Are Wrestling Shoes Good For Lifting? (Yes, 5 Amazing Benefits)

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Written by Wasim Kagzi

Key Points

  • Wrestling shoes are flat. So, there is less distance the bar needs to travel, which may increase lifting efficiency and contribute towards a better max lift.
  • It is possible that the wrestling shoes could improve ankle movements.
  • Weightlifting shoes may be better for squatting more efficiently with a heavier load, but the wrestling shoe may build ‘squat down’ strength and ankle mobility. 

‘Gym goers’, powerlifters and bodybuilders are always looking for ways to improve muscle size and lifting strength.

Did you know that footwear is one of the most influential factors for many lifts?

For this reason, we have dedicated this whole article to wrestling shoes.

So, are wrestling shoes good for lifting? Yes, for many strength athletes and lifters, wrestling shoes are the preferred choice for footwear. For deadlifts, squats, and weightlifting, wrestling shoes offer better ankle support and grip to the floor. Wrestling shoes for lifting are also favored due to the low heel and lightweight material.

We start by going over what wrestling shoes are and their benefits for squatting and deadlifting. We then made a comparison between wrestling shoes and weightlifting shoes, to give you an idea of which one is better for squats and deadlifts. 

Towards the end of the article, we have highlighted some important FAQs. To finalize there is a take-home message, setting you up for the weights room. 

What are Wrestling Shoes?

Obviously enough, wrestling shoes are used specifically for… wrestling!

Jokes aside, wrestling shoes are often adopted in the gym and for compound movements.

We always see that big guy deadlifting in wrestling shoes. you’re probably familiar with this big guy, take a glance at his shoes.

The wrestling shoe is unique in design. The sole is very flat. They literally have a 0 mm heel lift. The rubber outsoles offer some protection from foreign objects and a reasonable amount of grip.

Wrestling shoes provide an advantage over lifting barefoot or in socks. Although, barefoot training isn’t the worst training strategy as the benefits are the same and free of charge. 

Benefits of Lifting in Wrestling Shoes

Wrestling shoes are essential for your participation in grappling sports, but what are the benefits of using wrestling shoes for lifting weights? Let’s find out!

  1. Reduced lifting distance
  2. Emphasize posterior chain muscles
  3. Improve ankle mobility for squats 
  4. Protection from Injury
  5. Offers traction and balance

1. Reduce Lifting Distance

If you recall any of our previous deadlift based articles, you should know that in order to begin lifting the bar, we must create some ground reaction force by pressing off the middle of the foot. 

Now think about if you were to perform this movement off a thick plank of wood. The distance between that plank of wood and the ground is the additional range that the bar would need to travel to complete the lift. 

Back to the wrestling shoes, as these are flat, there is less range that the bar needs to travel, which may modify lifting efficiency and contribute towards a better max lift. Over the long haul, this simple strategy may tune your motor units (muscle receptors) for the movement and build one heck of an impressive deadlift.  

Best Deadlift Shoes – Buying Guide and Reviews

2. Emphasize the Posterior Chain Muscles

Squatting in wrestling shoes may force more pressure on ankle dorsiflexion (heel press). This alteration in the chain can cause a more forward lean and a closed hip position while squatting down(4).

Man performing squat with wrestling shoes
Front squat with wrestling shoes

Subsequently, this may activate more hip flexors and glutes and strengthen the posterior chain. So in other words, wrestling shoes may build stronger muscles that help you drop into a squat.

3. Improve Ankle Mobility for Squats 

While performing the squat with wrestling shoes, the ankle is forced to stretch into dorsiflexion as mentioned.

Anecdotally we have an intuition that stretching may improve flexibility and mobility, so it is possible that the wrestling shoes could improve ankle movements. 

Blue wrestling shoes for squats

4. Protection from Injury

I see a lot of people prancing around the deadlift bar in their socks or barefoot. I don’t particularly have a problem with this, it offers similar lifting benefits to the wrestling shoes.

However, take into account that lifting without shoes has an element of injury risk via stepping on sharp foreign objects. No, I’m not making this up, I’ve seen it first hand in the weights room. There was a loaded deadlift bar, scattered chalk,   footprints of blood, and a dude getting taken to the ER by his gym buddies, need I say more? 

