Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Footwear Manifesto

I'm going to start this post with the disclaimer that I am speaking from a weight room performance perspective first, an overall health perspective second, and a running perspective in a shameful, shameful third. That is to say, I have zero authority to tell you what to put on your feet when you go out and run more than 50 meters at a time. I see a lot of kids with a lot of different shoes on everyday. And some stick out more so than others. On with the show. If you were to go into a modern athletic footwear outlet and put all of the shoes there through a scientific gauntlet, and test a myriad of variables on each, a lot of them would be fairly similar to each other with obvious differences towards the extremes. These numbers don't really mean much to anyone outside of the designers of said shoes and maybe a few researchers. Now, if you did a series of tests on habitual wearers of said footwear you'd likely draw some conclusions as to which shoes are better than others. We'll start with some of the worst offenders.

Reebok Zigs and Nike Shox

If it were up to me I would outlaw these shoes and draw and quarter anyone who had a hand in their creation. These are by far the worst shoes that you could wear to lift weights and/or live your daily life in. The heel-centricity of these shoes basically means you'll live the rest of your life with tight ankles, hamstrings and hips and be weak as a kitten with MD in the same areas. I won't bore you with the biomechanics of the foot, ankle, knee, and hip but suffice it to say these shoes blow.

I can't hear you. Your shoes are too loud.

Every kid I've seen wear these shoes has horrible ankle mobility, weak glutes, and tight-as-piano-string hip flexors. This stems from the fact that you are basically putting on four inch pumps when you slide these guys on. Talk to any women who wears heels on a regular basis and she'll tell you. It ain't fun. The raised heel put a lot of stress through the hip flexors. This causes them to become tight and pull the pelvis into an anterior (forward) tilt. This anterior tilt tightens and weakens the glutes and hamstrings rendering you all but useless when it comes to any type of pursuit that involves any kind of physicality.

The raised heel also shortens the calves which will adapt and stay that way over time. Tight ankles mean that the knee can't bend over the foot when doing anything with the lower body. If you want a recipe for disaster in the form of lower body injuries this shit is the bomb. The Achilles tendon and ACL can only take so much.

A crime against humanity

On top of all this, wearing these shoes feels like wearing a cloud. You're probably saying that's a good thing, right? Wrong. Double wrong. Let's do a test. Take two people and assign one to hard, strenuous, but not back breaking labor and the other to complete bed rest for six months. Which one is going to be better set up to defend themselves against a zombie uprising? It's definitely not the dirty hippie laying in bed because he's trying to prove some stupid point. Same thing happens in your feet. If you keep your foot completely supported and never make it do any work shit gets weak. Everything happens from the ground up and if your feet are weak then you're weak. A weak foot means a weak foot strike when running, it means a weak base of support when squatting, dead lifting, and pressing, and it means a weak blunt object when trying to shit stomp a zombie's skull in. None of these things are good.

What To Wear When Smashing Weight

Every person who has spent a good amount of time training and is above average in strength has a personal favorite shoe to wear. Some like Chuck Taylor's, some like indoor soccer shoes, and some, like me, prefer wrestling shoes. If you can picture all of these shoes they all have something in common: a relatively flat sole that rides close to the ground. Having a flat sole with little cushioning allows you to A) Create space at your hips while squatting, dead lifting, and pressing by being able to sit your hips back. This is what engages your glutes and hamstrings along with your quads. The flat sole also allows you to push your weight to the outside of your foot, keeping your knees towards your pinky toe. If you like your ACLs then you'll try to keep your knee to the pinky toe.

An oldie but goodie.

And B) Keeps you as close to the ground as possible. Being close to the ground keeps you stable. It's the old adage that you can't fire a cannon from a row boat. And you can't squat well with your feet an inch and a half off the ground on top of a bunch of soft cushioning. If you try to tell me something about balance training or relate it to bosu balls then you need to turn your computer off, get in your van and drive outta my face. Seriously, if that thought came into your head never read this blog again.

