In the sport of Weightlifting where high impact, repetitive movements with load are consistently used, knee discomfort or pain are almost inevitable. While having bad knees is multi-factorial, selecting the right Weightlifting shoes can provide some relief for those with bad knees.
The best Weightlifting shoes for bad knees are the Asics TOW 727 due to having the lowest heel of 0.5”. However, these aren’t as accessible as other Weightlifting shoes. Inov8 Fastlifts are the next best with a heel height of only 0.65”.
But why are these Weightlifting shoes better than others for those with bad knees?
Table of Contents
- What Makes A Weightlifting Shoe Good For Knee Pain?
- The Best Weightlifting Shoe For Bad Knees
- Our Runner Up Weightlifting Shoe For Bad Knees
- Is Weightlifting Bad For Your Knees?
- The Best Exercises To Reduce Knee Pain
- The Perfect Warm-Up For Sore Knees
What Makes A Weightlifting Shoe Good For Knee Pain?
The general rule for Weightlifting shoes regarding knee pain is the lower the heel height, the more likely they are to reduce knee discomfort for those with bad knees.
Why is this?
According to the Journal of Sports Sciences, an elevated heel allows for greater knee flexion which places a greater demand on the quadriceps. For those with bad knees, this can lead to further pain through the patellar femoral tendon.
A lower heel reduces how far forward the knee will travel and therefore, how far the knee will flex placing less stress on the quads.
The Best Weightlifting Shoe For Bad Knees
Inov8 Fastlift 400 BOA
With one of the lowest heels out of any Weightlifting shoe at 0.65”, these are the best option if you suffer from bad knees.
Mona (Pretorius) de Lacey lifts in the Inov8 Fastlift 370 BOAs and absolutely loves them. In fact, she won a Commonwealth medal in them.
Inov8 Fastlifts last for a long, long time. Mona has had her Inov8s for five years which included double day trainings, traveling, and competing at the highest level. The BOAs are still working perfectly and the shoe itself is in great shape.
The BOA can be prone to breaking but these models have laces to compensate for any BOA problems.
Mona's are double BOA but she likes her shoe loose so if one does fail, it's not such a big problem for her.
Its heel support is unique to other shoes with its hollow columns which keeps the shoe lightweight. A key feature of these shoes and Mona uses Inov8 specifically for this reason. She states these are the lightest Weightlifting shoes she has ever worn.
Inov8 Fastlifts also have a wide toe box so for anyone worried if their wide feet will fit, you won’t have a problem in these shoes.
The single strap with the BOA means the shoes doesn’t fit so tight around the top of your foot which many lifters like.
The material is soft yet secure making sure your feet don’t slip and move while in the shoe.
Inov8 Fastlift 400 BOA
Our Runner Up Weightlifting Shoe For Bad Knees
Asics TOW 727
These are some of the lightest shoes you will find on the market. Mona has lifted and competed in over 20 different models of Weightlifting shoes in her long career and has stated these are very close to the Inov8 Fastlifts.
The wood heel is something all Weightlifting enthusiasts will love. The sound of wood cracking on wood can’t be matched by the new high-density plastic heels.
They even have a toe box wider than the GOAT wide feet shoes the Nike Romaleos. The laces are enough to keep these tight without a strap.
These are the only handmade Weightlifting shoes you can find. They are only made four times a year so are extremely hard to get.
But being handmade, they are made to a high standard. Some parts of the shoe are double-lined like around the toe box for extra support and durability.
They are made of suede leather which makes these the most comfortable Weightlifting shoes you can buy. If you know a thing or two about leather, it stretches and molds to your foot.
With the extra width and solid construction, you can be sure you won’t run into comfort problems while lifting.
The only issue with these shoes is that they are very expensive and very hard to find. In fact, the only place I’ve seen them for sale now is on eBay. If these were readily available, they would be our number one pick for the best Weightlifting shoe for bad knees.
Asics TOW 727
Is Weightlifting Bad For Your Knees?
