Question of the week: What’s the deal with these fancy CrossFit shoes and Olympic lifting shoes? Do I need them?
No, you don’t NEED them. BUT…they can definitely make some workouts more enjoyable and improve your technique. Also, they’ll last a lot longer than running shoes!
Think of it this way…can you go out and play soccer in your regular running shoes? Of course! Would a pair of soccer cleats be better-suited for the job and improve your performance? Yes!
There are two main categories of specialized shoes that one can use in the gym: CrossFit/functional fitness shoes, and Olympic Lifting shoes. While it might seem ridiculous at first to new athletes, proper footwear can actually make a noticeable difference in your workouts.
CrossFit/Functional Training shoes
CrossFit shoes like the Reebok Nano, Nike Metcon, and NoBull Trainer are specifically designed for the types of movements and workouts we do in CrossFit. The soles of these shoes are harder, flatter, and more durable than running shoes. This means your lifts will feel more stable, and it will be easier to find and keep your balance while you’re moving. You’ll also get more power in your lifts, since the energy you’re putting through your legs into your feet won’t get absorbed by a squishy sole.
The upper part of CF shoes are also much more durable, being built with movements like Rope Climbs and Burpees in mind. These two movements alone can really do a number on the foam soles of running shoes, and the (usually) nylon upper part of the shoe around the instep and toes. If you use a pair of CrossFit shoes just for your workouts in the gym, they can last well over a year even with heavy use. Plus, they’ll help keep the gym clean, since they won’t be frequently worn outside like your regular running shoes.
Most people are just fine starting their CrossFit career in running shoes! We don’t care if you’re wearing work boots or barefoot or something in between — we’ll help you move better regardless. BUT…once you’ve got some experience and you start to beat up your running shoes, it’s worth looking into a pair of CrossFit-specific shoes! Usually you can find last year’s model of Nanos or Metcons for ~$60-80 online.
What about Olympic Lifting Shoes?
Olympic lifting shoes are far more specialized than the CrossFit shoes we discussed above. They’re designed specifically for Olympic lifting (the snatch, and the clean + jerk).
Oly lifting shoes have very hard, elevated soles on the heel of the shoe. The hard, flat sole provides maximum power transfer from the heels into the ground, since there’s little to no energy being absorbed by the sole of the shoe. The elevated heel of these shoes allows the athlete to put their body into a more advantageous position for front squatting or overhead squatting. The heels can be higher off the ground, while still having the shoe be in firm contact with the ground. This allows the hips to be further forward in the squat, so the torso can stay more upright — this translates to a stronger catch position in either lift.
Lastly, these Olympic lifting shoes are designed to be very snug and sturdy around the foot, often with velcro straps to ensure no extra movement happens during your lifts. Making or failing an Olympic lift often comes down to millimeters, so minimal shifting in the shoes is helpful.
The biggest downside to Olympic lifting shoes is that their application is much more limited than CrossFit shoes. CrossFit shoes are designed to be pretty good at everything, while lifting shoes are designed to be exceptional for one thing.
We usually only recommend Olympic lifting shoes for people who enjoy Olympic lifting and do it frequently, OR for athletes who have significant ankle mobility issues and can benefit from the elevated heel of these shoes. They’re more of the “icing on the cake” than a necessity for the everyday CrossFit athlete, but can help more experienced lifters get more out of their lifts.
Coach Chris’ favorite lifting shoes: Reebok Legacy lifter
If you’re new to CrossFit, you’re just fine starting off in your running shoes. As you get more experienced and start moving faster, lifting heavier, and doing more complex movements, it’s definitely worth checking out some of the CrossFit-specific shoes out there. Once you make the switch…you’ll never go back! Olympic lifting shoes are awesome for lifting, but aren’t a necessity for many folks.
CrossFit/Functional Training shoes
- Better stability & balance
- Better power transfer during dynamic movements
- Not as good for running as traditional running shoes
Olympic lifting shoes:
- Excellent stability
- Excellent power transfer
- Improved range of motion in ankle/hips
- Fairly limited in use — only used for Olympic Lifting, some squatting
- Can be expensive
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