Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Emperor's New Crosstrainers

In my opinion the absolute best footwear for resistance training is, well, no footwear at all.

Thing is, for optimal performance you need optimal proprioception, which is basically personal trainer geekspeak for body awareness. Shoes, even good ones that fit correctly, can interfere with your ability to perceive subtle shifts in balance and centering of your bodyweight--and shifts that go unnoticed inevitably go uncorrected, resulting in compensations elsewhere in your body. If, for instance, you can't see your feet rolling inward because of your shoes, you won't think to pull up your arches, and voila! your ankles will likely wobble and your knees may bow inward when you squat or lunge.

But what about corrective shoes and orthotics? Won't they solve the problem by forcing your feet into good alignment? I would argue no ... but if by some chance a podiatrist happens upon this blog post I would totally welcome a dissenting view. My feeling is that orthotics can encourage the feet to get lazy. It's like wearing a belt or using straps: I believe it's better to develop a strong core and grip than rely on props. I do see where reasonable minds can differ on this issue, but I think it's better to strengthen one's arches than to use arch supports. Likewise I feel that, rather than running out and buying the latest "motion control" shoe from New Balance or Saucony, it's better to address the muscle imbalances that may be causing one to overpronate.

I also feel that it's just about impossible to use the pronoun "one" without sounding unbearably pretentious, but there you have it.

Of course, if you like to exercise outside or your gym prohibits barefoot exercising, some sort of footwear obviously is de rigueur. My preference is for something flat and minimally supportive, that will replicate the feeling of exercising barefoot as much as possible. My own personal choice is Chuck Converse All-Stars, but I have also heard very good things about Vibram Five Fingers, which are sort of a sinister hybrid of Aqua Socks and toe socks from the 70s. Problem is, I'm not sure they come in bubble-gum pink. Converse All-Stars do.

So, those are your good footwear choices for resistance training: barefoot, or something that replicates the feeling of being barefoot as much as possible:

Preferably something pink :)

Some bad choices are depicted below:

The shoes on the far left are motion control running shoes from Saucony, with orthotic inserts. Not only do these promote lazy feet, but they do not allow for proper grounding through the heel. Also, they are ugly and not pink.

The shoes in the center are my Suffolk Pointes. They're actually pretty great for ballet because I can totally tell whether I'm on the tip of my big toe when I'm wearing those babies. But since they do not allow for grounding through anything other than the big toe, they obviously are not a good choice for resistance training, and really I only included them for fun, and also because they are pink.

Ditto for the shoes on the right, which are pretty much useless you're doing the Zsa Zsa Gabor workout. (Look for it on eBay. It's a hoot.) Every woman should own a pair of pink marabou mules, and every woman should lift weights. But she should not wear the mules when she's lifting the weights. There's multitasking that works, and multitasking that doesn't, and this would be an example of the latter.