We’ve had some previous posts on which shoes are FOIS GRAS and which shoes are are FAUX PAS – but we’ve never tackled the subject of WHY the shoes you will typically see in a CrossFit box have the specific form and function they have.
True athletic shoes are a perfect combination of form and function. Why? Cuz the demands of the sport the shoe is being used for is going to be specific enough to require very custom tailored design.
For example, a 100m sprinter wears completely different shoes than a ultra marathoner, even though both of the aforementioned are running sports. (And BOTH of those cats wouldn’t run so far as the toilet in Sketchers Shape Ups)
Average, Everyday Shoe
The modern shoe industry, just like every other industry on the planet today, has spent the last 100+ years convincing us the previous few hundred thousand year just don’t count. In 100 years time we went from custom, functional, handmade shoes (whattup giapetto!) to putting air matresses on our feet. And somehow they did all this, and made us really believe that you cannot do anything athletic without “air” in our insoles. (just like we were duped into thinking we cannot function without grain based carbs for energy…) Coushioned soles, and all their luxury they bring with their pillow-topped neon colored goodness, have brought about the onset of many CHRONIC ankle, knee and hip injuries in modern athletics. FuckDat.
Barefoot Crazy Guy
Every gym usually has one. I was him for a minute, but I’ll get into that later. Barefoot Crazy Guy takes Grok for realsies and just WODs and lives au naturale. This is the far extreme of shoes… called “no shoes”. This is the guy who not only deadlift without shoes… not only met-con without shoes…. but will hit up Target and then do his grocery shopping without shoes. We see you, Cody Rice….
Zero/Low Drop Shoes
In this category we will find your staple, general purpose shoes most CrossFitters will wear on a daily basis: Inno-V8, New Balance Minimus, Vivobarefoot, even Vibram FiveFingers.
This minimalistic shoe category tries to strike a perfect balance between human’s natural “shoes” (barefoot or wrapping some foilage or leather around your feet) and some of the protections we get in wearing shoes.
These shoes minimize the height of the heel over the toes, creating a more natural stride or step. This, accompanied with proper running techniques (read: not heel striking) can alleviate a lot of the stresses running places on our ankles, knees, hips and lower back.
When I was in my “barefoot” heyday, I did Lumberjack 20 barefoot at CrossFit SouthBay on a typical blistering hot Southern California day. After running seven 400m runs barefoot and pavement, I went 180 on my “fuck shoes” sentiment. In less than one hour, I turned my feet from sexy little bitches into two size 11 heat blisters.
Further, since we do more than just run here at CrossFit, having a foot that’s as close to the ground and stable is ideal for almost everything we do. Deadlifting heavy weights on cement is surely easier than deadlifting the same weight while standing on a bed – and those Nike Air Zoom Triax Max Lite’s are basically like walking on a bed.
Lateral / Vertical Stability
Most minimal shoes provide marginal stability – by design. You cannot pack in loads of stabalizing materials while keeping the shoe as light and minimal as possible. However one thing to keep an eye out for when deciding what shoe to buy is your need for vertical and/or lateral stability. Think of vertical stability as basic running. Movement is restricted to front/back and there’s little need to handle lateral activity. Inov-8 F-lite 210’s and 195’s are good examples of this. They have awesome support going front to back but there’s no support to handle side to side motion. Shoes that provide better lateral stability are those more designed for cross training, like the New Balance Minimus or the upcoming Inov-8 Bear XF model. Additional bi-lateral support comes at a cost of weight, but proves to be important when you do any kind of activity that involves quick side to side action. That being said, I just ran 3 rounds of pick up ball in my Inov-8 F-Lite 210’s just fine…. and if I got a dollar for everyone at the court asking how I could play without Nike’s, I’d be on a boat right now.
Olympic Lifting Shoes
On the other end of the shoe spectrum are Olympic Lifting Shoes. While barefoot/minimal drop shoes provide you with the most general and flexible shoe base – Olympic Lifting shoes are very precisely made for the exact movements and mechanics needed while lifting heavy barbells. Olympic shoes are built to be stiff, rigid, and firm (that’s what she said… sorry had to do it) because it was quickly discovered that it’s better to have a solid base when holding 3x your body weight overhead in a deep squat. Initially, I thought this was all there was to Olympic shoes – a stable base. While stability is key, but there’s one design factor that not only trumps and increases stability at the same time.
Through decades of top notch scientific research, it’s come to be known that the main limitation to heavy olympic lifts is ankle flexion. Current lifting techniques for lifting max weight calls for dropping dat ass under the bar as deep and fast as possible. In any manner – split, splot, or squat – ankle flexion becomes the limiting factor in this.
Workout of the Day 11/7/2011
Strength. Overhead Squat 3-3-3-3 Met-Con. ‘Kristine’ – 4 Rounds: 15 Ring Dips 15 Box Jump (24″/20″) 15 Slam Ball (30#/20#)
It’s Video Time
He might be a badass in his realm. He might be legit enough to speak on TED. I’ll still refute the claims we were “born to run”. Regardless, I agree with him 100% on his feelings toward modern footwear and its role on our “chronic sports related injuries” in our lower bodies.