Meet observation--why do so many still deadlift in shoes?

After reflecting on my experience and observations from this past weekend's 100% Raw Powerlifting Toronto Open (Canadian Challenge), I couldn't get one thought out of my mind.

The 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation limits the use of lifting gear to a weight belt and wrist wraps.  The lifters must wear a one piece lifting suit (singlet), shin covering socks when deadlifting and "shoes".  While the aim of the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation and any "raw" or "classic" divisions of other Federations is to eliminate the use of performance enhancing lifting gear, at this meet and all others in the past, many lifters insist on wearing a piece of lifting gear that reduces their performance.

What I'm talking about are those competitors that wear shoes to deadlift.

a surprisingly common (and poor) choice of competition deadlifters

The 100% Raw Powerlifting rules concerning shoes (basically the same as the I.P.F. rules as well):

12. Shoes must be worn during lifts.

a. Shoes shall be taken to include sport shoes/sport boots; weightlifting/powerlifting boots, deadlift
b. No part of the underside shall be more than 5cm/2 inches.
c. The underside must be uniform on both sides.
d. Loose inner soles that are not part of the manufactured shoe shall be limited to 1cm/.4 inch

Many types of footwear qualify as "shoes" under the rules yet I always see many lifters wearing what would be considered "sport shoes" under the rules.  Now, given that the deadlift is my best lift, I'm not entirely unhappy to see some competitors unwittingly sabotage their own deadlift efforts by wearing disadvantageous footwear.  However, I'd much rather see other lifters hit PR's and lift the most they possibly can.  When competitors are hitting tough lifts and making PR's, the energy levels at a meet go through the roof. It's an awesome experience.

I have a pair of the ubiquitous Chuck Taylors and the sole thickness at the heel is approximately 0.75".  There is also another model of Chuck Taylors that have a thinner sole, approximately 0.5" thick.  Both shoes have a much thicker sole than my deadlift slippers or the wrestling shoes worn by accomplished sumo deadlifters.  Because I deadlift conventional style, I don't need lateral support in my deadlift footwear so the bare minimum slippers have always been my choice.  My deadlift slippers have only a thin piece of leather for a sole so when I'm on the platform, I'm essentially standing on the thickness of two socks.  Compared to lifters wearing Chucks or similar shoes, my deadlift starting position is a good half to three quarters of an inch lower.

Andy Bolton understands deadlift footwear
I train wearing "sport shoes" because it's like always doing deficit deadlifts.  When I get to a meet and deadlift in my deadlift slippers, it literally feels like I'm doing a rack pull.  That extra 0.75" makes that much difference.  How much could 0.75" make?  My heaviest training deadlift in the gym prior to this weekend's meet was 585 lbs with a failure at 605 lbs.  In the meet, I succeeded with 622 lbs.  Some of that was due to a competition psyche job but some was due to a much more advantageous start position.

If any of you remain unconvinced, next deadlift workout, either prop up the plates a half an inch or so on some rubber mats or take your shoes off and deadlift in your socks.  The bar will always be a fixed distance off the ground due to the standardized dimensions of the big plates.  The only tweak a lifter can use to make the lift easier is to get as far under the bar as possible.  Wearing shoes with the thinnest possible sole is the only way to do that.

I read internet forums and eager lifters are always asking about the latest training programs or the efficacy of the latest, greatest supplements but I continually see lifters handicap themselves by wearing shoes with standard thickness soles when deadlifting in competition.  I don't understand it.  The differences between nutritional supplements and/or training programs are very hard to measure and when one can, it takes months or years of training to do so.  "Raising the bar" by lowering yourself via thin soled deadlift slippers creates instantaneous, positive measurable differences with far fewer confounding variables.  It's the easiest way to increase one's total but it is overlooked by so many.  Even if one's deadlift form has technique flaws like a too-wide grip, one will still see immediate benefits by getting closer to the floor and raising the bar.

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