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The Functional Fitness Shoe: What Makes it Ideal for CrossFit?

By boxlife

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May 19, 2016

Individuals new to CrossFit may not give much thought to the type of footwear they train in. After all, learning how to properly execute a snatch and grind their way through chipper workouts are more immediate concerns. At least those were my thoughts when I first started CrossFit, wearing a pair of basketball shoes which I thought would do the trick. Of course, wearing specialized footwear isn’t going to transform you into an elite athlete—but it will definitely help. So, what makes ‘CrossFit shoes’ so unique, and how do they differ from other training shoes in the market?

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The functional fitness shoes: Reebok Nano and Nike Metcon
The Reeok Nano 1.0 was the shoe that started the ‘movement’ of CrossFit-related footwear. Sporting a low heel drop and a versatility that allowed athletes to run and lift weights without changing shoes, the Nano was designed to fit the constantly varied nature of CrossFit programming. They’ve retained that blueprint and have evolved over the years, though not without competition. Nike, aware of the opportunity to become involved in the every growing functional fitness community, released their own shoe: the Metcon. Like the Nano, the Metcon features a low heel to create “a flat, stable platform for explosive lift,” as the Nike website states. Having a low heel and flat surface is a key feature of functional fitness shoes and one of the main differences between these types of shoes and other sneakers on the market (more on that in a moment). As these shoes have grown with the sport of CrossFit, they’ve added more features to tailor themselves to the specific demands of a CrossFitter. For example, both the Metcon and the Nano now feature a grip lining, as I like to call it, on the side of the shoe near its base. This lining is included to help athletes grip the rope during rope climbs. The Metcon 2 has a ‘zero-drag heel’, which is basically a small piece of plastic that curves around the heel of the shoe to provide a buffer between the friction of the wall and the shoe during handstand push-ups.

Other training shoes
Minimalist shoes are popular in running circles because they encourage proper foot placement. Runners should land on their forefoot rather than their heels, so minimalist shoes have little to no heel cushioning. But ask a CrossFitter to do a workout in a minimalist shoe such as the New Balance Minimus or the Inov-8 Bare-XF, and they could experience a lot of discomfort from striking the ground with their heels when running. Furthermore, minimalist shoes aren’t the best option to perform box jumps or weightlifting movements in. You need some support around the foot, otherwise the bone structure and tendons are going to take a hell of beating.

On the flip side, too much cushioning isn’t going to help you either. Many sneakers out there (such as those used for basketball) feature a lot of padding on the sole of the shoe. While this may be good for absorbing impact, it’s problematic for squatting and Olympic lifts. When squatting, you want to be able to sit back on your heels to maintain a neutral spine and vertical torso. Overly-cushioned soles take you off your heels and put you on to your toes. This is important for sports like tennis and basketball, where you need to be on your tip toes to make quick lateral movements, but not so advantageous for a workout where you need to perform thrusters and deadlifts in a workout.

Why are functional fitness shoes ideal for CrossFit?
The main selling point of the Nano, Metcon and now the NoBulls, a new entry to the functional shoe marketplace, is their versatility. They sport a low heel and flat surface so that you can squat and do Olympic lifts, but just enough cushion so you can also go for a 400m run following a set of clean and jerk. They’re not designed to replace the Olympic lifting shoe or the traditional minimalist running shoe. The leading athletes in those sports will wear equipment that is directly tailored to the demands of distance running and Olympic lifting, as they should. But the demands of CrossFit are varied, since CrossFitters don’t specialize in any one area—they seek to be balanced. Hence why the functional fitness shoes seeks to be balanced in design as well. You can see these types of shoes in action regularly at the CrossFit Games, or via main site workouts that are posted on CrossFit’s YouTube channel (including this one that Rich Froning and James Hobart completed, involving deadlifts, handstand push-ups, power cleans, and pistols—all while wearing Nanos).

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