One caveat to this is that some weirdos prefer to wear Olympic weightlifting shoes. These are shoes that have a wooden, raised heel that is about a half to a quarter inch up. Doing the Olympic lifts in these shoes definitely help, but for the majority of gym lifts I could take them or leave them. For some people the biomechanics of their own body makes these shoes a better, ahem, fit. I've tried these shoes for squatting and other movements in the past and have had mixed results. I like to wear them when I'm trying to target my quads a little more, but don't wear them while doing max effort power lifts. The difference in these shoes and the Zigs and Shox mentioned above is that the sole is completely solid. It's very hard to fall back on them because the heel doesn't give. It's hard and made of wood. Also, they are ONLY worn during lifting. The same things would happen to my lower extremities if I wore these all the time. So don't do it.

My Two Cents On Barefoot Running

Barefoot running or running with minimalist shoes like Vibram's has been gaining a lot of traction as of late. One of the reasons for this are studies that watch African and South American tribesmen, who never wear shoes, run. They strike the ground with their toe or mid foot first with the heel never really making any significant contact. The studies then go on to say that they have healthy joints and muscles and blah blah blah. I don't disagree with the studies. In fact, I fully agree with them. The one detail that gets lost on a lot of people is that THEY HAVE NEVER WORN SHOES. These tribesmen didn't wear heel-centric shoes their whole lives, read an article in a magazine, and suddenly decide to run barefoot. They've been doing it their whole fucking lives. As such they have developed the movement pattern and the support structures (bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles) to support running barefoot. If you are going to give barefoot running a try you first need to give running with shoes with less of a heel drop a try. Then try flat soled shoes. Then try barefoot. You need to build up your body to be able to handle it.

But that's only half the equation. If you've worn shoes your whole life then you have a movement pattern ingrained in you that requires shoes. It takes 10,000 perfect repetitions at something to make it a habit. To make the switch you have to unlearn how to run with shoes and relearn how to run without them. That takes a lot of time. Like months to years of knowing what the hell you are doing. And in the instant gratification society we live in not a lot of people are willing to do that. Or even realize they need to do that if they don't want to hobble around the rest of their lives because they were too lazy to do something the right way. I better stop before I completely change directions. Remember at the beginning when I said I had no authority to tell you what to wear when running? Yeah, I lied.

Some Recommendations

First and foremost I would recommend people to take their shoes off whenever possible while not doing anything strenuous. That being light yard/house work, short walks, or while at work. Forcing your foot to do some work and putting your ankle through a full range of motion is definitely going to help. But like I've said previously, ease into it. You can't go from having shoes on 24/7 to doing everything barefoot and not expect some stuff to hurt, specifically the bottom of your foot, the plantar fascia. Only dummies would do that. Right?

Same goes for everyday flat shoes as for going barefoot. A good starter shoe would probably be the Nike Frees or New Balance Minimus. These shoes are a lot flatter than most but still have a good amount of sole to help your foot work into it.

As for lifting start wearing flat shoes now. It's only while you are lifting so you don't really have to worry about hurting your feet by overdoing anything. Try out the Chucks, soccer shoes, or wrestling shoes and pick which one you like better. Some people even prefer to lift in Frees. While not the best in my mind, one could do a hell of a lot worse.

These make take some time to get used to the different movement pattern that they will put you through, though. Especially when squatting the big thing to remember is to use your heels and the outside of your feet as much as possible.

1 comment:

  1. "If you try to tell me something about balance training or relate it to bosu balls then you need to turn your computer off, get in your van and drive outta my face." Hahahaha I love it!

    I have a pair of vibrams dude, I wear them all the time, So much so that I forget I'm wearing them, I lift in them, run in them, and when the big boss is away I work in them. I hate shoes, always have always will. I remember growing up and playing football barefoot, running around in socks during the summer, because the asphalt was too hot for my lil piggies.

    Anyways yea, I totally agree with everything you just said.