Squat shoes are as in fashion at the moment as Pokemon Go, snapback hats and vajazzles.
i.e. – everyone fucking wants them.
But where do they come from?
Who on earth thought of putting a wedge under your heel to help add pounds to the bar and make your legs bigger and stronger?
In today’s post, Mathews McGarry gives us the lowdown.
No matter if you’re a bodybuilder, an Olympic lifter, or simply practice CrossFit, chances are you’ve at least thought about purchasing weightlifting shoes.
Today, like most gym wear, lifting shoes have become a fashion accessory for most gym goers. It is a great way of adding a few more pounds to your squats and distinguishing yourself from the pack in the weight room.
But have you ever wondered where do these somewhat bizarre, high-heeled shoes come from? Would you know it – it turns out they’re over a century old – and they have evolved quite a bit over the last hundred years.
As their name implies, these shoes were always influenced by the sport of weightlifting, specifically how lifters move underneath the barbell and how they perform their so-called kinematic links before they start lifting.
Factors such as these have come to the forefront ever since the IWF decided to test lifters’ strength in the snatch, press and the clean and jerk in 1929.
All of these early methods revealed numerous difficulties associated with these lifts. While the press demanded a minimal knee bend, other explosive lifts required a descent underneath the bar in order to raise it from the ground. Nevertheless, shoes still mattered little at this point in time, as evidenced by many weightlifters from the 20s to the 50s who usually wore boxing shoes, or plain old sneakers.
With the emergence of splitters such as John Davis, Rudolf Plukfelder and Norbert Schemansky, the weightlifting world saw that it is possible to descend even further beneath the barbell.
As more and more lifters started adopting this position, it quickly became apparent that run-of-the-mill shoes are a thing of the past. During this period, lifters started realising that shoes with raised heels were needed to permit the back pf the foot to flex, so that the heel could be raised while allowing the ankle joint of the front foot to bend at the same time. Regular sneakers restricted the movement of the ankle joint, preventing the lifter to tilt his shin forward in the process.
The newly deep split position was not the only technique that has gained more attention during the 60s, and the emergence of the squat technique transformed the weightlifting shoe forever.
This particular technique was introduced by Pete and Jim George, and only a few years later, it debuted on weightlifting platforms around the globe. Shoes with raised heels were even more important for the squatting style than the split method, due to the fact that it allowed lifters to maintain a reasonably vertical trunk position, while tilting the shins and bending the knees forward. Most lifters adapted quickly and the following years would have tons of different shoe models grace the lifting platform.
During this period, give or take a few years, many Olympic lifters started experimenting with different boxing shoes, sneakers and even worker boots.
All of these designs proved to be unsafe and more than troublesome. As we mentioned in the last paragraph, boxing shoes didn’t provide much when it came to the raised heel, and the lacing limited ankle mobility.
The work boots, unsurprisingly, were equally problematic; while the raised heel provided much-needed agility, they extended up the shin, restricting ankle mobility. What’s more, they were simply too stiff and heavy for weightlifting purposes. Interestingly, USSR lifting experts took the next step in the weightlifting shoe evolution, when they decided to nail raised heels to the leather soles of their shoes.
Even though some Soviet models of leather shoes with nailed heels were known to slip and slide on wooden surfaces, they were nonetheless extremely popular in the lifting community.
Furthermore, USSR lifters dominated the competition during the 60s and 70s, so it is no wonder that their model was so popular during that time. However, while the Soviets have undoubtedly done great work on updating weightlifting footwear, those shoes were not the definitive solution the Olympic community had been waiting for.
Most competitors started leaving their shoes unlaced around the shin for greater mobility, and American experts started slowly modifying the Soviet model.
By the end of the 60s, Puma, York, Tiger and Karhu started producing their own lifting shoes, all inspired by the Soviet design. Most of those models were not so popular in the community, but by the start of the 70s, Adidas provided the Western answer to the lifting footwear conundrum.
The Adidas version was initially inspired by the Soviet model of high tops and rubber soles. However, the company gained a crucial advantage in the early-70s, when Tommy Kono, one of the most prolific lifters of that era, started closely working with their designers to create the ultimate weightlifting shoe.
During the 70s, Adidas and Soviet-style lifting shoes started abandoning their high-top designs, in favor of lower cuts. This design allowed lifters to have greater ankle mobility and it reflected the concerns of coaches about the safety of high-top shoes.
Since then, the majority of popular manufacturing companies have designed all kinds of weightlifting shoes for an ever-expanding market. And despite a number of different shoes available today, most manufacturers still follow the designs created more than 40 years ago – namely, low cuts and high heels.
As you’ve seen, experts have worked on perfecting the shoe design over a course of four decades in order to maximize its potential, so it’s safe to say that professional weightlifting clothes and training gear can deeply impact one’s athletic performance. These days, most lifters, runners and other athletes, often use some sort of external compression to make the most of their workouts. Recent studies have shown that compression may enhance performance by altering muscle power, force and contraction efficiency.
A couple of years ago, scientists from the University of Calgary examined the effects of external compression on calf muscles during short-term exercises. The results of the study showed that compression plays a significant role in tissue oxygenation during a workout; in fact, the Tissue Oxygen Index was almost 25% higher for the compression condition, opposed to when the legs were not compressed at all. Therefore, all bodybuilders and powerlifters should definitely use some form of compression in both training and completion.
Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and has spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects.
After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for a better life. He is an all-around fitness adviser and his words are strong as an Australian Bull. He blogs at Ripped.me
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