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 can have 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 just about all that really matters, but with the deadlift it’s different; you could be missing out on some serious kilos or pounds 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 Deadlifts, Reebok CrossFit Lite TRs, and the Chuck Taylor All Stars, but I will also tackle deadlifting in Olympic weightlifting shoes, Adidas Superstars, Nike Metcons, and even deadlift slippers. If I can keep the article length down I’ll also try to include wrestling shoes.
Update January 2018. I reviewed the new SABO GoodLift Powerlifting Shoes here. I really recommend checking out that review if those appeal to you more than the SABO Deadlifts.
What To Look For in Deadlift Shoes
So what exactly do we want in deadlift shoes? The following features are a great 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, which reduces stability.
- Thin soles are best for deadlifting. The higher we are off the platform 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 have on for an entire training session, 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 shoes to your feet. 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 available shoes discussed in this review, 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 deadlifting, but at the very least it’s a confirmation.
What makes SABO Deadlift Shoes so much better than anything else? Well 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 fine 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 (assuming you don’t prefer a heel for squats).
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 & 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 a gym doing your accessory work in comfort. That is, 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 colorways available; red, black, and blue. Like I’ve mentioned they are comfortable, affordable, and they do exactly what they are designed to do. It is also my understand that Max Barbell is the only place to order these in the United States (SABO is from Russia). Sizes are indeed Russian, 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 and flat 2-5 mm sole; incredibly secure fit due to metatarsal strap, good traction and side support for “spreading the floor”, ankle stability, high comfort & excellent breathability, just as useful for other lifts, attractive design, multiple colorways, 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, limited sizing (the very small and super large may not find a size.)
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 for 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 don’t take a whole lot of any abuse 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 time and time again when they fail. 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 kicks, which I suppose is great if you are a fan of skateboarding in the gym.
When it comes down to it Chuck Taylors aren’t the last shoes in the world that I’d suggest, but they definitely aren’t the first. You’re better off with a pair of CrossFit Lite TRs, or ideally the SABOs. Plus, and perhaps this is just me (probably 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 longer training sessions, versatile.
Cons: poor durability, not very supportive (mid and high tops add no value really), sole is both thick and compressible, weak 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 this shoe probably should have just been labeled and promoted as a powerlifting shoe rather than a CrossFit shoe, 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 Lite TR is a much better deadlifting shoe than the Chucks. Unlike the Chuck Taylors, 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, wide outsole (with flanges even) that makes for a much more stable foundation for driving your feet. The Reebok’s also have side support (the “stability zone”) that allows for you to spread the floor without having to worry about your foot busting through the side of the shoe after a couple months of use. If that’s not enough, the CrossFit Lite also has a thinner yet firmer sole and provides significantly more traction.
Really it is night and day between the Chucks and the Reebok Lite TRs. The only thing that the Chucks have going for them is that at retail they cost about half as much (about $45 vs $90). Update: the Lite TR was discontinued sadly.
Some people have a problem with how spacious the toe box is on the Lite TRs. That extra thickness makes for a stable foundation, no doubt, but narrow feet will move around inside the front of the shoe. Also the Lite TRs were blister-city for me 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 Lites over Chucks for powerlifting – no question about it. They are an infinitely better shoe, and they are a very close second to the SABO Deadlifts – or would be if you could still get them.
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: they are discontinued, 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 though, depending on your anatomy, it may be that lifting in any shoe other than flat shoes puts you personally at a disadvantage. To find out, all you can do is try.
Personally I don’t like to deadlift in Olympic 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 when I’m out of balance (obviously). 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 don’t suggest running out and buying a pair just to experiment with deadlifts. Good Oly shoes run about $200, and even the cheap 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 Olympic shoes versus flat shoes.
Pros: locked-in fit, flat soles, thin soles, metatarsal strap, raised heels, multiple brand and color options.
Cons: most expensive lifting shoes, poor traction for wide-stance lifts, uncomfortable off of the platform, 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 traction. It’s a very stable shoe. Metcons also fit very snugly around the foot thanks to Nike’s 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 while not actually deadlift shoes, they will still function moderately 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 actual deadlift shoes like the SABOs makes them less appealing ($130 vs $90). In other words, I don’t suggest running out and buying a pair of Metcons just for deadlifting if you don’t also WOD or have another use for them. Even running sometimes isn’t enough justification for owning Metcons considering that the one thing Metcons just totally suck for is running and jogging.
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, kind of 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, 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 that I have 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 at any given time are high-tops, which is a bummer because the high-top Supers are basically improved Chucks. 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, super versatile, nearly unlimited color choices.
Cons: soft insoles (compressible), no ankle support or straps, fairly thick soles, relatively expensive considering overall usefulness in the weight room.
Deadlift Slippers (Deadlift Socks)
I had never tried deadlift slippers prior to writing 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 will get to pulling barefoot without actually being barefoot. The benefit of slippers is supposed to be that you’re only about 1/8″ 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 mini rubber pad in multiple places, and my feet aren’t that 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 think 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. Having said that, 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 reasonable 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. You’re really not saving that much cash being that SABOs are not horrendously expensive, but to each his own. Also expect the Lite TR to be re-released in 2018 (hopefully.)