What shoes do you deadlift in? Do you have actual deadlift shoes, or do you pull in regular sneakers? Perhaps you use your Oly shoes, or maybe you just pull barefoot. Does it even matter?
It does matter! You should be just as concerned with what shoes that you’re wearing when deadlifting as you are when you snatch, jog, hike, bowl, whatever. Footwear has a big impact on performance and comfort no matter what activity that you’re engaged in, and this includes weight training. Sure there are some lifts where comfort is about all that really matters, but with the deadlift it’s different. You could be missing out on some serious weight simply because you’re wearing the wrong footwear.
In this review article I’m going to discuss a number of shoes that work well for deadlifting. I will focus primarily on the SABO Deadlift, Reebok CrossFit Lite TR, and Chuck Taylor All Stars, but I will also tackle deadlifting in Olympic weightlifting shoes, Nike Metcons, Adidas Superstars, and even deadlift slippers. If I can keep the article length down I’ll also include wrestling shoes.
What To Look For in Deadlift Shoes
So what exactly do we want in deadlift shoes? The following features are a good place to start:
- We want the sole to be flat so that there is a nice, stable connection with the floor. Many sneakers and athletic shoes have a rounding upwards of the toe and/or the heel, and this reduces stability.
- Thin soles are best for deadlifts. The higher we are off the ground, the less stable we tend to be, and the further we have to pull the bar to lock out.
- The insole should offer good arch support and enough comfort to wear for an entire workout, while also being firm enough to not compress and deform under heavy loads.
- We want the tread pattern and outsole material to offer good traction. This is especially true for wide-stance lifts like the sumo deadlift.
- Most of the best shoes for weight training (both Olympic and powerlifting) have at least one lateral (metatarsal) strap in addition to the laces to further secure the shoe to the foot. Anybody who owns a pair of good Oly shoes knows how secure the lateral straps make the shoe, and they aren’t even high tops.
Just FYI, if your current deadlifting shoe of choice isn’t included in this article but it has the majority of the features from the above list, you’re probably in pretty good shape.
The Best – SABO Deadlift Shoes
Of all the shoes discussed on this page, the SABO Deadlifts are going to be the best overall shoe for deadlifting and powerlifting in general. This probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise being that they were developed specifically for this reason, but at least it’s a confirmation.
What makes SABO Deadlift Shoes so much better than anything else? They just have everything that a deadlift shoe should have, including:
- Super thin 2-5 mm sole that puts you about as close to the ground as possible while still wearing shoes. Again, a thinner shoe equates to less pulling distance.
- SABO soles are completely flat; there is no rise in the toe or heel (image below).
- SABOs have two lateral straps and a ton of lace holes that allow for tuning of the tightness around the foot, ankle and heel.
- The fact that they are high tops contributes to overall stability of the foot and ankle.
- SABOs have side support in the outsole that allow you to spread the floor without worry of the shoe rolling, or busting at the seams.
- The soles are non-compressible; they’re firm, but comfortable.
- SABOs are just as solid for squats as they are for deadlifts, and they are comfortable enough to wear for an entire work-out.
SABOs sell for $90 a pair, and for a specialty shoe that’s pretty reasonable. If you disagree, consider this: Romaleos and AdiPowers MSRP for about $200 a pair. While you could wear either of these Oly shoes off of the platform, would you? Probably not, so $200 for a pair of shoes you can do a couple lifts in doesn’t seem ideal, yet Romaleos and AdiPowers sell very well simply because they are the best equipment for a particular job.
SABOs may not be too useful for snatching, but you can deadlift, squat, and move around the gym doing your accessory work in total comfort. In other words, for $90 you get a specialized shoe for powerlifting; the best equipment for this job; and you don’t have to take them off for “the rest of your workout.”
Currently there are three color choices available; red, black, and blue. Like I’ve mentioned, they are comfortable, affordable, and they do exactly what they are designed to do. To my knowledge, Max Barbell is the only place to order these in the United States (SABOs are from Russia). Sizes are European, but there is a very simple conversion chart on the product page. I managed to figure it out and get the right size ordered, so I’m sure you can too. I highly recommend these shoes if you can afford the $90, as these are the best.
