My Rides

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cross-Training Shoes

I recently started a CrossFit style training program between cycling programs.  CrossFit seems to mean simple, old-school, exercises using mainly body-weight for resistance - push-ups, squats, jumps, lunges, crunches, etc. I'm following a progressive, periodized program from Mark Lauren's "You Are Your Own Gym."

I started wearing my New Balance MR759 running shoes - which I bought mainly for running hills, and general athletic pursuits.  With all the lunges, and single leg squats, and some of the pulling exercises I found my feet squirming around a lot in the shoe.  When I got them tight enough to feel "stable" for the movements, the shoes felt too tight.

I wanted to be able to "push into" the floor with my toes, etc. for a little more stability, and I like the idea of developing better foot strength and flexibility - benefits that are associated with barefoot training and minimalist shoes.  My garage isn't warm enough to exercise barefoot, and I plan to add sprints and "bounding" to my cross-fit program, so some minimalist shoes seemed like the ticket.

I've been a fan of New Balance shoes for years - I've had and worn a lot of shoes from Merell, Montrail, ECCO, Vasque, but always seem to find gravitate back to New Balance.  So, when I started looking into minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus MX20 was my expected favorite.  My local New Balance store didn't stock these - but they fitted using the MT20 (trail version).  They sent me away convinced I needed an 11 EE (even though I always wear 11.5 EE, and I've read to order the Minimus 0.5 size larger).

During my trial workout in an 11 EE, I felt 2 toes (my 2nd and 3rd toes extend past my big toe) squished into the end of the shoe.  Overall, I liked the shoe - flexible, I felt my feet were supporting me for my workout, instead of an inch or rubber...  On side lunges, I still felt squirming.  By the time I had the right size, I was in the 12 EE (one toe still squished up in 11.5 EE).  I was pretty content and ready to call my shopping done, until...

...Until, I decided to give Virbam FiveFingers a try.  I didn't like the squirming on side lunges, and thinking about what I like about the minimalist feel, and the gap to what I thought would be perfect, I started to see why those goofy shoes just might be the ticket...

When I tried them on in the store (REI) it took me about 5 minutes to put them on.  I was pretty skeptical that this would be a shoe I would put up with.  They felt good though - better than expected.  Real grippy - they have these razor-siped soles like winter tires, so on smooth surfaces (like retail store floors), they just stick.

I worked out a few nights in each - the Vibram and the New Balance, and in the end, the Vibrams were the clear favorite.  They just feel right.  I can plant my feet and they don't squirm, without the shoe feeling tight or constrictive.  I can use my toes to push off for lunges, and dig in for my "Let Me Ins".  When I wear them out  my feet feel sore - not like joint sore, but like muscles-got-a-workout sore.

With the decision made, I went for a walk with the boys (ages 3 and 5), one or the other riding on my shoulders 70% of the time.  We were in Houghton, Michigan, which is a hilly town, and there has been snow already this year - so it was a hilly, wet, gravel-ly walk.  We went about a mile total, with maybe 100' elevation gain (and loss - not uphill both ways).

I even found myself wearing them around the house - and wore them for the long (8 hours driving, 10 hour day on the road) drive home - including stops for my boys to "pee on trees" in the snow (on the long stretches between civilization).  Not as comfy as my favorite wool socks, but surprisingly comfy still - given first impressions.

I think the drawback with this will be that I can't really wear them a lot of places - not that that's too bad.  I have other shoes.  The New Balance are "neutral" enough that they look like normal shoes, and could be worn just about anywhere...