Why Chucks?

Chuck Taylor All-Stars

Chucks

One of the most common questions asked during our Fundamentals series is “What’s up with everyone wearing Chuck Taylors?” or “Do shoes matter?” So, I decided to take a few moments to explain why shoes matter and why Chuck Taylors are a good all around choice for CrossFitting shoes.

CrossFitters choose their shoes for numerous reasons such as comfort, style, cost, and performance. Comfort is a no-brainer. No one wants to magnify the pain of a high intensity “Fran” by lacing on a pair of uncomfortable shoes of any size, shape, or style.


Style on the other hand is like an opinion, everyone has one and it differs from one person to the next. Although style may not be the most important factor when selecting a shoe for CrossFitting, you’d be fooling yourself if you said style had zero influence in the decision tree. If a particular brand or type of shoe just doesn’t mesh with your personal style, then you are not likely to run out to grab a pair just because you saw someone at CrossFit Impulse sporting them.

We all want the best product at the lowest cost. That doesn’t change when shopping for a pair of kicks to wear during your next WOD. Snoop Dogg may wear $1500 Gators while driving his $65,000 Snoop Deville, but he’s not going to scuff them on a plyo-box during Filthy Fifty. Finding a shoe that fits your budget can be as important as comfort and style.

CrossFitters are constantly seeking ways to shave seconds off their metcon times or set a PR on Olympic lifts. As you may have anticipated, shoes can be a significant performance variable when CrossFitting. Some features that affect performance are sole thickness, sole density, heel thickness or angle, and flexibility of the shoe. Let’s examine a 1RM (one rep max) deadlift attempt wearing a pair of Asics GT-2150s running shoes designed with a thick, cushy sole to absorb those infamous heel strikes. To perform a proper deadlift, we must pull the loaded barbell from the ground, maintaining core stabilization, by driving our heels against the floor. When wearing a traditional running shoe like the GT-2150s, that thick, shock absorbing sole will do exactly what it’s designed to do: absorb force. What do I mean? The cushiony sole has to be compressed before any force is applied to the barbell. Imagine deadlifting while standing on a mattress. Sound ridiculous? It is! So why do it by wearing high heeled running shoes?Snatchtastic Chucks

Additionally, the thick heel automatically puts you at a disadvantage for driving through the heels. The heel is usually much thicker and higher than the forefoot of the shoe, shifting you unnaturally to your toes. We all know the shame of being on our toes while performing lifts. Double-unders, running, and box jumps are a few incidents when being on your toes (or forefoot) is desired and accepted. However, the majority of the time we want to drive through our heels to transfer the most force to the ground. I haven’t even mentioned the lateral or side-to-side instability that is absorbed by the comfy cushioned sole shoes, but it’s time to move on. Whether you are deadlifting, cleaning, or squatting you want a thin, flat, hard soled, minimalist shoe to transfer the maximum amount of force to the ground through the heels. This means moving heavy loads more efficiently.


Now is a good time to talk about why I, and many other CrossFitters, prefer Chuck Taylor All-Stars. To no surprise, Chucks have a thin, flat, hard sole. During a lift, minimum sole compression takes place before force is transferred to the ground to move the load. A completely flat sole allows you to start, and remain, on your heels throughout the movement. This makes Chucks ideal for any type of lift. I initially bought my first pair of Chucks for lifting but I quickly found that they are very versatile. Unlike specialty shoes, I can wear my Chucks during any and all workouts. I can lift, run, wall-ball, row, tire flip, box jump–you name it. I even bought a pair to wear outside of the gym. The only workouts when I don’t prefer my Chucks are long distance runs of five kilometers (5K) or more. If done with proper POSE form, running is not bad in Chucks. I have run up to a 5K in mine with no issues, but sometimes I would like to have a little more sole, like a Nike Free.

What about the comfort, style, and cost of Chucks? They are not the lightest shoe available, but I find Chucks to be comfortable, offering little to no restrictions. Numerous styles and colors are available for as little as $45. You can build your own custom Chucks on the Converse website, including printing personalized text on the shoe for approximately $60. Jeff Barnett, CrossFit Impulse co-owner and trainer, took advantage of the customization with his bright orange “Snatchtastic” high-top All-stars. It took a lot of ingenuity to get the word “snatch” past Converse’s word filter, but he pulled it off.

