The rise in popularity of CrossFit has created a new challenge for athletic shoe companies, and the need for a CrossFit-specific shoe requires a bit explanation to the new CrossFitter.
This is due to the multi-faceted nature of CrossFit. CrossFitters run. They jump. They lift. They climb. They do all sorts of crazy stuff that defy traditional athletic shoe mechanics because traditional athletic shoes are made for one specific activity at a time. Long distance running shoes are different from sprinting shoes, which are different from soccer cleats, which are different from biking shoes… you get the idea.
Most people understand the mechanics of running shoes: Breathable, lightweight material for maximum foot comfort, a flexible sole & pliable heel to absorb the strike of a footfall, arch support for running posture & joint health- all of these things are good & make sense. All of these things are also the anti-weightlifting shoe.
Anatomy of the Traditional Weightlifting Shoe:
Weightlifting shoes have two basic attributes: A wedge heel and a stiff, supportive upper (the part of the shoe that goes over the top of your foot). The wedge heel helps you maintain an upright torso during heavy lifts. The other important aspect of the wedge heel is that it should be a very hard, unforgiving material such as wood. This hardness is instrumental in improving what is called “non-diminished force return”.
What is non-diminished force return, and why do we care about it in CrossFit & weightlifting?
Take the example of jumping. When you jump, you are exerting a force against the ground to propel yourself upward. If you are wearing shoes with rubbery, pliable heels, they will absorb some of the force you exert against the ground, and you will not jump as high. If you are wearing shoes with hard heels, all of the force you exert against the ground will be transferred back upward into a higher jump.
Now think about the clean & jerk. There are two times in this Olympic lift when you must exert force against the ground- at the bottom of the clean, and the initiation of the jerk. You do not want some of the energy you are exerting to go to waste by being absorbed by squishy heels.
The stiff upper portion of the olympic weightlifting shoe is also meant to improve non-diminished force return by making sure your foot does not move around within the shoe. Your foot should always be in contact with the heel inside the shoe. Once again, because if it is not, some of your energy- the force you are exerting against a weight- is being wasted.
CrossFit Shoes are not running or weightlifting shoes:
As you can see, many of the key attributes to running shoes and weightlifting shoes directly clash with each other. Stiff uppers versus breathable uppers, and absorbant heels versus unforgivingly hard heels. Many people find they can CrossFit in running shoes (although their weightlifting ability suffers), but they cannot run in weightlifting shoes. This is where the need for a CrossFit-specific shoe comes in.
Reebok– the official sponsor of CrossFit- has developed some really awesome CrossFit shoes to address these needs. Like most people, we have absolutely no idea what shoe companies mean when they say their product has “Metasplit grooves” or a “mid-foot DuraCage”. But ridiculous marketing terms aside, Reebok makes great CrossFit shoes that are functional for both running and lifting, and if you are serious about improving at CrossFit, you should buy a pair.