Why Shoes Matter
You see them every time you are in the box. Some are brightly colored, some very plain looking, others with interesting patterns. We are of course talking about shoes. Most people don’t realize that what athletic shoe you should wear depends upon what type of activity you are doing. The majority of new people starting CrossFit come in wearing running shoes. Why? Because it is the most commonly available and promoted shoe on the market. But did you know that this shoe has a specific function for which it is designed, and others that are detrimental to its longevity?
After awhile coaches will talk to you about your choice of shoe if it is something that is not conducive to the type of training that we do. They do this not to help you feed your shoe addiction (face it, you have one, it’s ok) but because they want you to get the most out of your training, and perform your best. So without waiting until you have that conversation in the gym, we thought we would talk about it now.
But I Love My Running Shoes
Of course you do. They are comfortable, cushioned, broken in, you could walk around in them all day, and they are really great for long runs. All the same reasons they are not good to work out in.
Running shoes have several different styles and drops for all types of runners. The most common style of running shoe we see is the more traditional 11-12mm heel toe drop. This is a more cushioned heel which is filled primarily with either foam or air depending on the manufacturer (guess which one uses air the most). The reason for this type of heel is to aid in softening the impact of the repetitive striking against the ground done during running. Did you know though that there is more to that shoes inside than making your run more comfortable.
According to the folks at Road Runner Sports the heel in a running shoe is designed to compress and then refill quickly over the span of a run. The pressure you place on the sole of your shoe when your foot hits the ground compresses the material inside of the shoe, and then as your foot lifts up it begins to expand again. This is designed in such a way so as to a) provide longevity to your shoe over miles, and b) to increase the comfort of your run by not leaving you feeling like you are running on hard ground after several steps. Genius right? Absolutely. There are of course minimalist shoes, people who run barefoot etc, but we aren’t going there, that’s for die hard runners to discuss the benefits, or lack thereof, on their own.
That being said, this amazing technology and cushion is the very reason you should not be rocking your runners while doing CrossFit.
Contact, Cushion, Compensation
Running shoes provide comfort and cushion during a run. Most shoes are meant to go for 300 – 400 miles according to sites like Runners World and Asics.com. Remember though that this shoe is built for a specific type of repetitive movement. What they are not built for is squatting or moving barbells and other weights under load.
First lets look at the obvious, contact and cushion. While the cushion is great for running it does not provide the type of contact one would want during various squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts, or other weight bearing exercise. In fact the amount of cushion in a running shoe negatively impacts overall stability when it comes to squatting and creates dangerous flexion issues within the ankle due to the lack of proper contact.
Remember that when squatting we always squat through the heel. This is where our bodies mass is connected to the foot and so in a properly performed squat this is our desired point of contact as it provides the best stability when driving weight up to finish a rep. As such we want a stable POC from our heel into the ground and a cushioned running shoe simply does not provide this. Instead as an athlete begins to squat this large heel attempts to compress, but now it is compressing in a way it was not designed to and will never get to a point where we are secure in the bottom of the movement. This is detrimental to two things, your shoe and your body.
First let’s talk about the shoe. When you squat under load and compress your shoe down it is not designed to absorb that much weight. As such it over compresses the material inside the sole of the shoe and it’s ability to rebound back to normal is hampered. In fact this acts as the equivalent of running miles upon miles in your shoe in just a few movements, severely decreasing the longevity of your shoe. In essence you are ruining your shoe and will put yourself in position to need new running shoes much sooner than you would if you used them for their intended purpose, and not for weightlifting.
Second let’s talk about the impact on your body. With such a large amount of cushion you will experience a hefty amount of ankle flexion in all the wrong ways. Instead of a stable and secure POC with the floor or platform beneath you, you will tend to reach a point where the cushion can no longer be compressed which can possibly lead to ankle rolling, increased forward flexion, and knee drift. As you descend down and the heel compresses under you your balance will be shifting and your ankle flexion will change as this happens. Not safe for lifts as this can lead to pushing the knees too far forward over the toe which then puts an overt amount of strain on the knees and can lead to damage over time (and we all know runners need to minimize knee pain).
In short running shoes can be ruined by lifting weights, and you run the risk of injury over time trying to lift in them. So what now?
There are a number of shoes designed solely for CrossFit and interval training with weights. These shoes have compressed heels (yep already done so you don’t have to), minimal drop, and are built to allow the foot to flex under heavier weight.
We won’t go into Olympic lifting shoes here, as that is a whole article in itself, but we will touch on the main three shoes recommended by athletes in the gym.