Hence why you might opt for wrestling shoes, that have outer soles that offer a layer of protection from foreign objects. 

5. Offers Traction and Balance

I can’t claim that I’ve seen anyone slip while deadlifting in socks or barefoot. But the outer soles of wrestling shoes are made from rubber, which offers some traction.

This element may help keep you stable while lifting. 

Are Wrestling Shoes Better than Weightlifting Shoes for Squats and Deadlifts?

The simple difference between both of these shoes is that the weightlifting shoe has a solid raised heel of around 2.5cm. The raised distance puts a lifter in a pre-plantarflexed position (heel lift). This modification can influence lifting performance massively, as highlighted below. 

Flat wrestling shoes for lifting

The Squat

When it comes to squats, the weightlifting shoe is better in terms of ankle stability and force transfer(4), from being able to drive from the balls of the feet. This foot position may make it easier to get into a lower range while keeping the torso upright and translating the knees forward. We could see more knee extension while squatting up.

Overall, this may target the quadriceps better and promote a more efficient squat. All is not lost, as the wrestling shoe relies more on the posterior chain and may strengthen the ‘squat down’ phase.

Moreover, as the wrestling shoe draws more ankle dorsiflexion to drop into range,  there may be an element of increasing ankle flexibility and mobility, unlike the weightlifting shoe. 

Contrarily, squatting in flat wrestling shoes may pose an injury risk to those lifters who don’t possess enough ankle flexibility. So to put it simply, the weightlifting shoe may be better for squatting more efficiently with a heavier load, but the wrestling shoe may build ‘squat down’ strength and ankle mobility.

The Deadlift

On the other hand, the heel lift of the weightlifting shoe could be a disadvantage for deadlift performance.

Why so? 

A lifter would be starting the deadlift from a position that is higher than the ground, thus creating more range that the bar needs to travel. With the additional work placed on the deadlift, it’s possible that lifters won’t be able to lift maximal loads, unlike wrestling shoes. 

However, similar to a deficit deadlift, the weightlifting shoes will force a slightly deeper starting position. This position requires more extension at the knees and hips, which may activate muscle fibers of the lower body. 

What is the Best Deadlift Back Angle for You?

The wrestling shoe may make certain parts of lifts more difficult. Movements such as explosively moving upwards to perform the jerk or finishing off the snatch. The better option here is the weightlifting shoe that offers better stability, trunk position and force transfer. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I squat and deadlift in running shoes?

The answer is a big NO! The running shoe has a spongy lifted heel, designed to absorb shock during the heel strikes of long distance jogging or running. If you bring these in the weight room (many do), force transfer for both the squat and deadlift will be hindered. Not to mention, it creates more range that the bar needs to travel during deadlifts.

Are wrestling shoes good for powerlifting?

Partly yes. When it comes to powerlifting there are 3 lifts that Competitors are judged on, which include the barbell squat, the barbell deadlift, and the barbell bench press. The wrestling shoes are good for deadlifts, but when it comes to squatting and benching, we need the heel lift to optimize stability and force transfer.

Final Thoughts

All in all, wrestling shoes have some decent benefits. They might help you lift more weights on the deadlift bar. This is the result of an effective force transfer and the shorter distance for the bar, unlike any other footwear with thicker soles.  

When it comes to squats, the wrestling shoes may call upon more posterior chain movement and improve flexibility and mobility. However, it may not be optimal for overall squat performance like shoes with a hard lifted heel. 

Last but not least, wrestling shoes also offer a layer of protection and traction from the rubber outer sole, unlike barefoot lifting. 

References

  1. Davies Diley (2021). ‘How To Squat: 4 Simple Steps’ Available at:https://youtube.com/shorts/gslEzVggur8?feature=share (Accessed: 8/12/2022)
  2. Muscle Steel (2019) Kai Greene Heavy Deadlift’ Available at:https://youtu.be/KW5r0Otxi5g (Accessed: 8/12/2022) 
  3. Sato, K., Forenbaugh, D., Haydock, D.S., et al. ‘Comparison of back squat kinematics between barefoot and shoe conditions’ International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. 2013; 8(3): 571–578

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Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've dedicated my life to learning and the pursuit of strength science. I hope to eventually compete one day and become the strongest version of myself.

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