Shoes and Belts- What, Why and When to Use them

By Scott Somerville

Before any lifting session of a class there is wild flurry at the bags area with people changing shoes and grabbing belts in anticipation for the lifts ahead-  but Whats the deal with lifting shoes and lifting belts? Why to people use them?  When Should I use them?

Lifting Shoes:

Before I explain why, try this:
1. Squat down as far as you can, arms out in front and pointing to the roof
2. Once you’re there lift your heels up off the ground
What happened? I’ll have a guess, you just got down about another 3 inches deeper!  This is the benefit of lifting shoes. Lifting shoes raise your heels and increase the range of your ankle however should only be utilised once you have a good range in your ankle in the first place.

Let me explain further, you should be able to sit into a squat wearing flat shoes and have your hips break the line of parallel by at least 6 inches.  This means you have a good range of motion in your ankles.  If you cant do this, then by wearing lifting shoes you are bypassing a problem area without addressing it.  This can lead to knee, hip and back issues down the line.  

If you have a good range of motion in your ankles and then wear lifting shoes, you will be able to get into a much better position at the bottom of the squat, BUT you must have a GOOD range to start with.


Often I will be asked, “I have bad ankle mobility how can I fix it? Stretching? Ankle mobility exercise? Are my hips are tight?” I then see that same person using lifting shoes to stablise themselves for all lifting, even when it’s light weights. This means they never
address their poor ankle or hip mobility problems.


Train to be better, train your problem areas everyday. This may mean you come into the box 15 mins before the WOD to do ankle or hip mobility because you have heavy squat cleans on that day. Plan for it! Don’t just rely on shoes. Ask yourself, “how am I getting better from relying on shoes?” Weight lifting shoes can be great if used in the right situation! When you’re going HEAVY
(at a minimum of over 95% of a 1RM) the shoes give you confidence, stability and mobility in your lifting- BUT you must have a GOOD range to start with.

Belts:

What about lifting belts? When should you use them? Let’s say you hit a new 1RM of 145kg back squat with your belt, retest this same lift in 12 weeks - the goal should be to hit 145kg with NO belt and that’s the new PR! It’s important to learn how to brace, using your abs, lats and positioning before you slap on a belt to do it for you. All lifting done at below 95% of a 1RM should be be used as training for all muscles involved. Use it to develop core strength, lower back strength, all round strength. Putting on a belt will not develop any of these areas, therefore, your not getting stronger because your lifts are dependant on a belt, not your core strength.

The moral of this story is that you should be able squat deep because you have a good range in your ankles without the need of shoes, and also be able to lift heavy while bracing your core without the need for a belt.  When those 2 areas have been earned, then you can look at using shoes and belts to go further in your strength. 

So Put the belt down! And take those shoes off!  Address your weakness and be strong and mobile independent of lifting aids.