From weekend warriors to pro athletes, those of us concerned about maintaining a high fitness level rely on a strong set of core muscles to stabilize the body and allow us to perform to the best of our ability. The squat is one of the primary exercises in strengthening the core. In terms of improving your numbers in the squat, athletes look to improve upon technique. As some of the greatest lifters have observed in their career, raw strength can only take you so far, then it is time to refocus on mechanics.
A quick word on footwear:
Weightlifting “Oly” shoes are built with a heel lift and lateral stability and a rigid midsole. The heel lift provides the lifter with a greater range of motion in the ankle necessary to achieve appropriate knee and hip position. This lift also shift the lifters center of mass slightly forward shifting the lifter into quad dominance.
Effects on the body when using weightlifting shoes during squats:
A study conducted by three researchers at the University of Northern Colorado observed the differences when fit, college-aged males performed repetitions of squats at 60% of their maximum ability. The study participants randomly switched between running shoes and an unnamed brand of weightlifting shoes. The researchers observed the range of motion (ROM), trunk displacement and ankle dorsiflexion.
The weightlifting shoes produced less trunk displacement than the running shoes. This means the athletes in the study exhibited less forward lean during the exercise. They were able to redirect the energy upward.
The weightlifting shoes produced a difference in peak ankle dorsiflexion. This was to be expected due to the lifted position of the heel in weightlifting shoes. The result was that it was easier for the study participants to maintain proper squat form during the exercise, with the thighs and hips closer to vertical and less forward lean. The knees more easily moved over the toes, reducing hip flexion, which also promoted better form and performance.
The participants in the study commented that they thought it was easier to perform squats in the weightlifting shoes than in the running shoes. This may have been due to the reduced stress on the lower back or through some other factors, such as the mental conditioning.