Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Balance's CrossFit Shoes

Poppa’s got a brand new pair of shoes, and they’re awesome.

New Balance recently released its new barefoot-inspired Minimus MX20 Training shoes, and although I neglected to pre-order a pair, my coach was kind enough to sell me his.

Up until Friday, I’d been CrossFitting in my New Balance Minimus MT10 Trail shoes. As I mentioned when I bought them back in March, the Trails are lightweight and comfortable, with a minimal heel-to-toe drop and a roomier toebox to better accommodate a more natural running form. They feature a thin but grippy Vibram sole that allows for plenty of ground-feel, and they’re plenty snazzy-looking to boot. The MT10s were clearly built for trail running, but I used them almost exclusively for workouts at the gym, and they worked great for most CrossFit WODs.

(Note: The MT10 will soon be retired in favor of the updated New Balance Minimus Trail MT20 shoes.)

But unfortunately, the MT10 still isn’t the perfect all-around CrossFit shoe due to the thinness of the sole. They’re certainly preferable to FiveFingers for Olympic lifting, but after a while, I noticed that my heels always felt sore after stomp-heavy WODs that incorporated explosive lifts and/or box jumps. The worst? Double-unders. It didn’t help that I often jumped too high and fast out of pure panic, but by the end of Annie or some other jump-crazy metcon session, the balls of my feet would ache. There were even a couple of times when I had to kick off my shoes immediately post-WOD because they were so uncomfortable.

So when the opportunity to grab a pair of MX20 Training shoes presented itself, I took it. Tim had pre-ordered a pair of size 10s from the New Balance website, but they were too small for him, so I took them off his hands. I normally wear a 9 1/2 in New Balance shoes, but Tim’s fit me just fine. (Lesson: The MX20s tend to run small.)

Yesterday’s workout -- consisting of pull-ups, push-ups, squats and double-unders -- was a perfect test for my new kicks. I’ve turned into quite a geek for CrossFit shoes, so I couldn’t wait to try them out in class. Before I headed to the gym, I put them on slowly, taking note of the MX20s’ distinguishing features.

The New Balance Minimus MX20 Trainers aren’t as unique-looking as the MX10 Trails, but there’s something to be said about blending in, too. (I speak from experience -- the weird stares and annoying questions from strangers are two key reasons why I haven’t worn my FiveFingers in months.) The MX20s feature a breathable mesh upper with structural overlays across the front of the toes and stretching from the midshoe to the back. Unlike the MT10s, the MX20s feature a plushly-padded ankle collar to secure the position of the heel -- and the tongue is more padded, too.

As with all of the shoes in the Minimus line, the forefoot of the last is super-wide, allowing plenty of wiggle-room and toe-spread. The midfoot feels a bit wider than the MT10s, too (which, in turn, were already more forgiving than the corset-like midsection of the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves that came out earlier this year). And unlike the Minimus Trails, there’s no constricting band across the top of the forefoot.

The MX20s felt fantastic on my feet. Like the Trails, these shoes are incredibly pliable and accommodating. The inside of these shoes have no insert. Instead, they feature welded seams and a “no-sew material application” to stave off blisters and chafing. And although each shoe is about 1 ounce heavier than the MT10s that I was wearing -- 8.10 ounces versus 7.15 ounces (believe me, I weighed them) -- they’re still super-lightweight. I didn’t feel weighed down at all.

The biggest difference -- and a positive one -- is the foam-and-rubber outsole. Just like the MT10s, these shoes have a 4mm heel-to-toe drop (about a third of the drop featured in most athletic footwear). But the sole itself is slightly thicker and less rounded in profile. Not so much that it’s going to encourage me to heel-strike again like I did when I wore extra-cushioned motion-control shoes, but just enough, I think, to keep my feet from having to absorb the full impact of my overly-enthusiastic jumping and stomping at the gym. Plus, the soles are fairly firm, and not marshmallowy in the slightest, so control isn’t compromised. Perhaps the MX20s don’t offer quite as much ground-feel as the MT10s, but it’s a trade-off I’m more than happy to take.

These shoes were clearly built specifically for CrossFit. Even when New Balance created an ad featuring a MX20-wearing Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, his feats on the baseball diamond take a back seat to his CrossFit (or CrossFit-esque) training:

So of course, I was excited to work out for the very first time in a pair of shoes made specially for CrossFitting. I arrived at the gym with a plan: As much as possible, I was going to pay attention to how my new footwear was treating me, scrutinizing comfort, traction, ground-feel, and performance.

But then the WOD started, and thoughts of shoes immediately dissipated. Twenty minutes later, I had completed 60 pull-ups, 111 push-ups, 165 air squats, and 220 double-unders -- but I hadn't given a second thought to my new shoes. Which is how it should be, right? They were so comfortable -- even though it was my first workout in ‘em -- that I plumb forgot I was even wearing them.

Even better: My feet felt just dandy post-WOD. No soreness in my feet whatsoever -- not even later in the day, when my shoulders and legs were aching from all the pushing, pulling and squatting.

It’s awesome that so many shoe companies are coming out with shoes designed specifically for the CrossFit community. With New Balance, Altra, Inov-8 and Reebok all competing for CrossFit market share, we’re sure to see some fantastic products in the months and years to come.

But in the short term, I can’t wait to compare the Reebok Delta CrossFit shoes with the MX20s. Game on!