My Fancy Workout Shoes

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chucksThey say, “Clothes make the man/woman.” Ever heard this? It turns out this phrase originated from Shakespeare in Hamlet, where the character, Polonius, is giving fatherly advice to his son, Laertes, before he leaves for Paris. He tells him:

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Among other things he is saying something along the lines of don’t be a poser, don’t buy stuff you can’t afford to impress people, and the clothes you wear matter! More on this here if your interested…

Well my “not so fancy,” old school shoes are important too, but for a much different reason. Certainly you can go to any high school and see the kids wearing a version of my classic “Chucks” to make a retro fashion statement, but I assure you I wear them to the gym for a completely different reason… :)

running-shoesFor most of my life I wore other types of athletic shoes, either basketball or running, to lift weights, after all, I never thought footwear had anything to do with weightlifting. This included the 20+ years I spent wandering around the weight room doing split routines, you know, chest/shoulders/triceps on one day, them back/biceps the next, and legs once a month! šŸ˜€ A few years ago I changed my weight lifting philosophy to a simple, compound barbell program which includes squats and deadlifts (DLs). Adopting this program, based on StrongLifts 5×5, took my focus away from the weight machine area of the gym to the free weight area. Here’s where I noticed some really strong folks lifting heavy weight and many of them donning old school “Chucks.”

I still didn’t get it! I remember seeing these guys and thinking, “these guys/girls are wearing those shoes to show everyone in the gym they’re hard core iron pushers. Showoffs!” As the weeks and months wore on, and my program called for heavier and heavier weights for the squat and deadlift, I began to struggle, unable to progress with more weight. I wanted to get stronger and lift heavier, but these exercises are technically difficult and, as you know, form is everything!

So I started asking for advice (oddly enough from mostly dudes wearing “Chucks”) and doing a bunch of reading. A friend of mine, who had become very proficient at deadlifting, suggested a book titled, Deadlift Dynamite: How To Master The King of All Strength Exercises. Boom, there it was, right on page 121:

Do all your DLs and DL-related training barefoot or in minimalist shoes with a flat and thin sole. This is essential for safety and performance.

The light bulb went off and I immediately purchased a pair of “Chucks!”

Did my squat and deadlift performance increase? Absolutely! The question, the same one the Mars Blackmon character asked in the Air Jordan commercials, to be asked, “Is it the shoes?”

Like Jordan in the commercial, I can’t come to the same conclusion Mars famously comes to, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” However, I do believe the shoes play an important part in helping both my squat and deadlift form, which ultimately helps me lift more weight and thus makes me stronger!

chucks-squatHowever, as I’ve repeated many times on this blog, everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. I see people in the gym all the time wearing running shoes with big cushioned heals squatting and deadlifting huge amounts of weight–double and triple what I can do. In fact, I know one guy in my gym who not only wears running shoes but also puts a pair of 10 lb. weights under his heals when he squats (and he can squat over 400 lb.). Isn’t that exactly opposite of the above? How is that possible?

It turns out how one performs these complex lifts depends greatly on one’s body type, bone length and other physical factors. One of these factors, depending on the person, can be the shoe. This video does a great job in explaining the mechanics of the squat and how all these factors play a roll. I would encourage you to watch the whole thing, but at 2:35 he specifically talks about how a raised heal affects the knee and hip.

Fascinating stuff!

Now you know why I wear those “not so fancy” but ever so flat shoes when I squat and deadlift. I truly believe they help! If you find your knees pressing forward and you’re having trouble getting your hips to parallel, might be time to pay attention to your footwear. Before I actually bought my “Chucks” I experimented with squats and DLs in bare feet. I immediately felt a big difference and I knew I needed flat shoes. I would love to do those lifts in bare feet, but my gym won’t allow it for safety reasons.

Any other “not so fancy” shoe wearers out there? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!