This week we are going to discuss popular footwear for individuals interested in training for strength. More people than not choose footwear for function over form. However, if you are someone who often chooses the latter of the two options who have probably made decisions based on what the footwear does for you, not necessarily what it is doing to you. Let me break that down just a little bit:
Heeled shoes such as used in weightlifting allow many lifters to achieve a lower squat position via accommodation of ankle flexion. A common misconception is that these shoes increase ankle mobility. The fact is they reduce ankle dorsiflexion demands of a low squat by pre-setting the ankle into a greater range of plantar flexion. So, you are not actually improving ankle mobility so much as you are avoiding ankle movement.
“What does it really matter so long as you were able to squat deeper?”
In this example the shoes did allow for you to squat deeper but, through accommodation of ankle flexion you have also reduced the need for the foot to be strong and stable. A strong foot sets a foundation for ankle mobility while directly contributing to hip stability and knee tracking. So even if you no longer need deep ankle dorsiflexion to achieve a lower squat you have not fixed the problem of poor foot strength which was more than likely the linchpin of your ankle mobility.
Weightlifting shoes are not all bad though. There are certain individuals with allometric proportions who cannot squat to what is considered “parallel” without flexion at the lumbar spine. For these individuals weightlifting shoes could be the lesser of two evils between spinal rounding vs reduced foot strength and stability.
Another example of what footwear does for you and to you is the iconic Chuck Taylor. I believe this shoe gained popularity due to it being minimal, flat, and cost effective. The problem is the narrow width of construction and the upward curvature of the toes. This upward curvature is referred to as toe springs. Toe springs like heel elevation is a shoe construction feature which immobilizes the forefoot and toes. By immobilizing this area, the foot is required to work less in normal gait activities which often improves the out of box comfort in a pair of new shoes. This is incredibly problematic for a strength athlete as forefoot mobility (the ability to splay the foot) is crucial for maintaining center of mass pressure, the foot’s ability to stabilize the ankle/tibia, and ultimately knee extensor strength.
Sensory motor feedback is also crucial for your brain to coordinate your body in space especially when load and high levels of force are involved. Shoes which immobilize the foot/ankle alter sensory feedback which changes the motor reaction of up (or down) stream systems.
So what shoes do I recommend? Well to be honest, there is not one type or brand of shoe that is the best. I generally recommend lifters to be barefoot more often than not, but I realize the practical limitations of this. That said, I encourage most of the people I work with to explore their joint ROM, stability, and sensory feedback in loaded movement while being barefoot. I also do not believe its bad to train with shoes on for most of your training. If you are someone though who has stability challenges or joint pain caused by poor movement patterns you need to do your due diligence and remove the foot coffins that prevent you from improving.
Remember, shoes are mostly made for comfort and fashion while being marketed for function.
The writing of this article was prompted by all the social media posts I’ve seen talking about men’s mental health. Apparently November is men’s mental health month. That is unless you’re struggling with your own mental health issues. Then, every month, week, and day may very well be an ongoing struggle. Although throughout this article I’ll be referencing comparative data between men and women and differing demographics, the point is not to prop up men's suffering above women or anyone else for that matter. It’s simply there to elucidate the current state of men’s mental health, which is the central focus of this article. “Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution” (1). This mentality exists in contrast to the current lack of awareness pertaining to the drivers of psychological ill-health. Social media and articles routinely discuss what to do if you’re depressed, anxious, suicidal, etc. But seldom does anyone discuss the complexity of the subject. Unfortunately, without truly understanding the issues that lead to ill-health it’s unlikely to come up with an effective solution and subsequent prevention strategies. Therefore the aim of this article is as follows:
Optimizing exercise range of motion to maximize muscle growth is a popular topic to discuss. As new research emerges, it often leaves you with more questions about the fundamental mechanisms and application of hypertrophy training. Mechanical tension is known as a primary driver of hypertrophy. Therefore it stands to reason that training a muscle through larger ranges of motion will create more tension, resulting in a greater hypertrophic stimulus. Although this makes sense at face value, it’s ultimately an unsatisfactory answer. At deeper levels of analysis, mechanical tension alone (or at least our current model) can not explain some of the observed outcomes we see both in the literature and anecdotally. The aim of this article is to provide a brief review of the topic, provide context to the ROM discussion, and offer practical recommendations to implement into your own training.