Reebok Nano 7
These guys essentially started it all when they signed on with CrossFit all those years ago. Sure you can look at Inov-8 as the original shoe (some would say toe shoes really but let’s not get into this), but no one has invested more time and money into developing shoes for CrossFit than Reebok.
The Nano is on it’s 7th iteration and people seem to love them. Every year Reebok releases an update to the shoe and some years are a big hit (the 2 still ranks as a favorite, and the 6 is up there), while others are met with an “it’s okay I guess” reception. Yet year after year people gobble them up buying multiple pairs in multiple colors.
The Nano 7 has a reinforced heel for better contact with the floor during lifts and a “power box” toe box to aid in explosiveness during jumps. The NanoWeave technology is new which is supposed to provide more breathability during high intensity WODs, and the Ropepro has changed from the last couple models to aid in improved ability to lock in on the rope during climbs. They added a reinforced heel clip this year to increase stability and traction, though some have reported that it causes slipping in the heel while wearing the shoe.
The shoe itself is among the heavier of the CrossFit shoes which seems to always be an issue with Nano’s (excep the 2…did we mention we still love the 2?). The plus side oft his shoe is Reebok moved away from the massive toe box and created a more anatomical feel.
This shoe seems to come in an endless array of colors, with new “Nano packs” released every so often to celebrate holidays and other important events. You can also deisgn your own on their website, at a pretty hefty price. The Nano 7 itself is $129.99 so it is priced on average with it’s competition. You can check them out at your local sporting goods store and HERE.
Nike Metcon 3
It seemed to take the shoe giant forever to make it’s entry into the CrossFit world. When it did people were excited. The Nike Metcon was different than the Nano in enough ways to satisfy those who weren’t huge fans of what Reebok was offering at the time and seemed to really try to find a way to set itself apart. Fast forward to the Metcon 3 and we see that like Reebok, Nike has made some big changes to their shoe.
The toe box on the Metcon was always a little big, this new update slims the shoe down to make it a more snug and secure fit. Like Reebok they implemented a heel clip for added stability and to reduce drag during things like handstand push-ups. They changed the material on the back of the shoe to a mesh in order to help in cooling the foot during intense exercise. More cushion was added to the midsole for cardio drills, while maintaining a flat platform and firm heel for lifting purposes. Nike also introduced the DSX Flyknit version, which is $30 more than the regular version.
Similar to the Nano, the Metcon comes in a variety of color schemes and you can of course design your own, at an increased cost. The Metcon 3 runs $130 and can be found in any major sporting goods store, Nike store, or HERE.
Every now and then some small shoe company just does things right, and the NOBULL team is that company. While only being a couple seasons old they have carved out a loyal swath of customers in the CrossFit community. Their shoe is much lighter than either the Nano or the Metcon and comfort wise, this shoe is a home run.
The NOBULL trainer uses a completely unique seamless one-piece construction “SuperFabric” which is breathable, durable, and abrasion resistant. According to their site it will even shield your foot from zombies (you should assume it doesn’t create a full body shield however and remember that zombies are no joke). The fabric is touted as being glass, knife, and barbed wire resistant for all you obstacle racers out there.
It shares a 4mm drop with the Nano 7, and like the Metcon and Nano, has a midsole that is higher in order to aid in rope climbs. The lug pattern on the outsole was designed to transition from inside to outside and back during WODs with no loss of traction.
The NOBULL trainer is touted as the best running shoe out of the three for WODs that contain running, and so far that has held true with athletes reports we have heard. Shocking when you think Nike started as a running shoe company.
NOBULLs come in a variety of interesting designs and colors from donut sprinkles (yep…that is not a misprint), to plainer color patterns. Pricing is a little higher for the fancy patterned shoes, $159.00, but the simple (yet awesome) colors offered are comparable at $129.00. The only real downfall to the NOBULL is you can’t readily find it in stores so if you must have them you will need to order them online. They run true to size with your regular shoes so don’t be afraid of the shoe not fitting properly. You can order your own NOBULL trainers HERE.
Your Foot, Your Choice, Your Destiny
In the end everyone is different. Athletes have different feet so shoes that fit one person like a glove may not fit so well on another. One model may fit awesome (the Nano 2) and then subsequent models may slip and slide (Nano 7…sorry Reebok…we still love you). The main point here is that you need a shoe that is meant for the activity you are doing. Just adopting an “any old shoe” mentality when switching activity doesn’t work. You wouldn’t trust a mechanic to be your lawyer, why would you trust your running shoe to lift in if it’s not made for that? Be smart with your shoe choice and your body will thank you.