It’s well-established that the squat is one of the most important exercises in the gym. Whether your goal is gaining strength, increasing athletic performance, muscle growth or a combination of those above, perfecting the squat and performing it safely, is a priority for many people in the gym.
With that said, one aspect of squatting that is often overlooked (particularly for beginners), is a suitable footwear choice, to maximise performance and ensure safety. Below I am going to highlight some pros and cons of squatting in some everyday choices of footwear worn in the gym, and what is the best option for the squat-rack.
While comfortable, fashionable and ideal for running, runners are an unfortunate choice of footwear for performing the squat, especially when you start lifting heavy weight. A ‘runner’ is a broad term when it comes to footwear, but what I am mostly referring to here is your standard shoe designed for jogging, cross-training and sport with cushioned soles and gels.
As the name suggests, runners are designed for running. One of the main functions of a runner is to absorb the impact and force created from your foot hitting the hard ground while running. This is counterproductive to the execution of an optimal squat, which requires you to generate as much force into the ground as you can, to propel the bar upwards. Runners absorb this force, as they are designed to do – which results in a lack of power being generated, which, in turn, decreases strength.
Runners also have cushioned soles which decrease stability during heavy squats and increase your risk of injury throughout a set (especially heavy squats). The cushioned nature of runners makes it harder to control your reps and compromises technique, increasing your risk of injury. They are like squatting on mattresses.
Runners, all in all, are a bad choice for the squat rack. Especially if you plan to lift heavy.
Now you know why runners are a bad choice for the squat rack, what are good options for the squat rack?
Ideally, you want something flat, durable and stable; that doesn’t impede ankle flexibility. Converse Chuck Taylor’s low-tops are probably the most common choice of shoe by power-lifters. They have a durable flat sole, sturdy canvas make and are very stable. High-tops are great too, but can impede ankle flexibility; to combat this, you can just leave the top laces loose. Chucks are also pretty cheap and last a long time.
Barefoot or socks are also reliable options, although most gyms don’t appreciate it, and you feel a little more comfortable with a bit of support. Some people wear Vibrams, which perfectly replicate what it is like to be barefoot while still offering some support and grip.
Shoe brands like Reebok make some great shoes designed for Cross Fit, which are a fantastic option as well, ticking all the boxes.
Olympic shoes are one of the best options, the question of whether they are suitable for you depends on a few factors.
Olympic shoes have an elevated heel and a solid flat base. This elevated heel allows greater ankle flexibility and greater depth while squatting, and allows you to shift your centre of gravity further back on your heels. They are extremely durable and stable – as they are designed to survive the rigours of Olympic weightlifting.
Olympic lifting shoes are only really useful if you squat with a higher bar position and Olympic stance (feet closer together and bar positioned higher up the back). If you squat with a wider powerlifting stance and low bar (a wide foot stance primarily used by powerlifters, with the bar, positioned lower on the back), you aren’t going to benefit from Olympic shoes as much, if at all. You may be better to opt for a flatter shoe when it comes to squatting.
Olympic shoes can be quite expensive, but last a long time and are a worthwhile investment if you are an Olympic stance squatter, with a higher bar positioning.
When squatting go for something flat, durable and sturdy. Stay well away from runners and anything with a soft cushioned sole that is going to be unstable and affect your technique, and compromise your safety.
If you are a lower bar squatter and use a wider stance, go for something without the elevated heel like Converse Chucks or something with similar qualities like a Cross Fit shoe.
If you squat high bar and Olympic stance, look at getting yourself a pair of Olympic shoes, especially if you take your squatting seriously.