Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Right Shoe For the Job: Part II (Workout Shoes)

The Right Shoe For the Job: Part II (Workout Shoes)
Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.. 
-Baz Luhrmann
Injury = weaknesses showing its ugly head.  Injury prevention must be the opposite of weakness.... so, what gets us to injury prevention? Strength! 

We've discussed running shoes that need to allow the many muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your foot to do their job, unimpeded. Have you thought about how that might transfer to gym shoes?  Shoes that include 'support' or cushion are an attempt to replace your own support mechanisms.  The body is better than that.  When we feel the ground (proprioception) we can use this incoming information for stability, balance and posture.  Unfortunately, marketing execs have done a lot of work to brainwash you into thinking "<insert global shoe company name here> knows more about my balance than I do."

If you're working hard on strengthening your body - think about what you may be leaving out - which, in the end, could result in injury or weaknesses leading to injury.  As mentioned in Part I of this series, the body is a big chain of muscles and tendons; movement of that body or parts of that body is a series of small reactions among those body parts.  Why would you be content with a weak link in that chain?  If you're wearing well-cushioned shoes on your feet, you're providing a weak link! Instead, you should wear minimal shoes that are akin to going barefoot to let your feet feel the ground while you're exercising, which in turn will allow the support muscles in your feet to set the foundational support as they were intended. 
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Photo taken from US Patent number: 6115941
Lateral Movements: This figure is from a US Patent about a shoe with a heel portion is designed to be a close fit to the wearer's heel.  The first picture is the cut-away of a typical running shoe with a large support cushion, or pedestal.  The problem with putting your foot on such a pedestal of support is that as you move laterally, you need to reach a sharp angle before the shoe follows you.  When the shoe does tilt, it does so abruptly. This is a bad way to find the next weak point in your chain - it could cause you to roll your ankle or tear a tendon!  On the flip side, a shoe that follows the shape of your foot is critical when participating in a sport where you plan to change directions abruptly.  The closer the shape of the shoe resembles the foot, without unnecessary cushioning, the better!

Weightlifting: Cushioning is a gentle way to mess you up when weightlifting! Extra padding may place cushioning under the soles of your feet, but this will only give you short term relief and long term injuries.  This is because the extra foam padding removes your feet's feedback to the nervous system (prioprioception, again).  If you begin to lose balance and there's weight on your shoulders, the last thing you need is a delay in sensory feedback, such as what cusioned shoes provie.  With all this extra cushioning, a small tilt can easily become a fall or a twisted ankle or knee.
Flexibility: Most overly supportive shoes also come 'equipped' with a generous heel raise.  Unnaturally pointing your foot to make flat contact with the ground is asking for compensation errors.  When you wear shoes with raised heels, your achilles tendon is shortened, reducing your lower leg flexibility.  This may feel comfortable in a deep squat, but it is not full range of motion, and you are losing all the power that should be generated from your heels to all that cushion in the bottom of your shoe. 

The bottom line: for workout shoes, remove the heels and cushions and you'll have more balance and improve the strength and flexibility of all the major and minor muscle groups in your body. Go minimalist!