The need for weightlifting shoes is like the need for cycling shoes. You can ride a bike, and ride it well without specific shoes, pedals, and clips. However, by spending a little time and learning how to use the shoes, pedals, and clips you will immediately see a difference in efficiency that will make riding easier. This will enable you to ride faster and longer. No professional cyclist trains/races their bike without appropriate shoes. Lifting shoes are no different. You can look up videos of Rich Fronning Jr. lifting a great deal of weight in his Reebok Nanos. But I guarantee he competes in lifting meets, and CrossFit lifting workouts (ladders, 1 rep maxes) in lifting shoes. If you are one of those people who are on the fence in regards to whether you should invest in a pair of shoes, hopefully this will help in your decision. For this post I will be talking about Olympic Lifting shoes. Powerlifting has specific shoes for their sport which tend to have relatively flat soles.
A pair of proper shoes makes a big difference in the way the squat feels. The heel has a little lift that enables the knees to move forward in front of the toes. You can simulate this by standing on a plate under each foot with your toes on the ground and your heels on the plate. Or squat on an incline, facing down the slope. You will immediately see and feel the difference. Hamstring and ankle flexibility are crucial in a proper squat. Having your heels slightly elevated will help achieve the tight angles in order to keep your torso upright and weight balanced in your feet.
Besides having an inclination in the heel, a lifting shoe's sole is made out of hard material; hard rubber, plastic or wood. While the heel will show it's benefits quickly, it is the hard soles that are the primary beneficial feature. The drive out of the bottom starts at the floor. Think about trying to jack up a car on a road of sand or pavement. The softer surface will absorb the force making the task much harder. If you squat in running shoes, that are designed to absorb forces, there is a great reduction in power transmission.
Foot stability is another perk of good, well-fitting shoes. Unstable footing can interfere with the ability to do the same lift twice. If your feet shift one way during the first rep and the other on the next rep you will have a tough time developing a good technique. Lifting shoes will always come with one or two metatarsal straps. These straps keep your foot back in the heel, as well as limiting any sideways shifting.
Since CrossFit has become popular the variety of quality lifting shoes has increased. It is truly a buyers market. They have become like most sport shoes, in that you can be specific with your demands. You can buy shoes specifically for the platform, and now you can buy shoes that are made to perform well in a WOD. You might notice the average price is higher than you were expecting. This should not deter you. A well made shoe is incredibly durable and will last you much longer than any running shoe.
5X5 HBBS @75% 1 RM or 5# heavier than 12/2
A) 4XME Strict Pullups B) 4X15 GHD Sit ups
7 min AMRAP
15 KB Snatches 55/35#
15 Goblet Squats