Pros: super thin 2-5mm, flat sole; incredibly secure fit due to metatarsal strap, good traction and side support for “spreading the floor”, ankle stability, high comfort and breathability, just as useful for squats, attractive design with multiple color options, great price.
Cons: The plastic on the laces wasn’t very stiff, so lacing through the first couple holes that don’t have eyelets was a hassle.
Most Popular – Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars
Chuck Taylor All Stars are a very common strength training shoe, and while they’re not my favorite, I will concede that they are a decent shoe for beginners and those on a budget. Chucks are affordable (about $45), comfortable, lace up tightly and conform to the foot well, and they are flat enough. They have relatively good grip on rubber gym flooring (as do most shoes), but because of their excessive sole height and awkward tread pattern, stability and traction isn’t amazing.
Chucks aren’t ideal for sumo pulls or other heavy, wide-stance lifts due to the flimsiness of the canvas. Spreading the floor week after week will eventually lead to the side of the shoe blowing out. Matter of fact, Chucks simply do not take a whole lot of abuse in any form before starting to come apart; I dare say even when worn casually outside of the gym.
The argument for buying such a mediocre shoe seems to simply be because Chucks are so cheap that most people can afford to replace them over and over as they fall apart. This argument might make sense if Chucks performed better, or if good shoes were actually cost prohibitive, but neither are accurate. You can buy less than two pairs of Chucks for the cost of one good pair of powerlifting shoes. The only other advantage I can think of besides cost is that Chucks are more versatile than powerlifting shoes, which I suppose is great if you skateboard to the gym.
When it comes down to it Chuck Taylors aren’t the last shoes in the world that I’d recommend, but they definitely aren’t the first. You’re better off with a pair of CrossFit Lite TRs, or ideally the SABOs. Plus, and maybe this is just me, but I find All Stars to be about the ugliest shoes, and that goes double for the high-tops.
Pros: affordable, relatively flat sole, tight fitting, good comfort for extended training sessions.
Cons: poor durability, not very supportive (mid and high tops add no value really), sole is both thick and compressible, meh traction (no “spreading the floor”), lacks style.
The Close Second – Reebok CrossFit Lite TR
Of the entire Reebok CrossFit and lifting shoe line-up, the CrossFit Lite TR is the closest in design to a true powerlifting shoe. Matter of fact, these shoes probably should have just been labeled and promoted as powerlifting shoes rather than CrossFit shoes, as they share far more traits with the SABOs or Chucks than they do with Nanos or Metcons.
I can confidently tell you that the CrossFit Lite TR is a much better deadlifting shoe than Chuck Taylors. Unlike the Chucks, the Reebok’s are leather *, and they feel far more substantial and supportive than the light canvas Chucks. The Reebok’s also have a super flat and wide outsole (with flanges even) that makes for a much, much more stable foundation for driving your feet. The Reebok’s also have side support (the “stability zone”) that allows you to spread the floor without having to worry about your foot busting through the side of the shoe after a few months of use. If that’s not enough, the CrossFit Lite TR also has a thinner yet firmer sole and provides significantly more traction.
It’s really night and day between the Chucks and the Reebok Lite TRs. The only thing that the Chucks have going for them is that at full retail they cost about half as much (around $45 versus $90). Still, Reebok has version 2.0 out now so you may be able to find some deals on the original LTRs.
One of the problems I have with the Reebok Lite TR is that toe box is just too spacious. The extra thickness makes for a stable foundation, no doubt, but it leaves too much room for anything but the widest of feet to move around inside the shoe. Also the Lite TRs were blister-city as they were getting broken in – very uncomfortable for a few weeks.
No major complaints though; overall a great shoe for deadlifts. I’d definitely wear the Reebok’s over Chuck’s for powerlifting – no question about it. They are an infinitely better shoe, and they are a very close second to the SABO Deadlifts (though they are still a second.)