Weightlifting itself is not inherently bad for your knees. Moving your knees through a full range of motion under load is a healthy activity that can strengthen the structures in and around the knee.
However, when taken to extremes like competitive Weightlifters do, knee problems can occur due to the excessive consistent impacts and loading within the same movements over time.
But having bad knees isn’t only synonymous with the sport of Weightlifting. Talk to most adults past their 30s and they’ll have some kind of knee discomfort from the sports that played when they were younger.
Why might this be?
Ignoring serious structural damage such as cartilage damage, most knee pain and discomfort is caused at the tendon level.
Specifically, the patellar tendon. It connects to the bottom of your quadriceps (rectus femoris) and runs behind your knee cap and connects to the top of your shin bone.
According to Dr. Keith Barr, a leading researcher in tendon injury, states that in strength and power sports, tendon injury often occurs due to tendon stiffness. This increased stiffness is caused by the collagen content and the number of crosslinks with this collagen.
While tendon stiffness is great for performance, too much can cause knee problems. We want these crosslinks of collagen to be minimized so we have a nice, straight sheet of collagen. But how can we get there?
Stretching is not the answer.
Tendons LOVE load. When you have patellar tendon pain and you’re told to rest and take time off, that is the single worst thing you can do for your rehabilitation.
The more inactive you are, the more crosslinks will form in the tendon and less collagen will get into the tendon. This leads to our tendons getting smaller and weaker.
As mentioned earlier, strength and power sports are prone to tendon injury because fast movements don’t break crosslinks, they add more.
The answer to tendon loading for bad knees is using very slow strength exercises which allows crosslinks to break and the tendon to remodel.
The Best Exercises To Reduce Knee Pain
The slowest exercises you can use for tendon remodeling are below.
Long Duration Split Squat Isometric
While an isometric is defined as producing force without a change in muscle length, the tendon undergoes what is called "tendon creep" where the crosslinks start to “unravel” as the crosslinks break down.
This decreases the stiffness of the tendon allowing the collagen fibers to slide equally. This tendon creep signals the body to create new collagen fibers in the direction the creep is occurring, which will be towards the muscle contraction in a nice straight line.
Secondly, isometric exercise has an analgesic effect meaning it has a pain-numbing effect. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that isometric exercise significantly reduced knee tendon pain for at least 45 minutes after exercise which led to a 19% greater increase in maximum isometric contraction.
If the split squat variation is too painful, then you can use a wall sit as a regression.
While eccentric (lowering) exercise isn't as slow for the tendon as isometric exercise, eccentric exercise provides architectural changes to the muscle that can benefit those with bad knees.
Even though tendon structure plays a large role in knee pain, a tight rectus femoris muscle (the quadricep that attaches to the tendon) can also lead to knee problems. The rectus femoris is a biarticular muscle. Meaning it crosses two joints, the hip and the knee.
Sitting a lot, while the knee is flexed creating length in the rectus femoris, the hip is flexed which can shorten the muscle over time creating a “pulling” action on the knee.
Eccentric exercise changes the muscle architecture by lengthening the muscle by adding pieces of muscle fiber (sarcomeres) to existing muscle fibers. This adaptation not only lengthens the muscle, potentially relieving knee pain, but also increases the contractile velocity of the muscle which could potentially lead to faster lifting.
The Reverse Nordic specifically targets the lower portion of the rectus femoris.
Eccentric Lunge Push
This is used for the same reason as above regarding eccentric exercise. However, this exercise targets the upper portion of the rectus femoris.
Anecdotally, I have had older athletes (late 30s) completely relieve their knee pain using this exercise alone.
The Perfect Warm-Up For Sore Knees
After a short dynamic warm-up, the long duration isometric split squat is your go-to. You can hold this position for up to 5 minutes! Seriously though, 90 seconds is brutal.
A1) Long Duration Isometric Split Squat 1 x 60-90 sec/leg
B1) Reverse Nordic OR Eccentric Lunge Push 2-3 x 3-5