Are Chucks the only shoe to achieve the versatility CrossFitters need? Of course not. They are just my choice. Many other options are available that offer a flat, minimalist sole shoe for CrossFitting.

Vibram FiveFingersVibram FiveFingers are popular among many CrossFitters. FiveFingers are probably the most minimalist shoe on the market. They are about as close to barefoot as you can get, which makes them truly functional. We were not meant to have miniature mattresses on our feet, such as the GT-2150s mentioned earlier. FiveFingers are extremely light and flexible with a thin, dense rubber sole. I have never worn a pair for any substantial length of time, but I know many CrossFitters that swear by them. They say “it’s like wearing an extra thick sock that fits between your toes”. The “fits between your toes” is what I don’t like. I have to agree with Chuck Carswell, a CrossFit HQ trainer, “Thongs between more than two toes sketches me out a little.” FiveFingers are also not the most visually appealing footwear either. Not that we are concerned with appearance, right? Although they are a minimalist shoe, they are not sold at a minimalist price. A pair will set you back $80-$100. I am considering giving FiveFingers another chance because I do like their raw functionality. Who knows, maybe I can adapt to the “thongs between more than one toe.”

The Nike Free is another shoe that seems to get good reviews from the CrossFit community. It “attempts to simulate barefoot running while wearing a shoe,” making it another good option for those looking for a minimalist shoe for CrossFitting. Nike grades the shoe on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 offering the most support and 0 being closest to barefoot. For example, the Nike Free 5.0 would be like running 50 % barefoot. I have not worn a pair of Nike Free(s) other than trying them on in the store. It seems they are extremely light and flexible, offering little support, but they do have a soft sole. This is another shoe on my list to try, specifically for running. A pair of Frees will cost you $90-$100.


I have directed much attention to minimalist shoes. However, some CrossFitters prefer to go the ultra-minimalist route and workout barefoot. Barefoot is by far the most primitive and functional way to go. There is nothing between your foot and the ground, so no force is lost to compressing a shoe sole. This is especially beneficial and most common when executing a 1RM power lift such as deadlift or back squat. However, faster movements like snatches and cleans may roll your pinky toe in ways nature didn’t intend, so perform shoeless Olympic lifts at your own risk. I have not seen many people go barefoot when things like running or box jumps are involved. Barefoot running or running in minimalist shoes is a hot topic in the fitness and running communities. Research has shown that many running related injuries are actually caused by our advances in the technology of running shoes. They allow us to run improperly, causing injury over time. Barefoot is an option at CrossFit Impulse, and it doesn’t cost anything.

Hosts of other options abound on the market. The shoes I have mentioned are simply my picks. Mix it up and find what works best for you. You may find that you like Chucks for general metcons, running shoes for workouts that involve running, and weight lifting shoes for strength days. I am certainly not suggesting you wear any particular brand, make or style of shoe. The intent is to give you my opinion for you to use in finding what shoes work best for you as an individual. CrossFit is about improving your fitness. Find the shoe or shoes that will help you meet your fitness goals. If you want to wear $1500 Gators during Fight Gone Bad, by all means, go for it!

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Comments

  1. Jeff Barnett says:

    Very informative and entertaining article, David. We’re fortunate that $40 shoes are so handy for our sport. I loved the quotes from Chuck Carswell on Vibrams. I’d like to give Vibrams a legitimate chance soon. I’m somewhat afraid I’ll really like them and want to wear them to work, which would definitely scare the straights even more than we normally do.

  2. Daniel Fanning says:

    Good stuff David. Well written, informative, and funny.

  3. Nice article. I haven’t gotten any Chuck’s yet even though I must say I am very tempted. I have found that the five fingers are great until you have to run behind the building on all that gravel. Then it just becomes a quest not to stab you feet.

