Weight Lifting (Squats): Flat Sole Shoe vs. Raised Heel

I have read that squats with powerlifting shoes (raised heel) lead to a higher quad activation due to the more upright position. So the movement will be less glute/hamstring dominant!
@chad : Is that true? Do I want that as a cyclist?

Thanks for all the great content :smiley:

Not sure Chad will respond, but . . .

  1. You don’t need powerlifting shoes to accomplish this. All you need is a couple of small barbell plates (or similar) that you put under your heels when you do the squats.

  2. This is a common weightlifting technique. Perhaps it accomplishes what you are suggesting. But it also forces better form because there is less of a chance that you will round your back as you lower the weight, as the the weight is slightly forward forcing a more aligned back.

Caution: This technique will allow you to either lift more weight, go deeper into the squat or hang lower longer, including emphasizing the eccentric movement. But, as recently happened to me, it led to knee injury due exactly to this issue (more weight, deeper, slower movement).

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I was just listening to the Stronger By Science podcast and they mentioned that the only real need for an elevated heel is if you have ankle mobility issues. Outside of that a flat shoe will suffice. I’ve seen many heavy lifters simply wear a good ole chuck taylor.

Perhaps it is useful for situations where someone has ankle mobility issues. But it is really easy for you to test for yourself the back alignment advantage of the raised heel. Try this for yourself:
Standing in place (without weights and without shoes), do 3 squats:

  1. flat-footed with your toes raised
  2. flat-footed
  3. slightly on toes with heel raised

As you go into the squat and raise out of it, notice your back alignment necessary to accomplish a good squat in each scenario. As you are going from (1) to (2) to (3) you are moving the center of gravity from slightly behind you to more directly above you gently forcing you to have your back more in line with the weight.

@ArminZ I would say that, yes, if you squat in a shoe that has heels you’ll be able to maintain a more upright posture in the squat…which will put more stress on your vastus lateralis and vastus medialis. If you want to put more load on those muscles, front squat instead of back squat.

Generally, athletes who compete in weightlifting (not ‘lifting weights’ but weightlifting) compete in a shoe with a heel.

Back in the day at least, most powerlifters squat in a shoe without much (or any!) heel. A powerlifting squat is very different from a weightlifting back squat. The bar is held further down the back & you hinge your hips back at the bottom of the lift…moving more stress onto the hamstrings, lower back, and glutes.

If I was going to do a powerlifting squat I’d just wear a pair of chucks. If I was going to do compete in weightlifting I’d wear some weightlifting shoes.


@Brennus @Thomas_Holcombe @bobmac
Thank you for the quick responses.
Ankle mobility isn’t an issue for me - at least by my judgement :wink:
So I should be able to perform both versions.

But which version is more favorable as a cyclist?
Which load distribution is more similar to cycling?
Do you have any sources regarding this topic?

I think the differences between flat footed and with the heel elevated are too nuanced to have a significant effect. For me, I have chosen plates due to the form issue.

However, what I have found that makes a HUGE difference, is to have a robust strength training program overall. A few of the leg exercises (all with weights), include:

  • step ups
  • single leg, standing calf raises
  • lunges
  • adductor/abductor
  • squats
  • deadlifts (needs lots of care and form; on hold until back to full leg strength)

Agree with everything.

If you don’t fully understand his answer, I’d say you don’t need weightlifting shoes since you don’t squat ass to the grass (atg) anyway.

For cycling, I’d do high bar squats on whatever hard and stable surface and go as deep as I can without rounding my back in the bottom (butt wink). Shoes don’t matter as long as they’re not soft running shoes (unstable).

@ArminZ it’s tough for me to type this but the injury impact/risk from squats probably outweighs their benefit for a cyclist given alternatives that exist. And this is from a guy who really loves squatting…who not only squats but sits in the rack by himself thinking about squatting & other ppl who have been in the rack squatting.

What about this? What about getting a couple of 80lb dumbells, some straps, and just doing lunges? Keep your shin perpendicular to the floor ( don’t let your knee travel out over your toes ) & just do alternating lunges. Take 50lb dumbells and straps & walk up & down some stairs. Some rule…don’t let your knee travel out over your toes. Or some lighter dumbells & jumping lunges…


I now use a slight raise with my heel, sliding a 25mm block of wood under my heel. I am recovering from a snapped Achilles. When also doing bent over rows I use a raised heel for proper motion of the technique.

