Crossfit Shoes: What You Need To Know
Anyone who’s tried to run or train with a blister will know intimately how important wearing the best shoes to support your training and goals can be. One little mistake in this department can leave you out-of-pocket, in pain and even risk your health. Getting the right pair of shoes is vital, especially in an intense and demanding discipline like Crossfit.
If that wasn’t enough, are you aware that Crossfit favours the toe-striking or ‘barefoot’ running and movement style? For many people used to conventional shoes and running styles, this can come as a culture shock of note. It’s important to know what you’re doing when it comes to your feet and Crossfit, so keep reading for some general tips on choosing the best Crossfit shoes for you, as well as some top brand recommendations.
What makes Crossfit special?
Crossfit may seem like a fitness buzz word at the moment, but there’s a lot more to it than mere ‘latest greatest craze’ status. It’s a method of training used by heavy-hitters like military and police groups worldwide, and it’s used in such demanding professions for a reason. While almost any legitimate sport is going to be good for you and improve your fitness, it’s fairly easy to become very specialised in your niche with most activities.
Surprising as it may seem, a lot of sports build incredible fitness and endurance in one or two specific areas while doing considerably less for overall capability and dexterity. Crossfit looks to tackle this head on by using generalised training that yanks inspiration from fields as varied as plyometrics, gymnastics, interval training and strongman exercises! Founded by one couple and originally confined to a few gyms, there’s a growing explosion in Crossfit’s popularity, particularly as their ‘Workout of the Day’ postings to websites around the world help avoid workout boredom.
So how does it work?
Change is the name of the game with Crossfit. It continuously mixes a blend of gymnastic and weightlifting exercises with cardio aerobics, all performed at high intensity. It opens with a warm up, then trains skills before segueing into the chosen ‘workout of the day’ and ending with stretches. It is a highly competitive sport, with such competitiveness actively encouraged, so it’s not for everyone. You may even have heard some negatives about Crossfit, as the competitive, driven nature of the programming will, of course, by its very nature attract the sort of person who probably should know when to quit while they’re ahead but don’t.
They do, however, seek to make the program accessible to everyone, from the elderly to the serious track athlete and promote a culture in which it is the intensity of the training that makes the difference, not the type. It has a great internet community, encourages dietary changes in participants, and for people seeking to challenge themselves in a multi-modal fitness environment Crossfit can be an excellent choice. There’s one hitch, though- they favor minimalist footwear, so it’s vital that the shoes you choose are good. The best Crossfit shoes you can afford are less of a status symbol and more of a necessity!
So, what’s so special about my feet?
Inadequate support and incorrect pressures caused by ill-designed or ill-fitting shoes can cause a host of dangers and injuries. In Crossfit, it’s a particular concern as the genre itself does suffer from some allegations that it promotes a culture of ‘too much, too soon’, particularly among newcomers to the sport who can be prone to overtraining.
The best Crossfit shoes are generally held to be minimalist shoes that encourage a running pattern heavily reliant on toes rather than the ‘normal’ heel striking method. The kettle of fish this particular debate can open up is massive- supporters of a more barefoot running style will be the first to tell you that heel striking is wrong and unnatural and brought on by shoe companies and cushy living for our feet, where others will tell you these are the technical advances that reduce damage. These are very different to your average-Joe sneakers, that’s for sure! When it comes to minimalist footwear, there are two types:
- ‘True’ Barefoot Running Shoes, and
- Minimalist Running shoes.
True barefoot running shoes resemble literal foot gloves, having no heel and no drop from heel to toe. A minimalist running shoe is a middle ground between the traditional sneaker and the ‘barefoot’ shoes, with a minimal heel usually averaging in the region of a 4-8mm drop to the toes.
My regular sneakers are out, then?
The Crossfit community as a whole holds that the normal day-to-day sneaker style does not promote true leg health- that they for the most part mask or avoid problems rather than correct them.
That said, you aren’t going to be taken out back and shot for not subscribing to the minimalist shoe fraternity. Obviously, as people begin to train in the Crossfit style and while you and the sport are still on probation with one another, your shoe type is the thing of least interest to you. Starting out, an ordinary sneaker will probably serve you just fine. If you aren’t a serious devotee, you’ll probably be ok in a normal shoe too. And if you have concerns like Plantar Fasciitis the continued support and cushioning of a conventional track shoe may very well be a must for you. But be aware that the Crossfit community would argue that adopting a barefoot running style would be the key to solving those issues permanently!
So what makes these minimal shoes novel?
Degree of contact with the floor is the single thing that most differentiates a minimalist shoe from a standard shoe. Average sneakers provide little to no floor contact due to sole cushioning- the ideal Crossfit shoe avoids this at all costs, and floor contact is seen as vital. The shoes are also lightweight, to offer no impediment to the movement and action of the foot.
Given these differences, you may be surprised to find that the ‘average’ shoe marketed for Crossfit falls mostly into the running shoe category. It is true that, if you should become or already are a serious devotee of Crossfit, you may in fact wish to invest in several pairs of shoes for each facet of the workout, but most ‘average’ Crossfitters will be best served by a pair of shoes that covers the activity you do most in a workout- moving around. So it’s a great place to start.
A few easy considerations for considering shoes:
Once you've decided if you’d rather stick with a semi-‘normal’ minimalist shoe or opt for the full on barefoot style, there’s still a couple of other considerations to give the ideal shoe:
- They should ‘breathe’ and be comfortable.
- They should be well made and durable.
- They should fit correctly to avoid blisters and pain.
- Are you already a Crossfit pro, or a beginner?
To address the last question a little bit further- we are all used to standard, cushioned, arch supported shoes. Even if you’re keen to make the transition to barefoot running styles, swapping out the familiar shoe and taking on the heavy Crossfit training load is a recipe for foot disaster and multiple injuries. A far smarter plan is to ‘step down’ towards your ultimate goal, and start with a compromising shoe to get your feet used to the new style.
So, who comes out best in the genre?
There’s an obvious name to start with when it comes to Crossfit, and that’s the only officially licensed brand for Crossfit- Reebok. They aren’t the only decent Crossfit shoe out there, however, despite that endorsement, so we’ll also consider some other top performing ranges:
- Reebok Nano Crossfit
- Inov 8-F lite
- Converse All-Stars
- Merrel Barefoot Trail Glove
- The Vibram Five Fingers
The Reebok Crossfit Nano range.
Available for both men and women in a variety of colours, the Reebok Nano range is the official Crossfit running shoe. It’s not a shoe for the hardcore barefoot runner, though, as it does still seek to balance heel stabilisation with the forefoot cushioning it offers. It’s built to last with specific ‘DuraCage’ construction, and purchasers seem happy- it rarely drops below a high 4 to 5 star rating amongst wearers. Some do caution users to be aware that their sizing tends to run big, so you may want to try to fit these in person should you wish to buy them. It’s a great shoe to start your Crossfit journey with.
Inov 8-F lite
The Inov 8 range gives you just about the most minimal sole you will get without venturing into the barefoot shoe territories- it’s a stunningly small 3mm drop. This makes them great for running, particularly barefoot runners with strong and confident feet, but users caution that this is not a brand for rope climbing and similar activities as they will take damage easily and are not as durable out of their running element as the Reeboks above. They do offer the Bare XF range, which is more suited to the climbing aspects of Crossfit, but it will mean an extra investment, so these are probably a better choice for intermediate to advanced Crossfitters who are confident in barefoot running and are looking to make the most of their workouts.
Surprised to see this trendy fashion shoe make the list? They’re not a specialised or specifically designed shoe, that’s for certain. However, they max out very well for durability as well as the flatter features favoured by Crossfit devotees, and as a budget buy for your very first Crossfit baby steps, they’re not a bad option. Plus you’ll look cool. Be aware they have absolutely no cushioning for running, however, and it’s best to upgrade as you are able.
The Merrel Barefoot Trail Glove.
Unlike the All-Stars, the Merrel Barefoot Trail Glove range are serious shoes for serious training. The range actually shares a sole structure with the ultimate in barefoot running shoe- the Vibram- and is the closet you’ll come to that particular toe shoe in a ‘normal’ shoe format. It’s light, it’s secure and while not everyone likes it- particularly if you’re not quite ready for a fully minimalistic running environment- it’s a shoe serious aficionados appreciate and remain devoted too. They particularly appreciate the glove like feel and massage sensation that comes with walking in the Merrel.
The Vibram Five Fingers
No Crossfit shoe list would be complete without mentioning the Vibram Five Fingers. This is no longer a minimalistic running shoe, but a true barefoot one, with the unique toe moulding to emulate bare feet and a 0mm heel drop. It’s abrasion proof, and the fabric lives up to this claim in user reviews. With sufficient cushioning to enhance your running experience without interfering with the natural gait, the Vibram is a choice not everyone likes to make, but for those devoted to a true barefoot running technique it remains the industry leader.
Whether you choose to develop all the way to a barefoot running shoe, or whether you keep your Crossfit training to a less demanding regime and stick with a minimalistic shoe style, getting a shoe that will offer you cushioning whilst developing your new striking pattern and giving you great floor traction will make your new training regime more comfortable- in the feet, at least! We can’t do much about the workout itself. Now get training!