Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In My Shoes

I’m all about going barefoot as much as possible, but unless you’re Fred Flintstone, Zola Budd or a Hobbit, you can’t go shoeless all the time.

That’s fine by me. It’s easy for me to decide what to put on my feet. I’m no Imelda Marcos, Carrie Bradshaw or Fat Joe, so I don’t have the daily dilemma of having to pick from a million shoes in my closet. As long as I have footwear that's comfortable, appropriate for the activity, and not terrible for my feet, I’m pretty much good to go.

So: Every morning, I slip on a pair of Terra Plana Barefoot shoes before heading to the office, and as soon as I’m home, I kick off my shoes and pad around in my bare feet.

When I exercise, however, I have to do a bit more thinking and planning. Depending on what type of workout I’m doing, I’ll put on a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, Adidas Ironworks 3 weightlifting shoes, or Converse Chuck Taylor low-tops. (Yes, I'm totally over my initial, fleeting flirtation with cross-training shoes.)

You’re probably sick of the lavish praise I’ve heaped on Vibram FiveFingers, but I love ‘em to death. Over the past year or so, I’ve acquired a pair of Sprints, two pairs of KSOs, and a pair of Bikilas. (And judging by the fact that M has even more pairs of FiveFingers, she’s even crazier about them than I am.)

When I did P90X and Insanity in my garage, I got accustomed to working out without any shoes on. Now that most of my workouts are done at my CrossFit box, I want something on my feet -- but something that's as close to being barefoot as possible.

Of all my FiveFingers, my black KSOs are the least gaudy, so they're the ones I wear at the gym when my workout primarily involves running, jumping, balance or deadlifts. You know why I run in them, and you can probably guess why I wear them when attempting box jumps, pistols and single-leg deadlifts. But why wear FiveFingers when deadlifting? Because they’re stable and allow for virtually no compression (and therefore little to any absorption of force by a thick, cushioned sole). Plus, the closer your feet are to the floor, the less distance you’ll have to hoist the barbell up. Barefoot’s the best for deadlifts, but FiveFingers are a close second. (I'm thinking about trying a pair of Terra Plana's EVO minimalist running shoes, too.)

But for just about every other Olympic lift (e.g., snatches, cleans, jerks, front squats, etc.), I’ll don a pair of weightlifting shoes. Why buy weightlifting shoes instead of just pulling on a pair of cross-trainers or running shoes? Starting Strength's Lon Kilgore and Mark Rippetoe explain:
Proper footwear in the gym is important, especially if you are lifting free weights. When we lift weights we want two things to happen: (1) all the force our body produces under the bar should contribute to moving the weight and (2) the weight needs to be controlled in a safe manner. If we lift in a running shoe, it's akin to trying to lift while standing on a giant marshmallow. The soles of the running shoes, the marshmallow, will absorb and dissipate a large amount of the force generated against the floor that should be directed towards moving the weight... You can't lift as much weight in the wrong shoes.

The second issue is control of the weight -- and your body -- while standing on an unstable surface. A compressible medium placed between the feet and the ground will behave inconsistently enough during each rep to alter the pattern of force transmission every time. This means that the subtle points of consistent good technique on any standing exercise are impossible to control. And there is an increased chance for a balance or stability loss-induced injury while lifting heavy weights, since perfect balance cannot be assured on an imperfect surface.
For you visual learners, here's a video that shows the differences between O-lifting with running shoes and weightlifting shoes:

I bought a pair of Adidas Ironworks 3s, and love the solid THUNK! that the solid wooden heels make against the floor when I properly execute a clean. It’s gotten to the point that I can tell whether my technique is off by just listening to the sound of my shoes striking the floor.

Adidas makes a few different weightlifting shoes (I especially like the look -- though not the price -- of the adiStar shoes), but there are lots of other great options out there, too. Nike just came out with some "badass"-lookin’ Romaleos -- which, by the way, Amazon is currently selling for HALF the price listed by Rogue.

Rogue, for its part, carries a pair of fine-looking Do Wins that almost resemble casual sneakers (except for the wooden sole, I guess).

And, of course, if you like the bowling-shoe look and insist on wearing ruby-red footwear, you can always pick up a pair of these babies:

So when do I bust out my all-black, sinister-as-hell Chuck Taylors? Any time we do a metcon that combines running or jumping with O-lifting. My Chucks hit a sweet spot: They feature a flat, close-to-solid heel that allows me to powerfully land and plant my feet for all kinds of explosive lifts, yet the soles are also thin enough that I can run in them comfortably without royally messing up my gait. In my Chucks, I can do just about anything that a CrossFit WOD calls for: plyo box jumps, erg rowing, thrusters, cleans, kettlebell swings, you name it. Besides, I’ve been wearing Chuck Taylors since I was a kid, and I don’t think I'll ever give ‘em up.

Best of all? They’re cheap, and you can wear ‘em around town even when you’re not exercising like a demon. So if you’re on a tight budget but need a pair of good, multi-purpose shoes, Chucks are a fine way to go.

But whatever you do, stop working out in running shoes. ("But what if I'm training like crazy for a marathon or an ultra?" you ask. My response: cut it out.)