Could you be training in the wrong shoes?


Having proper footwear is essential when it comes to working out. And before I get into specifics, it is worth noting that the biggest factor in which shoe to purchase for working out is that it should be the right shoe for you! Duh, right?! Well, so many people fall into the trap of selecting a shoe based off of another person’s choices, desires or information. Always listen to your feet (not someone else’s), try on a variety of shoes, and make a conscious decision (your conscious) when selecting footwear. You’ll be much more likely to select the proper pair the first time. And please, don’t just buy a pair because of color or style. You are most likely doing yourself a disservice. For me personally, I know that my Inov-8’s are not the most stylish shoes, especially when compared to the new Nike Met-Con’s or Reebok Nano’s, but I wear them and always go back to them because they work best for me. I know I will move better, and, therefore, feel stronger, when I wear those shoes, as compared to if I bought a pair of Nike’s simply because they look cooler, or because my friend Ryan wants me to.


Now, what should you be looking for when selecting a training shoe? First off, if you are the average person, you probably wear high heels, dress shoes, or supportive shoes during your everyday life. Your one hour at the gym will be best served by using a shoe that brings down the heel to toe drop of the shoe (the difference in height between the rear foot and forefoot sole thickness), has less arch support, and is overall a more “minimal” shoe (More flexible, less supportive, less cushion). By using a more “minimal” shoe, you will work out the musculature of the foot and the surrounding tissues and joints, therefore strengthening it, and decreasing your risk of plantar fasciitis, hammer toes, bunions and a number of foot and lower body related issues (assuming you slowly take steps down! Don’t just jump into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers if you are used to a highly supportive Brooks shoe!). After all, you’re in the gym to work out, right? And you are using and training all of your other muscles, why not train the foundation of your body (your feet!) as well?
Now that those prerequisites have been discussed, I can go back to answering the question from the beginning of the last paragraph. In general, what makes a good training shoe? Well, a good training shoe should be flexible. It should not be as “stiff as a board”. You should be able to have proprioception between your foot and the ground while lifting and engaging in activities such as the agility ladder. This allows your body to respond and function more naturally by increasing the amount of information sent between your limbs and your brain. The stiffer the shoe, the more of a “cast” that it is. Most people know how stiff a cast is, and how it does not allow your limbs to move as they should. So, getting a more flexible shoe (which usually means a less cushioned shoe), will allow your body to move as it naturally should, and allow you to develop better and more efficient technique.
This training shoe should also have a wide toe box (and personally, I believe that all of your shoes should). Too often we cram our poor toes into shoes that do not allow them to move, react and spread out as they should. Studies have shown that wearing too narrow of a shoe can be a large factor in the development of things like bunions and hammer toes. And by not allowing your toes to flex and move as they should while enduring loads, you also lose that proprioceptive ability that was mentioned earlier, therefore inhibiting natural and good technique. So, if you continually wear narrow dress shoes or high heels, let your wonderful toes function correctly by investing in a training shoe that gives ample room for your toes to do their job (which is to provide stability to your lower body and feedback to your brain).

Next, your training shoe should bring you closer to the ground and should have that lower “heel-to-toe drop”. This is another factor that increases the proprioception of your lower body and forces your body to move in a more natural way. Many of us suffer from shortened Achilles tendons and calf muscles, which makes it hard to squat properly, and is what I believe to be a major factor that contributes to the increasing amount of people suffering from plantar fasciitis. When you elongate your calf muscles and Achilles’ tendon, you take pressure off of the plantar fascia, while also increasing mobility in the lower body. This lower “drop”, as it is commonly referred to, also tends to make the sole feel more ‘solid’ underfoot. This is good, you do not want to squat or deadlift in a highly cushioned shoe, as you lose stability. Think about it like this: Imagine squatting on a BOSU ball as compared to a concrete floor. In this example, the BOSU ball is a highly cushioned shoe and the concrete floor is a more “minimal shoe”. If you are on the BOSU ball, you will be wobbling all over the place and more likely to lose balance and have poor technique. If you are firmly planted on a solid floor, you’ll have much more stability as the foundation under your foot is firm.
Lastly, your shoe should have an upper that is built for a variety of forward and lateral movements. A lot of people who wear running shoes to the gym often complain about blow-outs and tears in the material. That is because most road running shoes are designed only for forward (and possibly backward) motion. The overlays and materials on top are either non-existent or simply are not built to handle the increased force of lateral lunges or side steps commonly done here in the gym. Any shoe that falls under the umbrella of a “cross trainer” will be built to handle those stresses. They tend to have extra layers of rubber, nylon, polyester, or leather that are strategically placed and can handle the variety of forces placed on the shoe.
To sum everything up, you should be searching for a shoe that is more “minimal” in design. It should have less arch support than you would normally wear, bring you lower to the ground, and be designed with ample toe box room and flexibility that will allow your foot to get stronger and move and function as it has evolved to.
In part 2, I will discuss specific shoes and provide a brief review/description. Hopefully, that will allow you to narrow down your choices and gain knowledge before you step foot into a new pair of shoes.
ALSO! Share, like, or comment on this blog post and stop by the service desk and pick up a $10 dollar off coupon on a purchase $50 dollars or more at Playmakers. Get yourself some new shoes!

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