Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!

This post is perhaps the most requested one that I’ve ever had. I figured it was about time to finally sit down and offer my expert (yes, I am one) opinion on all things related to shoes.
First, lets get something out of the way – shoes will absolutely not fix any deficiency you have in terms of dysfunction or lack of mobility. At best, they will reveal the problems you have with form and mobility. At worst, they will exacerbate those issues. Without getting down the rabbit hole too far, I’ll say this: shoes should do a couple of things –

  1. Offer protection from the surfaces you’ll be traversing. Small rocks and glass should be the concern of most people. You don’t need a shoe with 12″ of cushioning for that.
  2. Allow your foot to do what it was designed to do. Namely: MOVE and move correctly. The only way it can do this is with a minimal sole and a wide toe box. Your feet are designed for balance and proprioception – meaning they are there to help your body figure out where it is in space. If your shoe is so cushioned that its causing your ankle to move around like you’re on a ship in 12′ seas, its doing you no favors. And you’re waiting for an ankle sprain.
  3. Be the best choice for the activity you’ll be performing. Doing CrossFit? Wear a shoe designed for it. Weightlifting? Wear a shoe designed for it. I think this one is self-explanatory.

They should NOT be bought as a short-cut fix to the issues you have. So please, sit down with the motion control mumbo jumbo. You’re only fooling yourself and wasting your money. Learn to move right and better. It’s going to take a long time, like fixing your nutritional habits…
Onto your choices:

