History of Weightlifting Shoes

The history of weightlifting shoes is not a topic which sparks much attention, but it is not only a story about footwear. The way weightlifting shoes have evolved is aligned with the developments in the sport itself, revealing some striking details that have previously been overlooked. Yes, the design has come a long way, making fitness footwear a striking fashion accessory. However, the changes run much deeper than aesthetics and tell a tale about how lifters perfected the technique during the 21st century.

Weakest Link

As the name suggests, weightlifting shoes have followed the evolution of the weightlifting practice as such. Manufacturers responded to shifts in how people train, determined to offer the best support for their peak performance. Now, one of the most important aspects is moving underneath the barbell and positioning thigh, trunk, and shin before lifting. These “kinematic links” have been recognized as an integral part of testing strength by the International Weightlifting Federation in 1929.

Namely, during the press, the shoes do not really make a difference. Your shoulders and arms are put to good use, while the knee bend is minimal. But, when performing explosive lifts, they become an element that can improve or hinder your performance. You must get underneath and raise the bar from the ground. Moreover, one of the ways to take execution to the next level is to utilize the “split method”. It involves shifting one foot forward in a straight line and the other one rearward.

Stepping Up

However, the importance was not recognized right away, as lifters used mostly sneakers or boxing shoes between the 20s and 50s. The winds of change were felt in the 60s, with the emergence of “splitters”. Namely, the likes of John Davis, Rudolf Plukfelder, and Ireneuzs Palinski have demonstrated that it is possible to descend further beneath the barbell. This became known as the deep split position. As more and more lifters started adopting this technique, it became clear that ordinary sneakers cannot cut it.

In order to permit the back foot to flex, and the front ankle joint to bend, higher heels were required. But, the deep split position was not the final step in the evolution of weightlifting. Many claimed that it was the squat position that instigated a revolution. Pete and Jim George were the impellers of this trend, which soon left a profound effect on weightlifting footwear: the squat technique must be executed in such a manner that the heels remain on the floor, in a deep squat position.

Raising them would be not only embarrassing, but also something that could lead to a perilous fall. This is to say that high heels were even more important than before. They allowed weightlifters to do things like keep a vertical trunk position while bending the knees and moving the shins forward. At that point, nobody was likely dispute the important role shoes have to play. Lifters abandoned the experiments with boxing shoes and work boots. Many quality pieces of footwear have adorned the platforms in the following decades.

The Soviet model of leather soles and nailed heels was a game changer, a weapon of choice for many liters throughout the world. They dominated the competitions during the 80s and 90s, which can be also said for Soviet competitors. However, even before that, companies like York, Puma, and Tiger have entered the scene, determined to overshadow their eastern counterparts. Adidas has managed to stay ahead of the pack, serving as a favorite brand for western competitors. Soon, high tops were abandoned in favor of shoes that featured lower cuts that still reign supreme.

From The Bottom Up

It is surprising how many people overlook the key role of weightlifting shoes. After all, the good old shoes carry all the weight, enable lifters to perform better, and avoid injury. Indeed, a pair of them is an irreplaceable tool in the arsenal of any accomplished weightlifter. Today, just as before, weightlifting shoes are much more than just an asset which distinguishes you colorfully in the fitness arena. With the fierce competition in the footwear industry, lifters are blessed with much freedom of choice and a plethora of functional models.

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Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and has spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for a better life. He is an all-around fitness adviser and his words are strong as an Australian Bull. He blogs at Ripped.me

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