Pros: affordable on clearance (not even unreasonable at full price), flat and thin sole, side and ankle support (sumo friendly), secure fit despite no lateral straps, decent traction.
Cons: toe of shoe is bulky and wide, sole is more compressible than SABOs, tread pattern picks up all kinds of debris, not very comfortable when new.
Olympic Weightlifting Shoes (Romaleos, AdiPower, etc.)
Some people prefer to deadlift in Oly shoes, and there is no shortage of discussion about the merits of doing so. Oly shoes actually have a lot going for them in terms of using them for deadlifts, as they have the majority of the features that you’d want in deadlift shoes – super flat, thin soles; metatarsal strap for a tight, secure fit; no sole compression; and so on. The obvious difference is that the heels of Oly shoes are raised.
One of the arguments against deadlifting in weightlifting shoes is that by raising the heel, you are effectively increasing the distance that you have to pull the bar (deadlifting from a deficit.) This doesn’t work out like it sounds though – raising your heel ¾” doesn’t equate to you having to pull the bar an additional ¾”. Plus, the earlier quad activation from lifting the heels up may more than make up for any difference in range of motion. Then again, depending on your anatomy, it may be that lifting in any shoe other than a flat shoe puts you personally at a disadvantage. To find out, all you can do is try.
Personally I do not like to deadlift in Oly shoes. I feel like the raised heel puts me too far forward for my height (as in a slight forward lean), and I don’t feel as strong or confident when I’m out of balance. This is just my experience, and again all you can do is try for yourself.
If you don’t already own Olympic WL shoes because you don’t train the Olympic lifts as part of your programming, I certainly don’t suggest running out and buying a pair just to experiment with deadlifts. Good Oly shoes run about $200, and even the budget Oly shoes sell for more than Chucks, LTRs, wresting shoes, and even the SABOs.
Below is a very thorough and technical video on the subject of deadlifting in Oly shoes versus flat shoes.
Pros: locked-in fit, flat soles, thin soles, metatarsal strap, raised heels, multiple brand & color options.
Cons: most expensive lifting shoes, poor traction for wide-stance lifts, uncomfortable to walk around in, not everyone will benefit from them outside of Oly lifts.
Functional Trainers – Nike Metcon 2
Nike Metcons were developed with CrossFit and functional fitness in mind, not powerlifting. Despite this fact, the Metcons still turned out to be a half decent shoe for heavy squats and deadlifts, as they have a lot of “powerlifting-friendly” features.
For starters, the bottom of the shoe is ultra flat with a slight heel-to-toe drop (about 4 mm), and the rubber outsole material provides excellent grip. It’s a very stable shoe. Metcons also fit very snugly around the foot thanks to the fancy flywire technology. Even without a metatarsal strap it’s easy to lock these shoes down and eliminate foot movement inside the shoe. Finally, the firm foam insoles offer really good arch support which contributes greatly to their high level of comfort and stability. So yeah, while not actually deadlift shoes, they still function very well for deadlifts.
One of the drawbacks of deadlifting in Metcons is the height of the shoe. It’s hard to tell in pictures, but the Metcon is a pretty big shoe; your foot is actually quite high off the ground (look at the size of the insole in the image below). Since there is no side or ankle support, this height makes the Metcon slightly less stable and less than ideal for wide-stance lifts. I don’t think this changes conventional pulls much (it doesn’t for me), but unlike the high heel in Oly shoes, you literally are deficit pulling while wearing Metcons.
While the issues with deadlifting in Metcons are minimal, the high price compared to an actual deadlift shoe like the SABO makes them less appealing ($130 vs $90). In other words, I don’t suggest running out and buying a pair of Metcons for deadlifting if you don’t also WOD or have another use for them. Even running or jogging as part of your training isn’t enough justification for owning Metcons considering that the one thing Metcons just totally suck for is running. Still, if you’re a CrossFitter and strength trainer and you’re looking for a shoe to cover both of those activities, the Nike Metcon 2 may be a better option than the Lite TR.