  4. Greg H. says:

    Awesome Article David. Especially because it scoffs at the conventional perception of what a running/training shoe should be. I might be dating myself a bit, but does anyone remember paying $19 for their first pair of Chuck’s like I do? Still they are a very inexpensive yet awesome shoe. I like vans too, but they have gone the trendy/pricey route as well. I ordered my first pair of those off of a Xeroxed flyer that a kid passed me in studyhall. Ahhh memories.

  5. Eric Atkins says:

    I’m actually about to buy some Nike Free 5.0’s from Nike ID. I’m glad that some Crossfitters recommend them.

    1. Eric Atkins says:

      Madd phat snEAkers being built n0w: http://twitpic.com/29w9b2/full

  6. James Lambert says:

    Inov8 are going to be coming out with some good minimalist running/trail shoes in the next year or so.

    I love my Vibrams Classics (pictured in the article) but if you plan on doing good kipping pull-ups you may want to get some with the straps that go over the foot because unless you pull the classic’s string really tight they will fall off.

  7. Erin Atkins (a girl) says:

    What are the ones Jordan is wearing in this pic?

    1. James Lambert says:

      Erin, Those are Rogue Do-Win Olympic lifting shoes. They can be found at this URL http://www.roguefitness.com/store/rogue_dowins.php

      1. Erin Atkins (a girl) says:

        Thanks, James! Now, I notice those shoes have a slight lift, and when I went to the website, it indicated its heel is .75″ tall. Is that negligible amount of lift or what? If we want to drive with our heels, how are those any more beneficial than going barefoot or using chucks or something? Or conversely, how are those not the same as lifting in other running shoes?

        1. James Lambert says:

          Basically they are really only for Olympic style lifts. The raised heels allow you to get lower when receiving the bar during a lift.

          This explains it better than I can.

          http://www.dynamic-eleiko.com/sportivny/library/farticles015.html

  8. Ryan Brown says:

    I ordered the Inov8 195’s James is refering to but I will not be receiving them until September. Might have to jump on the wagon in the meantime and try Chucks.

  9. I have a question about orthotics. I use orthotics in my Asics GT-2150’s (yes, I have those!) due to my foot pain I have. I’ve never put on a pair of Chuck’s, so I don’t know if orthotics fit in them. Would you recommend using the Chuck’s with or without the orthotics?

    1. Hey Beth, I know Ginga has used orthotics in her shoes before — She also wears chucks… if you see her before I do you should ask her about that.

      1. Ginga says:

        Hi Beth. I wear my high top Chucks with my orthodics for most WODs except running and that works great for me. I am very flat footed – my navicular essentially rests on the floor without my orthodics – which causes misalignment for my knees and hips. So at least for now, I need the support. The low profile Chucks with my orthodic in don’t work for me as my heel slips out, so I prefer the high tops. The Chucks make a huge difference for me for lifting – much better than my running shoes or barefoot. I picked my Chucks up at Journeys. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions.

    1. Are those cleats?

      Look like soccer or football cleats from that pic.

  10. Greg H. says:

    Also Vibram 5 fingers has a running type shoe out now. Its called the 5 Fingers Bikila (sp). I don’t know if any stores have them, but they are online. I am hoping the huge REI stor in COS will have some.

    1. James Lambert says:

      Crossroads on 72 carries 5fingers.

      1. I ordered the Bikila’s and the KSO Trek Sport’s from Crossroads’ website. Hopefully I’ll get them this year. Ordered them back in April IIRC. Vibrams doesn’t have the production capacity (at least on these two models) to meet demand or so it seems.

        Having said that still love my KSO in blue. Used them for CrossFitting and running (2x 10km races so far). Had them over a year now.

        I’ve got the New Balance MT100 for trail running. I know Melissa F. uses those for CF. The MT100 are pretty lean on the padding, not as lean as the Chucks though.

  11. DClem says:

    Thanks for all of the comments.

    Jeff – I am a little afraid of really liking them too and wanting to wear them to Bridge Street on Saturday nights because I do like being barefoot (minus pregnant) at home.

    Greg H. – Dating yourself? Nah, but I have never seen Chucks for $19.

