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Monday, July 25, 2011

Heel height - what the right heel size is incredibly important

Would Superman give up another superpower?  Well, lifting in a heel that is too low will do just that. 

The other day I was training in an undisclosed location on the West Coast.  To my amazement, someone actually referred to the Risto's I was wearing as "high heeled shoes".    About 3 years ago, people would ask me why the Risto heel was "so low"; now, I'm asked why is it "so high".  This is laughable -- the heel hasnt changed! What has changed is marketing to strength athletes.

The Great Heel Dupe- 
It seems over the past few years the industry, in an effort to broaden their customer base, began to bastardize the weightlifting shoe design.   We now see "sneaker like" shoes with low soft heels-- as if shoe manufacture's are coaxing the weary out of their crosstrainers into quasi lifting shoes.

The problem is a classic one of poor, suboptimal design.  Whenever you take a specialized tool and try to dumb it down, you make it far less effective at its purpose.   Further, the newer shoes show increasingly inferior materials. 

What is more interesting are the social dynamics at play of adoption. Unfortunately, there is an entire population of lifters who are now giving away kilos off their lifts, pounds off their squats by wearing a shoe which is too supple and too low a heel height. 

Wood heel is superior
A wood heel is just the right mix of hardness, yet, flexibility in the right positions.  Further, a wood heel is a better match to the frequency response of wooden platforms which most people lift on. 

 In contrast, newer shoes use cork, injection mold plastic, and EVA --these are inferior to the woods still used in the Risto's. For specifics, just look up the tensile properties of EVA (the latest cheep heel filler) and cork. Both are much softer than hardwoods.  Even the wikipedia entry on  EVA describes it as a soft material. In lifting soft=bad, because soft heel compress and act as dampers, damper suck the energy out of your lift!

The opposite problem are injection mold plastics. These are way to heavy and inflexible.  They are less ductile than wood alond the bending axis in the jerk.

Here's a little youtbe video I made just for you (I'll have to redo the audio, but here it is for now):


The right heel size and construction-
Most people need over an inch heel to get into the power position.  About a 1.25 inch heel proportionate to foot length is optimal for squats, snatches, and clean and jerks.  The heel allows the lifter to maintain leverage. It permits solid contact of the foot to the floor as the lifter pushes out of a squat or against the floor in a pull.  Further, in a deep squat the higher heel prevents the lifter from caving forward onto their knees or curling their back. 

A flat heel will cause most lifters to have too wide a stance in their start position as well as in the catch of their snatch or clean. This puts excessive stress on the joints and knees with such oblique angles in the hips to make up for the lack of heel. Ever see someone squat with their heels come up?

What about bodybuilders and powerlifters? -
I have seen professional bodybuilders move to a shoe with a heel when they squat such that they wil hit their hammies in the squat. Further, it prevents excesisve strain on the back and other injuries.

Powerlifters typically use shoes, like the Risto, to squat.  For powerlifters who deadlift with a wide stance, they will use a second pair of flat shoes to deadlift.  Again, you got to use the right tools for the job--using a sort of flat "lifting shoe" with a plastic heel is not going to help your deadlift or your squat.  The only deadlifters I've seen use "low heel" "lifting" shoes are a very niche group that follow starting strength.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

hi Gwen
When you say 1.25 inch heel do you mean total heel height or the difference between the sole height at the front of your shoe compared to the back of the heel?

The 0.75 inch seems to be popular these days, thats nearly half an inch different to Ristos. My back hurts so much less in Ristos than Dowins and i put it down to the height difference.

Anonymous said...

Death to the 3/4" heel height!

Thank goodness I'm not the only one bothered by the popularity of the 0.75" heel height.

I have plenty of ankle mobility, but I always found my heels happiest at a little over an inch high when I have to squat deep with an upright torso as in the Olympic or front squats and bottom of the snatch and clean. Old time bodybuilders knew enough to put their heels on a block for their deep squats, too.

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Mark Cooper said...

Hi Gwen,

I'm looking to purchase some weight lifting shoes and came across your blog. Most of the big brands seem to sell shoes with 0.75" heel raise. Do you know if Risto, or anyone else, sell any with a higher raise? I am a size 8-9.

Thanks, Mark

Gwen Sisto said...

Hi Mark and Anonymous,

I am sorry for my late reply. As this post is a couple years old, I did not realize I had new comments. Yes, Risto Sports Sells shoes with an overall heel height-- from the bottom of the floor to where the heel attaches to the upper- of about 1.2 to 1.25 inches proportionate to heel height.

We made the forefoot more flexible by changing the rubber outsole that is attached to the wood heel; in effect, our heel is a hair smaller than our previous models. We still are the only major brand with a leather upper and wood heel. Many hard woods have a higher ultimate strength than the plastics used in other brands heels (probably why wood is still widely used in the composites and maritime industries). Further, wood has a more desirable frequency response and plastic deformation to the wearers lifting.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Gwen,

I'm looking for a shoe that has an effective heel height around 1.25-1.5" It sounds like the effective heels on your shoes is lower. It is possible to place an order for pair of shoes with a custom height heel?

Thanks,
Dan

jaspreet singh said...

You can also visit shoe inserts for height for more options.

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