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Old 03-30-2010, 02:43 AM   #1
Johannes Aro
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Barefoot Crossfittin'

Hello all,

I've been Crossfitting for a couple of years now, doing the mainsite WODs on my own. I have been reading about barefoot training, especially about running barefoot, and am now interested in taking a wider perspective to it and doing everything barefeet, the heavy lifts included. So I open this log to report successes and failings I find on the way.

Based on what I've read about lifting barefeet, the discussion tends to converge around one aspect, that of the benefit of the contemporary olympic weightlifting shoe. I have never lifted with proper weigthlifting shoes, but I can easily confirm the benefits of not lifting in running shoes or similar padded squishy sneakers. I have been using Puma sneakers with flat padless rubber sole for a while, but after giving up on them and doing squats, snatches, cleans (and needless to say, deadlifts) without anything I've understood the benefits of not having a soft rubber piece between the foot and the floor. The floor material where I lift is usually wood or a hard rubber mat, I prefer the latter because it gives an extra sense of non-slip security.

The best argument for weightlifting shoes against anything else, is the one I found from this site (wfs): weightlifting shoes with raised heels help the lifter get more forward when going under the barbell, because the raised heel forgives some inflexibility in the ankle. When the lifter is more forward under the barbell before catching it, he can keep his back in a more vertical position.

Almost every other argument that is given for the weightlifting shoe tends to be about keeping the foot stable against the floor. I just don't find it an issue when lifting barefoot. Does it matter whether you have a hard sole of the weightlifting shoe under your foot, or whether you have a hard floor under it? Usually this argument comes with the arch support argument: the shoe supports the arch of the foot which under heavy loads is in danger of collapsing. But if you ask a bridge engineer whether the arch of an arch brigde should be supported from below when they drive a heavy line of trucks over the bridge, you may get some strange looks. Giving support for the foot is the exact job of the arch.

There is also the argument about the ankle support that a shoe gives under heavy lifts. Many lifters claim that you can lift barefoot, but not the heaviest squats, because under hundreds of pounds the foot and ankle are in danger of experiencing injury. I think this is just a weaker argument than the stability argument, because there is nothing in the weightlifting shoe (nor the sneaker, of course) that gives the support this argument refers to. You want ankle support? Squat in ski boots.

I don't really know of any evolutionary perspectives to support the claim that humans should lift without shoes, so everything to that direction is just playful speculation. Maybe the cavemen used to lift and carry heavy animals for long times after hunting them, with movements similar to modern weightlifting (in the paleolithic era, humans used to hunt big wild animals until they went extinct). Or maybe they used to do the lifting work when building the caves. At least jumping and playing around is a very natural activity that humans have always done, and 99% of the time shoeless.

Anyway, I think Crossfitting barefoot is worth of an experiment. My foremost belief about the human body is that it is a highly adaptive system, and the bare feet are capable of adapting to Crossfit type exercises if done regularily.

Here's some quotes I found from the Crossfit Forums from discussions about shoes. They are mostly from conversations between chucks/sneakers vs. weightlifting shoes.

Quote:
OLY shoes are much more stable for OLY lifting, they help your balance, your power and your consistency. Nothing to do with avoiding injury, you just have a wider, more stable base on the ground with that big flat sole.
Quote:
you dont need em [weightlifting shoes]. They are expensive and unneccessary. Chucks are fine. They give you more support which is true but you need to develop that support not have it artificially via your shoes.
Quote:
I still like barefoot training in general (e.g. metCon type work), but not for weightlifting or any traing that will be placing big, repetitive loading on the legs - as I said in one of those threads, these are not exactly natural activities, so approaching them that way is a mistake. I've seen a lot of collapsed arch = collapsed ankle = knee/hip injury, and have the problem myself. So the hard sole/arch support is a necessity in the case of heavy lifting (I wear orthotics in my lifting shoes).
Quote:
part of my concern with the lifted heels was that forward knee position and the resulting lack of contribution of the hamstrings to the squat. i'm much less concerned with this now because i've decided that position is only problematic if the requisite conditioning hasn't taken place, e.g. someone performs PL-ish squat for years, then decides to load up on the OL squat right away and suddenly develops some nice patellar tendinitis--but that's the fault of poor planning, not the squat position.
Quote:
[by Mark Rippetoe]

Shoes are the only piece of personal equipment that you really need to own. It only takes one set of five in a pair of squat shoes to demonstrate convincingely to anybody who has done more than one squat workout. A good pair of squat shoes adds enough to the efficiency of the movement that the cost is easily justified. For anywhere from $50 to $200 for the newest Adidas weightlifting shoes, a pair of proper shoes makes a big difference in the way a squat feels. Powerlifting squat shoes have relatively flat soles, and Olympic weightlifing shoes have a little lift in the heal that makes it easier to get the knees forward just in front of the toes. Your choice will depend on your squatting style and your flexibility. Most squat shoes have metatarsal straps to increase lateral stability and suck the foot back into the shoe to reduce intra-shoe movement.

But the main feature of a squat shoe is heel compressibility. The drive out of the bottom starts at the floor, where the feet start the kinetic chain. If the contact between the feet and the floor is the squishy gel or air cell of a running shoe, a percentage of the force of the drive will be absorbed by the compression of the cell. This compression is fine for running, but when squatting it reduces power transmisison efficiency and prevents foot stability. Unstable footing interferes with the reproducibility of the movement pattern, rendering virtually every squat a whole new experience and preventing the development of good technique. Squatting in running shoes is like squatting on a bed. Many people get away with it for years, but serious lifters invest in squat shoes. They aren't that expensive, especially compared to brand new name brand athletic shoes, and they make a huge difference in the way a squat feels.
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Old 03-30-2010, 03:52 PM   #2
Thomas Kelley
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Re: Barefoot Crossfittin'

I spend a lot of my life barefoot, and have done some crossfit barefoot, so I'll throw in my personal reasons for wearing my chucks instead of going barefoot every day. I train at an affiliate, if I were at home then I'd probably be in barefeet most of the time.

1. By the end of the workout, there's just stuff around. Pools of sweat and fluid mix with shoe dirt, and the floor gets nasty. The gym is clean, but there's only so much you can do with people coming and gong all day. My feet were getting black and sticky, and I just didn't think that was good. This is my primary reason.

2. There's a lot of weights and kettlebells around, I don't like stubbing my toe. It hasn't happened often, but it sucks when it does.

3. The wood lifting platforms have some splinters. Not a lot, but enough that I don't want to think about it and lose any concentration.

4. I didn't like putting them on just for runs, box jumps, and rowing, the only things I really needed them for.

There are some guys who are always barefoot, and five-fingers or equivalent would solve most of this for me, but I really don't notice anything negative with my chucks either. I just think of it as my workout uniform, I put on my shorts, shirt, socks, and chucks, grab my water bottle, and go. But I may go back to more barefoot in the summer, I'll see how it goes. I'm interested to see what you notice, I definitely like the barefoot feel on some of the lifts and am neutral on others, and not really negative on any, so if your feet are healthy I'd expect you to notice some cool things right away with balance and ground feel. If I were squatting a lot of weight, I may have a different opinion entirely, but (unfortunately) the weights I use probably aren't enough to cause any damage.
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Old 03-31-2010, 01:45 AM   #3
Johannes Aro
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Re: Barefoot Crossfittin'

Those are all very good reasons to go with the shoes. Where I train there's usually not much other people around, the gym is very clean and no-one brings any dirt with them. There are weights and all the machines with their sharp corners around, but I guess one just has to learn to walk in that kind of an environment. The barefoot runners say that you really can go barefoot on the roughest forest trails, but you just need to let the feet learn to cope with that.

What comes to runs and box jumps, I think its more of an issue of adapting to it. I did the jumprope / box jump / kb swings wod a couple of days ago barefeet but didn't find any problems. First I was scared that my toes would hook on to the edge of the box on the box jumps, but that didn't happen. When landing from the box, I learnt to do it quite smoothy. No heel pain afterwards or anything. My gym is in two floors, and there's a steel staircase that is very rough for barefooters. I usually cross this staircase several times during the workout, and after a couple of weeks I noticed that my feet got used to it. The rower is an issue, of course, and I bring my shoes for workouts involving the rower.

But I guess if you want to do the wods as barefoot as you can, you can always have flip-flops or similar?
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