I wear different shoes depending on what exercise I’m doing. Here is a brief breakdown of what shoes I wear for which exercises and why.
Weightlifting shoes – for snatches, clean and jerks, squats and overhead work
I use Olympic weightlifting shoes for most exercises. It goes without saying that I use them for the snatch and clean and jerk and their variations, and I use them for squats and overhead work as well.
I prefer weightlifting shoes for anything overhead (not just the jerk, but also the push press and strict press). I use dumbbells or a barbell. Weightlifting shoes feel solid for pressing and help remind me to use my glutes. I like having my heels raised for overhead work, it seems to help me activate my glutes more. Whenever I press with a barefoot shoe, I don’t feel I am able to generate as much power and my body/core doesn’t feel as solid.
Although I don’t use weightlifting shoes for deadlifts, I would use them for clean and snatch deadlifts. A clean and snatch deadlift ought to be done very similarly to the first pull of the clean and the snatch, hence you want to be wearing the same footwear to get exactly the same feel, and drill in exactly the same movement pattern.
It’s important to use weightlifting shoes for squats as they will mean you are using the same movement pattern as you use for the snatch and clean — consistency is everything in Olympic weightlifting. Same for push pressing – you ought to train your dip and drive and catch executions using weightlifting shoes just as you do when jerking.
With regards to what weightlifting shoes I use and would recommend, I have had both the Adidas Adipower and the Nike Romaleos. These are the two most used type of shoe in the Olympic lifting community. The general feedback I can give is that if you have wide feet, then go for the Romaleos; if you have narrow feet, go for the Adipower shoes. The Adipower feel a lot slimmer and are less clunky than the Romaleos, in my opinion. I have narrow feet so the Adipower have been best for me. One thing that was a bit annoying about the Romaleos was that the shoelaces were incredibly, unnecessarily long!
Vibram Five Fingers/barefoot – for deadlifts and single-leg exercises
I only ever do single-leg exercises – such as lunges, Bulgarian Split Squats and step ups – in my Vibram Five Fingers (a ‘barefoot shoe’). I find these shoes most comfortable for these as they allow me to really feel/grip the floor or surface. The raised heels of weightlifting shoes just feel awkward to me whenever I lunge/split squat in them. Wearing weightlifting shoes for single-leg exercises tends to feel clunky and unnecessary.
Weightlifting shoes are designed to be very solid and they also restrict lateral (side) movement of the feet. I actually prefer to have more freedom of movement when I do exercises like lunges and split squats. It just feels better. I also don’t like the bending of the front of the shoes when my toes/forefoot bend during lunges and split squats – again, it feels clunky.
With deadlifts, again, I really want to grip the floor and focus on pushing against the floor. One of the training principles of deadlifts is that you ought to be as close to the floor as possible. The barefoot shoes are perfect for this. If you wore weightlifting shoes for deadlifts, they make you a bit higher, so you could see it as a deficit deadlift? which is obviously harder. Also, although they may look similar, the deadlift vs the clean/snatch deadlift are really very different movements, so whereas you may wish to use weightlifting shoes for the latter, they may not be right for the former.
I love to use Vibrams for stiff legged deadlifts and RDLs however, as I feel I get a far better stretch in my hamstrings than if I wear weightlifting shoes that have the high heel. In fact, I tend to tilt my feet the other way for these two exercises by putting weight plates under my forefeet so the front of the foot is raised instead!
I love to use Vibrams/barefoot shoes for pull ups and chin ups. I just feel far more ‘free’ and natural! (The exercise is also easier as you weigh a bit less than if you’re wearing weightlifting shoes too!)
The exact model of Vibrams I use and recommend are the KSO.
Generally, I think it’s about finding the footwear that feels most comfortable for you in each exercise. Exercises that directly correlate with the Olympic lifts, such as push presses and squats, should be done in weightlifting shoes… but all the other ‘assistance’ ‘bodybuilding’ type exercises such as lunges and single leg squats… even strict presses, you can probably get away using whatever footwear you want. There is no right or wrong – find the footwear most comfortable for you and that enables you to lift the most weight!
Weightlifting footwear recommendations:
Olympic weightlifting shoes: