Do I Need New Shoes?

I get lots of questions about shoes. Should I run barefoot? Should I get minimalist shoes? Do I need CrossFit shoes?

The answer? It depends. There’s always the point of view that you really don’t need any gear to go out and work hard. And there’s something to be said for that.

However, your feet are your foundation. They’re the first point of contact with the ground, our first and foremost way of connecting with the world around us. If you’re walking around in over-padded, pronation-stopping, gigantor boots, you’re cutting off that connection and losing that feedback. Furthermore, as we run, our feet travel in circles under our hips. If you’re a good runner, your foot doesn’t hit the ground until it’s back under your hips, causing you to stay on the ball of your foot. Like Usain Bolt in this video:

If you’re wearing gigantor shoes, the heel of the shoe is so much larger that your heel will strike first. And there you go – you’ve become a heel striker. So why do these shoes exist if they make people worse runners? It’s all been pretty well laid out in Born to Run, so I won’t go nuts here. Basically, the founder of Nike thought it was a good idea at first, but by the time all of the R&D tests came back with pretty poor results, all the shoes were already selling like hot cakes and so Nike became a victim of its own success. Since the inception of these “motion control” and “padded” shoes in the 1970s, running injuries have sky-rocketed. These days, around 85% of runners, recreational to professional, are injured every year. And we’ve all become heel-strikers. That’s the gist.

So that’s the answer then, right? Ditch the overly-technical supershoes? Well, no. Not quite.

Your foot is pretty complicated. First off, it’s got an arch. Any architect can tell you that that’s a damn strong structure. And it is. Until you start pushing up from underneath the arch. Which is exactly what all of those “arch-support” shoes and custom orthotics do. They actually weaken your feet. You forget how to use your feet, and they begin to collapse more and more so that you, in turn, depend more and more on shoes and orthotics. Go straight to barefoot running or even minimalist shoes, and you’re asking for an injury. You’ll probably look like this:

Running or even walking like this causes everything upstream (knees, hips, IT Band – literally everything) to also be out of whack. Our first priority needs to be strengthening your feet to bring you from the example on the right to the example on the left, below:


There are a ton of exercises for this, and a ton of movements. One of the best places to start is just walking around your house barefoot, but being super-conscious of your stride. Squat barefoot and be mindful of not letting your arch collapse. I’ll also be posting some relevant Mobility WODs in the near future. But for now, back to shoes.

If you have flat feet and “need” custom orthotics or wear super padded shoes, don’t move straight to Vibrams or minimalist shoes. Work on your foot strength and slowly (every 3-4 months) downgrade your drop. What’s a drop, you ask? Every shoe has a certain amount of drop between the heel and the forefoot. This can be as high as 12mm, maybe even more. Most ‘traditional’ running shoes are probably around a 10mm. Minimalist shoes can be anywhere from a 6 to a 4 to even zero. If you’re running in a shoe with a 10mm drop, don’t go straight to one with a 0mm differential – that’s asking for injury. Start with 8mm first. Train another 3 months there, and then move to 6mm, and so on.

Also note that working down to the smallest differential won’t do diddley-squat for your run mechanics if you’re not actively working on running as a skill. RunningĀ is a skill and it needs to be trained as such. You may very well be great at squatting and box jumping and double-under-ing in your new Inov-8s, and you may well think you’re a decent runner even though you haven’t done it in awhile. Go ahead and try to run a couple miles in them if you haven’t been training your running. See how your shins, calves, IT Band, etc all feel the next day. If you’d never deadlifted before, we wouldn’t start you at 500 lbs just because you can squat 400 lbs. We’d start at square one and work up to the heavy stuff. Running works the same way. Start with technique, then add the intensity. Only after both of those things are in place do we start thinking about volume.

So do you need new shoes? Maybe. Do you need to start thinking about the biomechanics of your foot? Definitely. Stronger feet mean a stronger everything – squat, deadlift, Oly lifts, press – all of it. So get to work:

One Response to “Do I Need New Shoes?”
  1. Liz says:

    Great post!! Lots of good explanation here. I need to get back to my exercises!

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