    Beth – I am not a podiatrist (foot doctor) but I can give you my non-professional opinion. If you are interested in wearing Chucks for CrossFitting, I would suggest to first try without orthotics. If that doesn’t work, try them with orthotics. For general CrossFitting, you will still be better off in Chucks with orthotics versus GT-2150s, I my opinion. Hope that helps.

    1. Jeff Barnett says:

      I echo David’s opinion on orthotics. Again, with the disclaimer that I am not a podiatrist, I consider orthotics (insoles, inserts, etc) intrinsically tied to the running shoe industry that has helped us destroy the strength and functionality of our feet.

      I am sure that some genuine foot conditions exist that would make inserts necessary for normal functioning. However, I tend to default to the primal explanation of “less is more.”

      And remember, achy feet after going to minimalist shoes is like achy muscles after a WOD. Stress the muscles and connective tissue in your foot, allow it to heal, and then re-stress. But without the stress (and associated aches), your body won’t adapt.

    2. David that’s a valid worry about Vibrams. I love mine so much that anytime I’m not at work I’m either barefoot or wearing my KSOs. I wear them everywhere. My kids refer to them as my “monkey feet.”

    3. Davy Haynes says:

      David,

      They work great for line dancing.

  12. So I haven’t wore Chuck Taylors in many many many a moon and I have no idea where they can be purchased locally. I would rather do that for a first purchase to figure out sizing. Where here in the Huntsville are their retailers for Chuck Taylors in adult sizing?

    1. Erin Atkins says:

      I’ve seen them at Journey’s at Parkway Place Mall.

      1. Jeff Barnett says:

        Journey’s has the best selection of Chucks you will find in a local store.

    2. DClem says:

      Sports Authority, The Shoe Dept. (I think), and a couple of other places in the mall have them. They typically run large compare to other shoe brands. For example, I wear a 9.5 in Nike and 8.5 in Chucks.

      1. Patrick says:

        Shoe Carnival had a sh*t ton last time I was in there. I think they were around $35 too.

      2. Davy Haynes says:

        Got mine at Kohls

  13. Josh M says:

    Nice article, David.

    Skate shoes are also a pretty good alternative. They tend to have a thin, hard sole for better response between their feet and the skate board. Vans, DC, Airwalk, etc. Only drawback is they typically have leather uppers, which don’t ventilate very well.

  14. Andrew Mann says:

    Good article David. It’s about time I considered what I put my feet in for working out. Only one suggestion, change the name of the article to “my chucks bad, my chucks good”.

    1. hahaha Andrew! I love it!

  15. So as I found out today, the toe box on the Chuck’s are a tad too small for me, so I am off to try some other shoes and see what I like. The Vibram 5 Fingers are a quick sell so if you go looking I recommend calling in advance to see if they might have a shoe in size for you.

    1. Aaron Bennett says:

      If the toebox of the Chucks is too tight, try the Walmart knock-offs. They have a bigger toebox.

  16. Have to say that Jeff’s orange Chuck’s are sweet looking and the text on them “Snatchtastic” is just icing on the cake.

    David needs some shoes with a suitable response, “Snatch This”.

  17. Just so everyone knows, Crossroads Unique Boutique on HWY 72-W has 5 Fingers in the size of 45,46, and 47 at 25% off if they are KSO, KSO Trek, or Flow.

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  19. Victor Vega says:

    At first I was hesitant to getting chucks because they were just ugly. Got a pair of something else first (Asics pretty flat), but the sole was too soft. I ended up changing them for some chucks and I love them for working out. Running in the on rocks is not as comfortable, but it forces me to do POSE running everywhere else because there’s too much impact trying to heel strike with chucks. I definitely feel the difference and I’m able to push more weight from my heels, I even feel more balanced on wall balls.

  20. Andrew says:

    Chucks are also sold at Academy Sports and Outdoors.

  21. I squatted for quite some time in Chucks. The harder sole of the chuck taylor could actually help raise the total of weight you squat.

  22. I really like the idea of Vibram FiveFingers. Seems so comfortable to wear.

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