes, reviewers often recommend buying a size lower than normal. And for good reason too; having a tighter fit limits intra-shoe movement, thus creating a more stable base a preventing your ankles from collapsing when squatting.
For those of you serious about weight-lifting AND able afford it, olympic-lifting/weight-lifting shoes such as the Adidas Adipowers and Nike Romaleos are a great buy! However, for others looking for a cheaper alternative, Vans, Chuck Taylors and the relatively new Reebok Crossfits (do not worry they are great for people outside of crossfit), amongst many others, are adequate.
With all this being said, no matter how good your shoes are, your technique, stretching and foam rolling routines are at least 10x more important.
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