So, in this post, I'll give you a brief history of weightlifting shoe heel trends, including which gave the biggest results.
First, let's talk a little sociology.
Heel height of weightlifting and what is a considered a "big heel" or a "small heel" has become incredibly perception based. Depending on what path the lifter has taken, their view on what a heel should be can be incredibly skewed. Someone coming from Starting Strength views anything over a 1/2 inch heel height as gigantic. Someone coming from CrossFit is looking for between a ".75 inch and 1 inch effective heel"( To this day, I'm convinced the term "effective heel" was spawned on a crossfit forum somewhere as many shoe manufacturers don't use the term). Someone coming from a strict Olympic weightlifting background is looking for over an inch heel, many want between 1/18 inch to 1 1/2 inches. Then you have what I call general purpose lifting - strength athletes that squat and do some cleans,bodybuilders looking to up their leg game-- they just want something with a heel.
You may be wondering - "so who is right?" . From my experience, for the 99% of the population, there's really two groupings for two purposes - ultra low heel for starting strength followers/low bar squat and an actual weightlifting heel for everybody else.
Starting strength and low-bar back squatters for their own special goals and purposes- which differ from crossfitters, weightlifters, bodybuilders, and other strength athletes- advocates a 1/2 inch heel. For this reason, many years ago Risto Sports made a highly successful shoe for a distributor geared towards starting strength (that distributor replaced it with an inferior vinyl EVA heel shoe made in China). Now, Risto Sports carries a 1/2 inch heel just for lifters that fall into this segment, because they have their special reasons for wanting a 1/2inch heel, and they deserve a shoe made from the best materials!
Now, there is everybody else- weightlifters, crossfitters, powerlifters, strongmen, bodybuilders, athletes training for strength sports - all squat and many do at least power cleans. For this group, a heel height of between 1 1/8inch and 1 1/2inch has traditionally yielded the best results in snatch, clean and jerk, and squat. This is why Risto Sports makes shoes in this heel height range. Famous "high bar" squatters in powerlifting have used olympic weightlifting shoes. And, some of the best bodybuilders in the world, with the best quads-- ie TOM PLATZ--have squatted in the standard olympic weightlifting shoe heel height as a long hidden trade secret. You can even find photos of Arnold squatting on plates to get more heel height (not recommended as this can cause ankle injuries).
There are shoes on the market targeted at crossfitters that have a heel somewhere between the low heel and a normal weightlifting heel-- this is often a miserable compromise in the shoe design, in an attempt to make an all around shoe. Plus, the CF Games title sponsor's crossfit footwear is, currently, the only footwear allowed to be worn at the games. Still, outside the CF Games and the pre-reebok crossfit years, you will notice many high level crossfitters do their heavy snatches, clean and jerks, and squats in weightlifting shoes.
The short answer on what the best heel height is:
The heaviest lifts ever, pound for pound, were done in the 1980's. These incredible world records were erased due to weight class changes*. Many of these lifters had shoes with around between a 1/4inch 1/2inch forefoot with and around a 1 1/2inch heel height. So, yes, you want an "effective heel" or delta heel height was an inch or more! likely, not much less than an inch delta for small sizes! Certainly, a quarter inch higher than plastic and EVA heel shoes!!!!!
Want proof, take a look at these incredible photos:
This one is of Dravco Stoichjov lifting 215kg clean and jerk as a 75kg in the early 80's- 1984ish. I took this photo in Slavia, Bulgaria. He's wearing wood heel shoes with the traditional heel height which some people view as "big" . The current 77kg record is 214kg!
|Photo credit from wikipedia, 1980 Olympics article. Yuri Vardanyan winning Gold at the 1980 Olympics|
The Long answer on why heels got lower:
My engineering guess on why shoes with plastic heels and EVA heels have smaller heel heights
1a.Simple, the plastic is more likely to crack. There is a lot of flexion going on midfoot during the final extension of the pull and in the jerk. Plastic is known to soften as it is worked (think of bending a plastic fork back and forth), so having a bigger delta between the back of the heel and the forefoot is asking more of the material.
1b. EVA is a soft material. It is made for cushioning. Sure, the type of EVA used in lifting shoes are a bit stiffer than what you find in neck supports. YET, they still compress more than a wood heel, they still suck more energy out of your lift than a wood heel. Now, imagine if you doubled the height of the EVA, the squishy-ness would be even more noticeable. It would act as an even bigger damper.
2. Cost Reductions -- I have worked in companies , where because of volume, we would work projects aimed at reducing just a 1/4 inch of material off of a part. Smaller heels are cheaper to make because they use less material.
3. Lack of expertise-- Let's face it, two of the biggest weightlifting shoe companies in the world are not weightlifting companies. One is a soccer shoe company. The other is a running shoe company. The market dynamics are something like this.....One company sold a little more shoes one year as a novelty, so the other followed their trend and lowered their heel heights.
So, are you really going to wear a shoe because a company wanted to cheap out on the design? Do you really trust a company that was born for the purpose of making running shoes to tell you what to lift in?
Negative effects of wearing too low a heel:
The lower the heel gets, the wider a lifter's stance must get to attain the same torso postions.
Nowadays, there are any videos of lifters barely breaking parallel in their squats. If you look at lifters from the 80's and 90's that lifted more than today's lifters, they are squatting "ass to grass".
So, a lower heel height will make it more difficult for a lifter to attain for squat depth. The lifter may be able to attain full depth with discomfort.
Why do we even care about full squat depth? Well, you can predict an athlete's total based on their back squat if and only if they are squatting full depth. In other words, giving me the PR back squat of someone who does half squats is like a useless statistic for me. It tells me nothing.
Also, fully squatting has big benefits. Some studies shows it is less wear on the knees as the motion is completed smoothly. A full squat utilizes more of the posterior chain --- more muscles to generate power. I can get into this for hours. This is my abridged answer.
Check out Khaki Khakisavillis doing full squats in Russian boots (Russian style weightlifting boots) in this training hall video.
Now, here's a video from the 2016 Junior World Championships from our friends at All Things Gym, note around the 4:24 minute mark the squatting segment. Most of the squats barely break parallel if even, and look how wide her stance is in comparison to the Risto Sports and Iron Mind videos. There are several other training hall videos showing this trend; the lifters have one thing, for the most part, in common- plastic lower heel shoes.
*** Ok, now time for me to shamelessly plug Risto Sports. You can get real weightlifting heels heights at a great price and fair trade at www.ristosports.com .
Leave weightlifting shoes to an actual weightlifting company. ;)