As someone who has been involved with CrossFit for about 2 years now, I’ve come to understand the importance of choosing appropriate footwear for CrossFit WOD’s, as well as for life outside of the gym. Paying attention to the role of the feet in exercise has opened my eyes how important it is to try and let them do what they’re supposed to, with as little interference as possible. This has been particularly obvious to me during my experience with learning to run barefoot.
This article is aimed at providing you with a resource to make some smart decisions about what footwear you choose for your workouts and why it matters.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars– Your WOD Staple: this is your jack-of-all-trade shoe that is suitable for any and every workout you do, along with being fashionable enough to be a pair of casual shoes for every day living. I recommend getting a pair of these as soon as you can.
Reasons you want this shoe:
- Good value for money – if you buy them from the US, they run around the US$35 mark, meaning even for Aussies its cheaper to buy 2-3 pairs from the US and get them shipped over (they cost around AU$90 ea. otherwise).
- Hardwearing – which is great because you tend to trash your shoes during CrossFit workouts, if you pick up 2-3 pairs you can cycle them and get longer lives for each pair.
- A flat, non-compressible sole – important for power transmission to the floor, meaning you’re not wasting your efforts during olympic or weightlifting movements and, ideally, they’ll encourage you to run correctly i.e. landing on the forefoot
- Non-tapered sole (i.e. same heigh at heel as at toe) so you’re not compromising your movement by putting your feet in a mechanically disadvantageous position,
- Its basically a minimalist shoe – so its lightweight and is about the ‘least amount of shoe’ you can get away with – which is ideally what we want to let your feet do what they were designed to.
A pair of high-quality weightlifting shoes, such as Do-Win’s or Adidas Ironwork II’s – your standard choice for Olympic lifting and strength training. While these are not technically ‘essential’, they are amazingly useful and very worthwhile if you can afford a pair. You will seriously know the difference these can make to your training once you’ve done a heavy squat session in a pair – you’ll never want to go back to anything else.
Reasons why you want this shoe:
- Complete heel stability – weightlifting shoes typically have a 3/4 inch solid wooden heel, which for all intents and purposes is completely incompressible. This is terrific for weightlifting movements as it means all the force you apply through your feet winds up shifting the weight you’re trying to move, rather than being wasted in compressing the material in the heel of the shoe. Additionally, it increases the stability of your feet during the fast lifts (snatch, clean, jerk) and improves your chances of sticking them.
- A slightly raised heel – while not absolutely necessary, they can allow a better setup and receiving position to be achieved in your cleans and snatches. This is due (largely) to the fact that slightly raising the heel allows us to overcome some ankle flexibility issues that may restrict you in the bottom position. Still, you should be working on this rather than avoiding the problem with your shoes…
- They look badass – even if you can’t lift like a champion, at least you’ll look like one lifting in a pair of these
Vibram Fivefinger KSO’s – your ‘barefoot’ choice: these are about as minimal as you can get. Basically a sock with a rubber sole on the bottom of it, they look like gloves for your feet. Having a pair of these on lets you get on with things ‘as nature intended.’
Reasons you want this shoe:
- Simply, it lets your foot be your foot, and protects your sole from the ruggedness of most surfaces. Letting your foot do its thing is what we’re after and these are perfect for that. Your feet have been fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution and are an engineering marvel. Don’t interfere – your feet know best!
Some extra notes, in no particular order or priority:
- This is by no means an all inclusive list, but it does give you the basics and the rationale behind your footwear choices.
- When choosing footwear, aim for as ‘little shoe as possible’ so that your foot function is not impeded.
- In general, less cushioning is better – your calves and quads are designed to be shock absorbers if you run correctly.
- Any shoe with a non-compressible sole is appropriate for weightlifting.
- While weightlifting shoes are nice to use, here are two caveats – 1) don’t use them as a permanent means of avoiding mobility restrictions and 2) don’t use them every time you weightlift; add some variance and train in shoes with flat soles or barefoot.
If nothing else, remember the golden rule: not much shoe = good for you. I know its probably counterintuitive to what you’ve heard most of your life, but trust me, the sooner you let your foot fend for itself, the better off you’ll be.
I hope you find the above guide useful in making some footwear decisions. If you have any questions or queries, feel free to post them to the comments or email me directly.