Among the many forms of fitness equipment employed by modern day exercisers, the squat shoe is one of the most specialized - with its primary use being aiding in the performance of squat-type movements by way of its solid elevated heel.
However, many exercisers find themselves wondering if this particularly useful sports footwear can apply its benefits to other exercises of a similar nature to the squats, such as in the case of the ever-popular deadlift.
Unfortunately, it is largely inadvisable that one performs the deadlift with the use of squat shoes for a variety of different reasons related to the shape of the shoe and the biomechanical alterations it affects in the exerciser.
In short, no, you cannot reasonably deadlift in squat shoes.
Squat shoes are a type of athletic footwear that raise the exerciser’s heels approximately one inch off the ground so as to reduce the range of motion of the squat movement as well as aid in the adherence to proper form during the exercise.
While they are not strictly considered a necessity for performing weighted exercises or squats themselves, squat shoes are nevertheless an excellent tool for any serious weightlifter planning to squat significantly heavy amounts, as the squat shoes both aid in doing so and ensure that the exerciser has a reduced risk of injury.
The deadlift is a highly intense free weight compound resistance exercise that activates the majority of the muscle groups in the human body - wherein it is often performed for the purposes of strengthening and increasing the mass of the posterior chain and certain sections of the back.
In its conventional variation, it takes the form of the exerciser pulling a loaded barbell from the floor through the use of various biomechanics, with the primary kinetics therein being of the knee and hip joints.
In regards to most forms of traditional footwear not specifically meant to alter the exerciser’s biomechanics - no, footwear does not produce any significant difference in the performance of the deadlift.
However, this is not entirely the case with squat shoes, as the hard and elevated heel of squat shoes and their reduced traction beneath the sole can result in not only a more difficult deadlift, but also a more unsafe one as greater pressure is placed on certain joints of the body.
As was mentioned in the previous section of the article, squat shoes and deadlifts are incompatible due to a variety of reasons and issues directly caused by the usage of the squat shoes themselves - necessitating that the exerciser switch out their footwear or otherwise remove them prior to beginning a set of deadlifts.
The squat shoe utilizes an elevated and hardened heel in order to aid in the performance of the squat by reducing ankle mobility requirements and activating the quadriceps femoris muscle to a greater degree.
Ironically, it is this same mechanical benefit to the squat that acts as a detriment to the exerciser when they are choosing to perform the deadlift with squat shoes, as this will significantly increase the range of motion involved in the exercise.
While an increased range of motion is not always necessarily a negative thing, it significantly increases the difficulty and time under tension required to complete the repetition, thereby reducing the maximum amount of weight that is moved and altering the manner of muscular contraction induced by the exercise.
This will not only result in greater risk of injury in certain stabilizer muscle groups, but also less repetitions per set unless adjusted for by lowering the amount of weight used - apart from the fact that it may place the exerciser in a position that breaks proper form adherence.
In addition to alterations made in the mechanics of the exercise itself, performing the deadlift while wearing squat shoes can also alter the biomechanics of the exerciser, especially in relation to the joints of their body and the stability therein.
As the elevated heel of the squat shoe raises the ankles of the floor and shapes the legs to a more forward angle, a greater amount of the resistance and loading of the deadlift (of which there is quite a bit) is placed on the patella and its surrounding tissues, increasing the risk of developing an acute or chronic injury.
This is concerning in comparison to the ordinary joint stress distribution of the deadlift without an elevated heel as would be the case in using squat shoes, as both the lower back, hips and knees evenly bear the resistance and force of the exercise instead of primarily the knee joints instead.
Just as deadlifting in squat shoes can alter the manner in which force, resistance and loading are distributed throughout the connective tissues of the exerciser - so too is the distribution of muscular activation throughout the exercise.
As more force is shifted away from the exerciser’s body, the quadriceps femoris will be recruited to a greater extent, thereby drawing training stimulus and thus induced hypertrophy from the posterior chain muscle groups and other muscles of the back.
While this is also not necessarily a negative thing, it defeats the purpose of the conventional deadlift, which is primarily performed in order to improve the size and strength of such muscle groups like the hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae - with other exercises being more suitable for training the quadriceps instead.
Such a change in muscle group loading may also result in chronic overuse injuries over time, such as tendonitis or excessive muscular fatigue if performed for a particularly long period.
Unfortunately, even the majority of deadlift variations such as the sumo deadlift or Romanian deadlift are incompatible with squat shoes. This is due to the similarity between all variations of the deadlift exercise, wherein the exerciser pulls a weight from below the knees and thus must have their heels as close to the floor as possible.
The only instance where using squat shoes during the performance of a deadlift variation is arguably of little effect is in the performance of rack pulls - as the barbell is not lowered to the floor as the legs are not necessarily contracted in a significant range of motion, the usage of squat shoes should cause no changes in the exercise.
As we have already established throughout this article that performing the deadlift while wearing squat shoes is a poor and inadvisable choice, one may be wondering what sort of footwear they should indeed be using instead throughout their sets of the deadlift.
From highly specialized athletic footwear specifically meant for the deadlift to simple every-day footwear that the exerciser likely already has at home, finding suitable footwear for the deadlift should be of little difficulty at all.
Practically the perfect footwear for deadlift, the aptly named deadlift shoes are a type of athletic shoe specifically built with the performance of the deadlift as its primary goal - with a flat heel that offers little to no elevation and a sole made of material that produces great traction upon the floor, deadlift shoes are the best possible choice in terms of footwear suitable for usage with the deadlift.
Though deadlift shoes may be inaccessible to many exercisers either due to pricing limitations or that they are simply an unjustified purchase, other types of footwear coincidentally similar to deadlift shoes may also be used instead.
Such commonly seen non-athletic shoes like flat-soled sneakers, Converse casual shoes, and minimalist running shoes with little to no elevation are all more available and affordable than deadlift shoes while still retaining many of their functions and benefits.
Perhaps the most affordable and convenient option of all, performing deadlifts without the use of any sort of footwear has gained popularity among certain groups of weightlifters due to the fact that it allows the exerciser to conform best to their own unique biomechanics and body proportions.
However, several drawbacks are related to this particular method - as well as the fact that it is unsanitary and likely to be against the rules of public gyms.
With such risks and issues as the exerciser crushing their feet beneath the weights, reduced traction with the floor, lack of ankle support and lack of support for individuals with certain foot-related anatomical problems; going barefoot while performing the deadlift is a choice that must be made on a case by case basis.
To conclude the article, we must make note of the fact that while performing deadlifts in squat shoes is not an advisable choice, it does not mean that the exerciser should avoid such kinds of exercise entirely if they are not wearing appropriate footwear - as substituting the deadlift with an alternative, removing their shoes or switching to better shoes is more than sufficient to fix the issue.
And while one’s deadlift performance and development would no doubt be improved through the usage of the correct type of shoe, it is not a necessity, and many high level powerlifters and bodybuilders are known for performing deadlifts without the usage of deadlift shoes or similar specialized equipment.
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2. Hammer, Mark & Meir, Rudi & Whitting, John & Crowley-McHattan, Zachary. (2018). Shod versus barefoot effects on force and power development during a conventional deadlift. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 32. 1525-1530. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002246.
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