Footwear for CrossFitters – What you need and why it matters

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.

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25 Responses to Footwear for CrossFitters – What you need and why it matters

  1. Pingback: 16-Days of Beginner CrossFit Workouts You Can Do From Home | Michael Ashcroft - Getting It Done

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  3. Hamish says:

    Brilliant timing to find this article Mike, cheers mate – my runners are almost done, so I’m pondering on what to get for the 2 x Throwdowns coming up in Melb! Thanks mate, ‘Connies’ look the way to go!

  4. Kevin Monahan says:

    “Connies” or “Chucks” as we call them in the US, are great for lifting but also great for young kids to wear. I grew up playing basketball in them and we wore them as get around shoes back in the 70’s. My now 8 year old son, an extreme athlete as most oys should be, picked a pair out from 3 rows away at a shoe store and is on his second pair in 2 years. He wears out ‘stylish’ skateboarder type shoes at the same price within a month or two. Chuck Taylors last a full year, can be washed and look better anyway.

  5. of course like your web-site but you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth then again I will surely come back again.

  6. Kevin Monahan says:

    A follow up to my post from Oct 2010. Beware of the licensed copies of the Converse All-Star. About 8 months ago, I bought Chucks from a low price store and got a “Buy 1, Get 1 half price” deal. My now 9 year old son and I each got a pair and the quality wasn’t nearly as good as those we buy from Sears or other reputable sport store. The soles are not the solid rubber of the original. They are layered, thin rubber and the craftsmanship and quality of material for the rest of the shoe follow suit. Michael wore his down within a few weeks, both the hollow sole and the uppers. I just ordered a new pair from Sears online for $50 US, knowing they sell the real shoe versus a licensed copy.

    Semper Fidelis

  7. LAUREN says:

    Hey Mike! I’m thinking of starting crossfit as training towards my first Tough Mudder.. This article really piqued my interest because recently I noticed some consistent pain in my lower legs, it feels like it is right on the inside of the bone, and I have yet to see a physiotherapist. However everything I’ve read on it leads me to shin splints, which could have been from lifting too heavy and even bad positioning or inflexibility.. regardless I want to continue leg exercises and cardio sooner than later. If shin splints IS the problem, would you still recommend these types of shoes? And actually, on another post you said running barefoot is therapeutic. Let me know, PLEASE!

    Sincerely,
    Someone who NEEDS to get back in action

  8. Pingback: Crossfit Aspirations. | The Heart of Growth

  9. AMANDA says:

    I have started crossfit recently and I am 100% in love. This is by far one of the best blogs I have come across much thanks!

    ps LAUREN when are you doing the Tough Mudder? I am in August, I am so excited!
    Cheers!

  10. Isaac says:

    Great post man, much appreciated. I personally use Nike’s Free series for 80% of my workouts (I use converse sometimes as well). The Nike Free series has a 1 cm difference between your heel and your toe, making it a great weight-lifting shoe. I noticed a dramatic difference in things like my back-squat and dead-lift the second I switched from a regular sneaker to a non-tapered sole.

    Cheers

  11. William says:

    Mike, thank you brother! I just coeelptmd 100 burpees. I never thought I could achieve that. This 16 day beginners guide is wonderful. I plan to go back though and test my times against my first round, however what would you recommend after this 16 day workout to keep the fat burner/ muscle building up? (I can’t join a CrossFit gym cause I travel to different cities 5 days a week.)Thanks again, you’ve changed my life!

  12. Pingback: Recommended Reading: Footwear for CrossFitters – What you need and why it matters | FIT AS FU*K

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  15. Brian says:

    Great article and thanks for all of the info. I worry that some of the shoes mentioned here might not provide adaquate proteciton for some of the workouts in crossfit. My favorite from this list is the weight lifter shoe.

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