The Best Pair of CrossFit Shoes (Depending on Your Goals)
By: Coach Mitchell
You have begun your CrossFit journey, and one of the first things you will notice is that the footwear is quite different than what is found in a traditional gym setting. You will notice varied types of firm-soled shoes, in comparison to traditional athletic-type shoes with squishy lifted soles. Without question you will quickly find that squatting in running or cushioned shoes isn't ideal.
So how do you know what features to look for? And, how can these special features help you move better during specific workouts?
Keep in mind the decision about CrossFit shoes will be just as personal as your fitness journey. Talk to other athletes in the gym about what has worked best for them; decide what your priorities for your shoes are, and be open to new ideas. Your training will be varied, and your preferences may change - become stronger, more agile and mobile.
If you're starting out, you may be asking, "Why do I need specific CrossFit shoes? Won't my usual running shoes do fine?" Because CrossFit is focused on functional varied movement the demands it puts on shoes are unique. You will want the shoe to balance three factors. 1) Support and firmness for weightlifting; 2) Some flexibility for running; and, 3) Lightweight yet sturdy for gymnastics, especially those rope climbs.
Features to on Which to Focus:
The "drop" of a shoe is the difference in height from the heel to the toe of the shoe. High support running shoes tend to have a very high heel drop (about 8 mm). In contrast, CrossFit shoes tend to have a 4 mm drop. If you're trying to keep the proper position for weightlifting, this is much better than a shoe that shifts you more off your heels. The lower drop helps distribute your weight more evenly across your foot, making it generally more suited to CrossFit training.
Most running shoes tend to have more flexible soles to better facilitate movement through the entire foot. Weightlifting shoes usually have a firmer sole in order to better support you and keep you in proper position during lifts. You want your CrossFit shoes to ideally fall somewhere in the middle. Having a firmer sole will help you feel the ground solidly while weightlifting, and keep you in place. However, you will also want to make sure you also have enough flex in the sole for light running. You will find some brands will be firmer than others, be sure to read reviews, ask your friends and, of course, try them on.
CrossFit training is tough on shoes. The sheer amount of wear they get, combined with rigorous exercises, can break down a pair of shoes in a hurry. When shopping for shoes, make sure to take a look at the outer part of the shoe. Exercises such as rope climbing and sled pushes can cause soles to start peeling away from the shoe, so make sure everything looks sturdy. Some brands are even designed with extra protection on the outer upper shoe sole to assist with wall climbs, box scaling, and rope climb movements.
You will not want heavy bulky shoes weighing you down in a workout. Seek a shoe that's going to be lightweight with a balance of support and durability. Some people like to go to the extreme in terms of shoe weight - minimalist or "barefoot" shoes. Of course, this has to be balanced with support and durability.
Lateral support is a big factor to consider when looking at shoes. During CrossFit workouts, movements such as squatting require torque be generated from the hips, driving the knees out and shifting your weight to the outside of the foot. If your shoes don't have adequate lateral support, your feet can slide out over the edges of your shoes, increasing the risk of injury. Look for external "cages" or other forms of support on the outer sides of your shoes.
Making Compromises - What REALLY Matters to You?
With so many factors to juggle in choosing CrossFit shoes, it's unreasonable to think that any single pair of CrossFit shoes could perfectly meet all expectations. You're going to have to make some compromises when it comes to your shoes. The important question is which compromises to make.
Which features you hone in on will depend primarily on how you're training and what you're training for. Different workouts will mean different priorities when it comes to shoes, as will varied training levels and goals.
If weightlifting is going to be your primary CrossFit focus, you're going to want to go for shoes that focus on stability and durability rather than flexibility. You want to make sure that when you go to execute a lift, your shoes help keep you firmly in position. Shoes with additional cushioning are designed to absorb force but in weightlifting, you want the force you exert to go directly to the floor, helping you push back against gravity and execute the lift. Having shoes that connect you more directly to the ground will help you transfer force and maintain position.
In many ways, the things you're looking for in a shoe if you're primarily focused on running are the complete opposite of what you'd look for in a shoe for weightlifting or gymnastics. For running, you want a shoe that has a lot of cushion as well as support and flexibility. CrossFit requires weightlifting and gymnastics exercises, and you'll need extra lateral stability, less cushioning, and increased durability for those workouts.
While weightlifting and running may be common exercises outside of CrossFit, gymnastics workouts are new to most. The main factors you'll want to look for are lightness, durability, and support. Whereas weightlifting-focused shoes can be a little heavier in pursuit of the needed stability, you want to make sure your shoes aren't a burden if you're climbing ropes, scaling walls, or doing bar work. Gymnastics can stress unexpected parts of your shoe. You want to make sure they have the durability and support to get you through the workouts.
Read reviews, try on a few pairs of shoes, and make sure to take into account the primary type of exercise you'll be using your shoes for. In the end, your decision about CrossFit shoes will be just as personal as your wellness journey. Talk to other CrossFitters about what has worked best for them and decide what your priorities for your shoes are. As in everything CrossFit, it will be about finding the right shoes to balance the demands of all the varied functional movements we work to improve upon daily.