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Ditch the barbell squats and switch to split squats or rear foot elevated split squats.

Ankle mobility is less of an issue, and the single leg exercise better mimics the functional movements of cycling. You’ll need much less weight so your risk of injury goes way down, too.

I think the lifting shoes primarily solve ankle mobility issues. They also provides better foot stability and support for lifting heavy (probably heavier than a cyclist needs too).
Typically a more vertical spine will put more load on the quads and take it off the glutei and hamstrings. I think strength in both areas is important in cycling but you can also acquire posterior chain strength from the deadlift as well. I tend to use the deadlift and a high bar squat for quads. The low bar squat places the bar obviously lower on the back so to get the bar travelling vertically over the mid-foot you need to move your ass back and shoulders forward in a less vertical position.

If you don’t have any ankle mobility issues then I wouldn’t waste money on special shoes. If you want to use the squat for for quad work then go high bar and possibly add deadlift for posterior chain. If you want a good do it all squat then low bar might be good for you if you have good shoulder flexibility. And as another post mentioned…single leg work is a great idea as well.

Hi @ArminZ. Much of this has been covered in the responses so far, but elevating the heels is an old-school holdover that only made sense in the context of insufficient ankle mobility. If you’re not restricted by your ankles lack of range of motion, don’t elevate your heels. If you are restricted by your ankles’ ROM, work on increasing your ankle flexibility and mobility, especially if you ever plan to lift heavy. I’d much, much rather see an athlete move a light load through the full range of motion than a heavy load through a partial range due to restrictive mobility, especially an endurance athlete who too often only moves in a single (sagittal) plane of motion and can benefit in a wider sense from increasing their ROM.


The other thing which happens is a motor pattern change when you raise the heel of someone squatting. It changes where your centre of mass is within your base of support. Making it easier for you to shift the weight back and maintain a neutral spine.

I see this during a functional movement screen all the time. Somebody will barely get to 45 degrees and not be able to keep their hands over their head then raise the heels onto the board and they are able to get their hips to the level of their knees and remain upright.

There is a lot more going on then just ankle mobility here there is core strength, posterior chain strength and motor patterns all of which can be worked on or worked around depending on goals and limitations of the lifter.

Back to what is best for cycling raised heel or not is not a simple answer, but ultimately squats are a full body strength exercise and never just focus on your quads or hamstrings/gluts they are highly important for core, lat, low back, calf, foot strength. From my 6 years of being a strength coach as long as you are using both posterior chain and anterior chain in balance squats will be good. The specific pedaling strength and motor pattern is still best worked on the bike.

Personally, I use my weightlifting shoes (The white Adidas Adipowers) for everything related to lifting weights. Squats, deadlift, bench press, curls, you name it. I’ve just become so used to the stability they provide, that using regular gym shoes, like worn out running shoes, feels like standing one a balancing board. It just feels unsafe. Being barefooted, or in socks, is the same. It doesn’t feel as good as my weightlifting shoes.

My Adipowers just feels like a really solid, stabil, reassuring platform, when ever, and whatever, I lift.
I don’t feel like I have an flexibility issue either, so it’s nok like the shoes are used as a crutch.

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Thank you all for the great feedback and tips :hugs:
In this case I will go for Flat Sole Shoes.
However, I will need a new pair which gives me enough stability.

Can anyone recommend a good flat lifting shoe?
I’m thinking about the Nike Metcon 4 Crossfit Shoes (only a 4 mm raised heel)

Why not Converse?

I used to just use wrestling shoes.

This study indicates that squatting in shoes with an elevated heel activates the calf muscles (gastrocnemius) more compared to barefoot/flat shoes. This paired with the fact that it recruits more quad fibers, puts less (unnecessary) strain on lower back and Tibialis muscles made me decide to use weightlifting shoes for my strength training Instead of flat/barefoot shoes.

The differences aren’t very significant but the same minor differences are also seen in other studies that looked at the effect of heel elevated vs flat on squatting. I must say I do understand the barefoot argument because it actually feels quite nice, but I still prefer the weightlifting shoes for squats.

It seems there is some confusion between powerlifting and weightlifting here. Two totally different sports and the shoes a fairly different too. However, as the OP mentioned powerlifting I’ll go with that. Rhe only need for shoes are ankle flexibility (dorsiflexion) and stability. If you already have those two, Iwouldbother with buying powerlifting shoes.