  1. CrossFit and/or “Functional Fitness” Shoe: this one should really be called the “you can do it all in this shoe.” From running to lifting, rope climbs to box jumps, pull-ups to muscle-ups, this versatile shoe is the jack of all trades, master of none. Then again, its in a shoe like this that Rich Froning won 4 consecutive CrossFit Games titles. Note: all of the shoes follow the same basic design formula – they have a relatively flat heel-toe drop (height of heel vs height of toe), a wide toe box (to allow your toes to spread out so your feet can do their thing – balance and proprioception), and a sole tough enough to stand up to rope climbs. If that last part seems silly, keep reading.
    • Reebok CrossFit Nano (all generations) – this is the first shoe that was designed by CrossFitters and for CrossFitters. It was designed to be a shoe that you could do it all in, plus still look good enough for going out later. After all, thats why I have pairs in yellow and neon green! These shoes really are great for everything, even heavy lifting. The 1.0’s are still my favorite because they were a bit stiffer than the current generation, but the 5.0 came close to it. A lot of folks didn’t like the rubber feel they went to with the 3’s and 4’s, but I didn’t care either way. From what I saw up close in California, they went back towards the 1.0 with the newest Nano…
    • NOBULL Trainer – this is a small company that was co-created by Ben Bergeron, owner/head coach at CrossFit New England and Coach to current fittest man Mat Fraser and fittest woman Katrin Davidsdottir. It’s a very well rounded and comfy shoe that can do everything that the nano can, with one exception: I don’t like it quite as much for heavier lifting. Anything in a typical metcon/WOD is quite alright. But then again, when it comes to heavier lifting, there is only one choice which I outline below.
    • Nike Metcon – this is quite possibly the most painful thing for me to write, but I was sorely disappointed in this shoe. I REALLY wanted this to be the shoe – I grew up a passionate Nike-only kid and absolutely loathed anything Reebok. So when Nike jumped into the shoe game for CrossFit, I was pumped. When I got these shoes via a preorder at midnight, I couldn’t wait for them to arrive. I wore nothing else for two solid weeks after I got them. I loved them, even though they squeaked with every step I took – a problem I’ve heard from many other users. After that two week period, I was curious as to how my older Nanos would feel. When I got back into the Nano 4.0’s, I was blown away – they felt like home. I didn’t touch the Nike’s for a couple weeks. But I thought that perhaps the Nanos felt better simply because they were more broken in. I hadn’t gotten the Nano 5.0’s yet, so this seemed like a great excuse to buy them. Sure enough, even stiff and brand new out of the box, I preferred the Nano. I know this goes against most every other opinion you’ve read on this shoe, but its my opinion. Maybe the 2.0’s are better?
  2. General Training Shoe – these are shoes that people simply adapted for use within CrossFit before anything like the above was created. The first real players into this game were New Balance and inov-8 (pronounced innovate). I did this same thing with a pair of Nikes pictured below, but I never wear them anymore. The Nike Free line would also fall into this category. The shoes here follow the same basic design formula: a traditional training shoe with a bit of cushioning and narrower toe box but they lack the tough sole needed for rope climbs. Funny story coming, I promise!
    • inov-8 F-Lite 150, 195, and 230 – the cool thing about these shoes is the number designation is to give the user the exact weight of the shoe in grams. People who do lots of long distance running care about this sort of thing. And a nerd like me just thinks its cool. The blue pair pictured below was the first pair of shoes I bought specifically for CrossFit. I had been working out in a pair of ridiculously cushioned Adidas shoes and after my coach explained to me why they were doing more harm than good, I ran out and got a pair of inov-8 230’s. A number of big name CrossFitters had also begun sporting these. First WOD in them involved rope climbs, and after coming down from my first one, I noticed something funny hanging off the side of my shoe – namely HALF of the bottom of the sole!! To make these shoes as light as they are, they use a foam sole. Except it doesn’t hold up to a rope burning right through it. It was this very thing that happened to a number of CrossFitters that forced inov-8 to come out with a much more durable sole specifically for us! They are a bit narrow, but probably the most comfy shoes I own. It feels like you’ve got nothing on your feet.
    • New Balance Minimus – a decent shoe with a wide toe box, but I ordered a half size too small, so I never wear them anymore. But they were a great all around shoe and pretty light as well.
    • Random Nike Trainers – great looking shoe, a bit too cushy for my taste nowadays.
  3. Single Use Shoes – the shoes in this category could best be described as “specialists.” They are really only good for one or two things. Don’t run in them, don’t box jump in them. Mostly just lift heavy weight.
    • Knock Off Chuck Taylors – when Reebok debuted their “Lite TR Lo Trainers”, I was intrigued because they looked like a dead ringer for Chuck Taylors, a favorite old school training shoe of anyone that has done any sort of barbell training. To this very day you will find powerlifters and body-builders alike still training in good old Chucks. And for good reason – they are flat, stable, and stiff – all the components you want in a shoe for heavy lifting.
    • Weightlifting Shoes – when you play baseball, you wear cleats. Same thing with soccer and football. When you play a sport, you wear the shoe that was designed for that sport because it will make you better at that sport. Weightlifting (snatch and clean & jerk), and the accessory movements that go along with it (squats, presses, etc), are best performed in weightlifting shoes, period. Why? See the heel? Its for two purposes: the elevation is to take the requirement for really flexible ankles out of the equation. This means that you can squat with a much more upright torso. You want to do that. The second purpose of the heel is that it is solid. That means that you can transfer 100% of the power from your legs into the floor. If you try to lift with rubber soled shoes, even Nanos, you will see the heel compress under load. Compression of the sole under load means you are losing power. There are lots of options in this venue, but I’m going to be straight – the Nike Romaleos are the best. After that, the Adidas Adipowers are darn good too. Yes, Reebok makes a lifter. But its more of hybrid as they designed it so you could do other things in it. Wrong. Weightlifting shoes should be made to do weightlifting. Anyone in the gym that has gone from a Reebok to the Nike has been utterly shocked at how much better they were. The best description I’ve heard – “It’s like having your foot in concrete.”
    • Vibram Five Fingers – aka funny toe shoes. Like wearing a sock with a bit more foot protection…that wraps around each of your toes individually.
  4. Running Specific Shoes – these are shoes that are marketed to runners (and most fitness enthusiasts to be honest) and come with big gigantic squishy soles. I don’t have a picture of these because I don’t own any of these clown shoes. Seriously though, you do NOT need them. No, not even you, with the special feet, and the special ankles, and the special arches. You know what you need? Yea, what I said above – you need to learn how to use your feet the way they were designed to be used. Just like you learned to squat correctly…or deadlift…or snatch…or eat better. Oh, we’re running more than 400m today? I know, this is long distance to us CrossFitters. But you still don’t need them. NO, not even on 1 mile (gasp!) time trial days. I ran 3 Tough Mudders (10 miles each) in my Vibrams and another in my blue inov-8 230’s and before each of those runs I had NEVER ran more than a 5k. Still not convinced? Talk to Crystal, hands down the member at our gym who runs more than ALL OF US COMBINED! She did the Ironman in Mexico last year…know what she wore? inov-8’s! One of the biggest mistakes that I see folks (especially runners) make is that they go out and buy a shoe like I’ve recommended above and then proceed to jump right back into the same distance they were running before. Then they’ll come back to me complaining of some sort of lower leg and/or foot pain. You must transition into new equipment slowly…just as you transitioned into CrossFit slowly. Your body needs time to adapt. I know, I know, you just have to keep running. Trust me – its a short term sacrifice for a long term gain.

So, what do you need? What should you get? Pick something from category 1 and then a good pair of weightlifting shoes. That’s all you need!
That’s all for now. Hopefully this has offered some insight into the wonderful world of shoes! If you’d like me to review any others, just let me know. If you have any questions, fire away.

people working out in a group fitness class


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