Footwear selection is one of the most critical yet overlooked parts of training. Appropriate footwear will not only improve performance & movement efficiency but also athlete safety as it will provide a solid platform for the 26 bones, 33 joints, & 200,000 + nerve endings of the foot to work as intended. In today’s market many shoes are built for form not function and if we don’t actively monitor & prioritize our foot health we will all pay the price eventually.
I treat footwear as I do tires on a car. You can have the fanciest gym shorts (paint job) and training shirt (sound system) in the gym, but it will not matter if your shoes (tires) can’t put the power to the ground (road). Imagine driving a sports car with bald tires?! You have all that power at your disposal, but it’s all for nothing if you’re unable to put the power to the ground in a controlled manner.
I would argue that appropriate footwear is crucial for all individuals at all times, but there are two specific scenarios that occur every week at 4.40 Performance that I would like to address:
- Squatting/Deadlifting in Running-Shoes
- Agility Session with Running-Shoes
In the first scenario, the main concern is the outsole of the shoe itself. Many modern running shoes are narrow through the toe box with a soft outsole that’s raised at the heel. The execution of movements utilizing additional external load (weight) beyond bodyweight in this type of shoe may result in a great deal of instability at the foot, which nearly always manifests itself upstream at the ankles, knees, and hips as well. Additionally, lifting heavy weights in running shoes can make the lift HARDER to complete. Instead of the initial force production generated by the legs & lower back musculature being transmitted directly to the barbell, a great deal of this initial force output is absorbed by the shoe as the outsole compresses until it can be compressed no further, at this point the force generated by the musculoskeletal system finally acts on the barbell and the barbell begins to move. Compound this with the loss of proprioception (the sense of relative position of one’s own body) commonly seen in shoes that have a soft/bouncy outsole and safety can be seriously jeopardized.
In the second scenario, the main concern is now the lack of lateral support that the shoe can provide. Most running shoes do not provide adequate lateral support throughout the toe box and arch areas, and as a result the forefoot is allowed to move freely from side to side. This lack of support allows movement of the foot within the shoe itself, further contributing to the disconnect between the athlete and the surface they’re moving on. Additionally, the increased heel-toe drop commonly seen with running shoes makes it more likely for the shoe to roll over sideways unpredictably, often increasing the risk of or leading to an ankle sprain.
Running shoes are some of the least-versatile footwear options on the market in terms of athletics. They are designed to do one thing and one thing only, to move the athlete forward. They are not meant for repetitive vertical jumping, extreme weight loading via squats/deadlifts, and certainly not lateral movements. Again, running shoes also tend to have a larger heel-toe drop than other types of shoes. This higher heel height shifts the athlete’s weight forward, demanding less ankle range of motion to function thereby shortening the heel cord (Achilles tendon), and promoting heel striking out in front of the athlete’s center of mass, all of which we generally want to avoid!
In a perfect world, we would all have multiple pairs of training shoes. One pair for distance running, one pair for sprint work, one pair for lateral/change-of-direction training, and one pair for heavy weightlifting. While optimal, this is certainly not necessary, especially for those athletes whose bodies & feet are still growing. The athlete who is still growing can get by with two good pairs of training shoes, one pair of linear running shoes and another pair of shoes with a flat, stable base & good lateral support throughout the arch and toe box. The older, more advanced athlete can decide whether to purchase additional footwear options for more and more specific uses.
When possible, always try a shoe on before buying. Everyone’s foot is unique; there is no one shoe that is made to fit everyone. If you have wide, short feet many running shoes may not fit comfortably. This does not mean that you should suffer through an ill-fitting shoe, but rather that you need to try on additional pairs to try and find one that works with your foot, not against it! If the shoe’s toe box is too narrow the toes will not be allowed to splay as naturally intended and the shape of the foot will change over time as a result. A lack of mechanical arch support compounded by the inability to stabilize the foot naturally will lead to medial arch collapse, followed closely by valgus knee collapse, hip impingement, lower back dysfunction, etc. As the foot’s shape changes its function will change as well.
In the future we will dive further into foot health, covering topics including flat feet, planter fasciitis, and other common lower extremity dysfunctions. We’ll discuss what causes these movement compensations and disorders as well as the steps required to regain function and control of one of the most sensitive parts of our entire body!