As a practicing physical therapist, CrossFit coach, and personal trainer I am often asked questions about footwear. Most often it's asking about Olympic lifting shoes or cross-training shoes. Sometimes it is comparing brands like Nike, Adidas, Reebok and others. Often I get asked about what running shoes to buy. Ideally, there would be a simple clean answer to all of those questions. The simplest way I can answer that question is by saying BE SPECIFIC!
Why are feet so important?
The foot is an incredibly important part of your body when it comes to athletic performance, general fitness and even daily life. Unless you are a gymnast or swinging from a trapeze, the only thing that keeps you tied to earth is your feet. It's probably important that your feet are working correctly and correctly house them right? You don’t see a gymnast or acrobat wearing running shoes!!
We are all in agreement that your feet are mostly on the ground. That brings us to the importance of ground reaction forces. Ground reaction forces are defined as how much energy the ground exerts on your body. For example, walking in everyday life you’ve experienced ground reaction forces; however, running increases those ground reaction forces. A small hop will produce ground reaction forces but a big vertical jump will create much stronger forces.
Why am I giving you this physics lesson? In athletic performance as well as general fitness your feet are the primary absorber of these ground reaction forces and will translate them throughout your body. If you are throwing a javelin, swinging a golf club, or running a 5k your need to translate those forces to very different areas of the body.
Can my footwear really make a difference in my performance?
The simple answer is yes. On the extreme end of this example, think about sprinting in high heels. Could you do it? Yeah. Would you want to try? HELL NO! As hilarious as it might look to see someone stumble down a track in a sexy pair of stilettos you will not see it happen. (Side note: please don’t wear high heels!! That’s a whole different BLOG to write!).
As crazy as that example is, the more subtle theme remains. Shoes are specifically made to improve performance in athletic endeavors. Golf shoes are built with spikes or extra grip to improve stability during fast rotational movements. Tennis shoes are built with a wider toe box and heavy gripping rubber to improve multi-directional cutting. Olympic lifting shoes are built to improve mechanical advantages in the deep squat and provide foot stability.
What shoes should I wear?
Here is where the conversation gets to be a bit tougher in my opinion. Think about how many different shoes are sold to people for running alone. You have your super thick sole, you’ve got your minimalist shoes, you have your barefoot runners who say you don’t even need a shoe! So how do I know what to buy? Use this helpful flow-chart I created to help yourself buy your next pair of shoes:
Next think about the level of investment you are willing to make -> Newbie vs Professional, Weekend warrior vs 24-7/365 dedicated? Understand that if you are a newbie and or a weekend warrior that your financial investment most likely won’t be the same as a professional athlete or someone that runs every single day!
If you are still unsure, reach out for advice! Talk to a movement expert like a physical therapist or a professional in that field. The foot is a complex part of your body and an important part of the lower extremity kinetic chain. This means that issues of the foot could really stem from the back, the hip, the knee, the calf, and sometimes all of the above! A proper diagnosis of your tissue mobility, joint integrity, and movement patterns can determine a lot about the type of shoe best suited for you!
Let’s use the running example. If you are a heel striker when you walk and run, please do not switch to barefoot running or a minimalist shoe. There is no padding on the heel of these shoes and you will soon need to see a doctor and physical therapist to fix your foot if you suddenly switch to minimalist shoes after years of wearing cushioned shoes. For those runners that are forefoot runners, choosing shoes with a large chunky heel that weighs them down as they run will not feel good! Understanding your personal movement mechanics will help you make the best decision.
My personal shoeS
Just to preface my shoe list, I stick to a few simple sports and fitness activities and I am not paid to represent any of these brands. These are the shoes in my closet!
General Fitness (CrossFit)
Here are the 3 types that I wear on a weekly basis:
Pros: Durable and flexible once broken in.
Cons: Stiff & Higher in Price
Overview: Versatile shoe that you can lift weights, run and perform most fitness activities while wearing.
Price: ?? Hard to find these days
Pros: Crazy durable, owned these for 4+ years, Flat sole good for lifting
Cons: Very stiff and tough to break-in
Overview: If you want a shoe to last I usually recommend this as long as you can find some being sold. I do NOT recommend running in these!
Pros: Wide toe box and comfortable from day 1
Cons: Less stable and stretch out over time
Overview: Comfortable shoes that I prefer to wear as my daily shoe. I occasionally work out in these but prefer the others above for fitness.
Pros: Clean look, spiked for grip, easy to clean, affordable
Cons: Narrow shoe, not great to walk around
Overview: Good affordable shoe for the golfer that doesn’t want to break the bank on shoes.
Pros: Well built durable shoe
Overview: Since I perform Olympic lifts 2-4 days per week I justified the higher price to ensure that I optimized my mechanical advantage during these movements! Would recommend it to someone that wants to get into Olympic shoes and has never tried them.
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Blog: Fighting For Your Feet by Dr. Tim Cummings
Blog: Are Your Ready to Run? by Dr. Tim Cummings
YouTube: Read to Run: Foot Mobility