Pros: good arch support, raised heels, super flat & wide soles, firm but comfortable insoles, solid tight fit, good traction, versatile, lots of color choices.
Cons: fairly expensive, zero ankle support (no support straps), thick soles = tall shoe, irrelevant… but they suck for running.
Sneakers – Adidas Super Stars
For all-purpose training shoes, Superstars are my personal version of Chuck Taylors. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason behind this beyond the fact that I’m a huge Adidas fan (especially the classic shell toes), but as I’ve thought about it it does make sense that they would work well for training – including deadlifting.
Adidas Superstars are a comfortable, basic sneaker. They fit snug and comfortably, breathe well, offer good support, and the bottom of the shoe is completely flat. Whether actually designed well or just a fluke, they also stay together rather well. Of all the Superstars I’ve gone through in my life, I’ve never actually destroyed a pair. In the “for what it’s worth” department, Superstars are also a bad ass looking shoe available in an unlimited number of colors.
Only a handful of Superstars that are available for sale at any given time are high-tops, which is a bummer because the high-top Supers are basically Chucks x 1000. In any case, I’m not suggesting you buy an $80+ pair of Adidas shell toes over something like the SABOs, but you may have a pair (or a similar sneaker) lying around that might be worth strapping on for a set of deads. You never know, they may fit the bill for you, and you’d have no need to go out and spend more money on new shoes.
Pros: good arch support, flat & wide soles, comfortable, solid tight fit, decent traction, versatile, unlimited color choices.
Cons: soft insoles (compressible), no ankle support or straps, thick soles, relatively expensive considering overall usefulness in the weight room.
Deadlift Slippers (Deadlift Socks)
I had never tried deadlift slippers prior to starting this article. I wanted to include them though, so I broke down ordered a pair.
So they say that deadlift slippers are the closest that you’ll get to pulling barefoot without actually being barefoot. The benefit of slippers is supposed to be that you’re only about 1/8″ of an inch from the ground rather than a whopping 1/4″ or more if you were wearing good shoes. The problem that I personally had is that I never felt stable in them.
I wear a size 12 shoe, so I bought the largest size (which included size 12), but they still felt too small. They fit fine, but my feet felt as though they were hanging off the rubber pad in multiple places, and my feet aren’t wide. So for me, any benefit of being close to the ground was lost to the effort of trying to stay centered and stable on that small, foot-shaped, rubber pad. I didn’t care for them.
I want to believe that I gave them a pretty fair shake. I tried them for a ton of sets; both warm-up and working sets; but yeah, at no point did I even remotely enjoy using them. Matter of fact I disliked them so much that I never bothered to try them for a second workout. That said, reviews for these deadlift slippers are really good, so my experience is obviously not indicative of everyone else’s. You may like these, but even if you don’t, you’re only out $12.50.
Pros: affordable, rubber pad has great grip, very thin (4 mm).
Cons: no foot, ankle, or heel support whatsoever, no stability, lateral stress can cause the slippers to roll, rubber may stick to floor but there is nothing to keep your feet on the pad, cheap quality.
Wresting Shoes (ASICS Matflex)
This article has gotten much longer than I expected it to, so I will just defer to KoreanIrons review for now. He refers to a previous version of the Matflex, but you’ll get the idea. FYI: If you buy wrestling shoes, pay close attention to sizing feedback as they tend to run small.
Deadlifting Shoes – Conclusion
SABO Deadlift Shoes are really the way to go. They just have everything that you’d want for deadlifts, and unless you squat in Oly shoes, the SABO will probably end up being your go-to squat shoe as well. They’re just a great shoe at a great price, and they are my top recommendation.
If all you care about is spending as little cash as possible, go with the Chuck Taylors, a pair of wrestling shoes, or look for the original Reebok CrossFit Lite TRs to go on sale. You’re really not saving that much cash being that SABOs are not horrendously expensive, but to each his own.