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?
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 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!