Weightlifting shoes (“lifters”) are flat with an elevated, hard heel. They are designed to help you get into better squatting positions.
More specifically, they prevent your ankle from rolling in on a squat while spreading the force you’re pressing through on a wider surface of the foot. This helps achieve consistent movement patterns.
When Should I Use Them?
The main benefit of a weightlifting shoe is improved mechanical angles at the bottom of an upright squat. Because the heel is raised in the shoe, your ankle has to perform less dorsiflexion (shins to shoelaces) in order to reach full depth.
I would recommend wearing lifters if you feel unstable when “catching” a power clean or snatch in the squatting position. Because your chest needs to remain upright in the olympic movements, a max lift will probably be enhanced with the weight, density, and flatness of a weightlifting shoe. I know they help me feel more locked in and cemented to the ground.
Weightlifting shoes should really only be worn, however, for the weightlifting movements (snatch and clean & jerk). Front squats and overhead squats are also considered to be weightlifting movements.
But I would try to avoid them when doing things like a deadlift. In fact, the raised heel alone is antithetical to the positions you want to hit in a deadlift.
Why Use Them?
The reasons to use a weightlifting shoe are no different than the reasons you would want to wear basketball shoes or snowboarding boots. Your shoes in basketball help you gain traction with the floor while the snowboarding boot helps you stay connected with your board.
While I’m aware of are arguments around the internet that exist as to why athletes shouldn’t wear lifters , I disagree. If you can get an advantage when doing a movement, why not take it?
Weightlifting shoes do that. They help you reach positions necessary to the weightlifting (snatch and clean & jerk) movements.