Should I Wear Lifting Shoes For Deadlifts Or Go Barefoot?

As a seasoned gym-goer, I’m sure you’ve noticed people deadlifting barefoot or just in their socks.

It’s likely you would have noticed others deadlifting in flat shoes, such as Chuck Taylor Converse. Maybe some, slightly ill-informed people, have been deadlifting in raised heel shoes too.

So, what’s the best option? Should you wear weightlifting shoes to deadlift or go barefoot?

My personal preference is to deadlift just in socks, but in a powerlifting competition this wouldn’t be allowed.

Deadlifting barefoot has many advantages including optimising force transfer, activating posterior chain muscles and smaller stabilising muscle groups, as well as improving balance. Deadlifting without any shoes on gives you a much better ‘feel’ for the lift.

There are a few more things to deadlifting barefoot compared with shoes on, so let’s take a deeper look and work out what’s best for you. 

Deadlifting With Weightlifting Shoes vs Barefoot

Barefoot lifting, or just with socks on, is popular with lifters and regular gym enthusiasts.

However, there are a couple of concerns to this training method. Some people think there’s an issue with hygiene as other gym-goers have to train in the same area and on the same spot. Some gyms may even ban training completely barefoot.

So what’s the best option when it comes to deadlifting? Let’s take a look at some key areas and compare barefoot with weightlifting shoes.

deadlifting in socks

Shoes vs barefoot – range of movement

The obvious difference between wearing shoes and going barefoot is the height created.

Typically, most training shoes come with a 0.5 to 2 inch thick sole. Weightlifting shoes have a raised heel, which is beneficial to your form when squatting, however, this isn’t something you particularly want when deadlifting. This elevated heel increases your overall height – and the total distance you have to move the weight!

Surely 2 inches won’t make much of a difference? Two inches can be an awful long way when you’re lifting hundreds of kilos off the floor.

Without wearing shoes that add extra inches, your range of movement will decrease. It’s just you and the floor. This is great for getting a good, clean lift, whilst using your energy and power in the right way.

Creating an effective lift is all about force and distance, as you’ll find out in the section below. Applying the same force to a shorter distance, reduces your workload and increases efficiency. Add up this energy saved over multiple reps and sets, and you’ll be working out in a much more effective way.

Force transfer comparison of barefoot deadlifting vs shoes on

If you’re wanting to lift heavy weights for multiple reps, even relative to your strength and ability, you must be conscious of these seemingly minor details such as heel height in impacting your overall deadlifting performance. 

If you lift with running shoes on with an air or gel-based sole, there’s a good chance that you won’t be transferring force effectively. This is because running shoes have been designed to be spongy and absorb impact. They want to dissipate the force when a runner hits the ground rather than conserve it. This is not something you want when lifting heavy weights.

When lifting you want to be pushing against a hard surface to transfer force across in the most effective manner. This is why most people opt for Converse if they do wear a shoe as these have a super flat sole and a pretty hard surface.

Going one better on the force transfer route is to deadlift without any shoes on. Deadlifting barefoot cancels out any chances of loss of force transfer that might happen when you deadlift with your gym shoes on.

deadlifting barefoot with no shoes on

How is balance affected during the deadlift? 

Balance is essential for almost all lifts. Without it, you risk losing your form and welcoming injuries.

Shoes such as weightlifting shoes can help with balance in some ways. For example when you’re squatting, the high sides of lifting shoes increases ankle stability which is a good thing. The heel elevation also helps to shift your balance to the front of your body which activates muscles in a different way.

This is great if you want your quads to work harder to develop big legs, but the deadlift is a completely different move with a different muscle focus. The deadlift is primarily a move of the posterior chain rather than using the muscles at the front of your body.

In terms of balance, deadlifting barefoot allows your toes to fully spread and your feet to be at one with the floor if you will. How’s your balance when you’re stood on your tip toes? Not too good is it? Now plant your firmly, spread your toes and get good contact and multiple touch points with the floor. How’s your balance now?

This is great for balance and for transferring all that power during the initial pull phase in getting the weight off the floor.

Best footwear alternatives when deadlifting

It’s likely that you’re going to have to buy some form of footwear for deadlift day.

This is certainly true if you have ambitions to one day enter a powerlifting competition and may also be a requirement of your gym.

The following are the best deadlift footwear options you can choose from: 

  • Chuck Taylor Converse 
  • Deadlift shoes 
  • Deadlifting socks or slippers
  • Wrestling shoes 

Wrapping up on deadlift shoes vs no shoes

Deadlifting barefoot or just in socks is the ideal way. Pulling a dead without shoes on boosts your balance, helps you to maintain a better movement pattern, whilst transferring power in the most effective way.

Hey, even Arnold used to deadlift barefoot!

If you do need to wear a shoes for deadlift then go for one with a flat, hard sole. Chuck Taylor Converse are the obvious choice here and it’s for this reason why some of the best deadlifters who ever lived, such as Eddie Hall, used Converse. We wouldn’t recommend wearing any trainers with an elevated sole to deadlift.

As mentioned, my preference is to deadlift in pulled up socks, which is almost barefoot. The high socks also stop the bar from taking the skin off your shins!

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