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Written on June 30, 2011 at 11:38 pm, by Eric Cressey
I get asked all the time what sneaker I recommend for strength and conditioning. While no shoe is perfect for everyone and all tasks, I’ve certainly grown to love the more “minimalist” options on the market today that simulate barefoot training. In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training “accidentally” improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives.
That said, not all minimalist footwear options are created equal – and I can speak from experience, as I have tried out just about every version on the market today.
My use of old-school Converse All-Stars (“Chuck Taylors”) could probably be considered my original “foray”into minimalist footwear, as I gravitated toward them because they were flat-soled and allowed me to better drive through my heels while squatting and deadlifting in powerlifting. Unfortunately, they weren’t very comfortable, weren’t particularly aesthetically appealing, and I couldn’t really do much single-leg work or sprinting in them the way that I wanted to because they just felt restricting at the ankles (admittedly, I had the high-top version). Plus, I always felt like people automatically lived in my parents’ basement and played Dungeons and Dragons because I wore them.
From there, I went to the Nike Free back in 2006 – and was pretty impressed. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm tailed off quickly, as I beat these sneakers into the ground almost overnight. The panels on the bottoms would fall off all the time when we pushed the sled (we find 3-4 new “pieces” of Free on the floor at CP every day).
And, the sneaker design actually seemed to “de-evolve,” as the upper and sides seemed to get stiffer while the heel lift increased (pictured below is the 7.0, and while the lower digit versions are a bit less stiff, there still seemed to be a general shift toward “normalcy” in terms of heel lift).
Looking for an alternative, I tried on a Reebok Travel Trainer (yes, only one) on in a store – and quickly returned it to the box before lacing up the other sneaker. It felt so low in the back that I literally thought I’d come out of the shoe altogether if I tried to run – and this was a sentiment echoed by my wife, who owns a pair and has worn them a whopping one time for a training session…a mistake she’ll never make again, as they are buried in some closet with her 13,000 other pairs of shoes. Using an excavating helmet and my Dora the Explorer flashlight, I managed to find them:
Then, earlier this year, an employee of Vibram Five Fingers kindly gave me a pair of their shoes to try out. I really liked it for walking around the facility and training my bilateral lower-body lifts, but was not a fan of it for single-leg training, as it beat up my big toe on the trailing leg in lunges. I’m also a heavy supinator, so it wasn’t a good fit for me with sprinting.
However, I do love the material on the bottom, as it is one solid piece that couldn’t fall apart like the Frees do. I also liked the pliability of the upper section; it had just the right amount of give. That said, like most folks I’ve met who wear the Vibram Five Fingers, I could have done without the “Five Fingers” part, from an aesthetic standpoint. It’s the absolute closest you can get to true barefoot training.
Luckily for me, though, the clouds opened up and I finally found a pair of minimalist sneakers that I love “all-around” when I got hooked up with a pair of the New Balance Minimus. The new “training” shoe, which is pictured below, actually debuted in July of 2011, with more colors and styles added to the product line in the months that followed. These bad boys are the real deal: durable bottoms, the same upper “feel” of the Five Fingers (they actually collaborated with Vibram on the trail version, which feels similar to the Five Fingers, minus the toes), and just enough protecting at the big toe to keep me from getting banged up on lunges. There is also sufficient padding in the back to ensure that you don’t slip out like one does with the Travel Trainer. Tony and I each have a pair, as does the First Lady of Cressey Performance (for the record, Tony’s are the pink ones):
I’ve used it for everything from sprinting, to jumping, to lifting and felt great. I feel like an absolute rock star because I don’t have to change footwear halfway through a session in my strength and conditioning program, and while that may be a sad commentary on my life, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a damn good training show that I’ll be rocking for the foreseeable future. It’s also quickly become the single most popular training shoe on the floor at Cressey Performance on a given day, as many of the athletes have followed our lead and been thrilled with their purchases.
You can check out the different styles of Minimus at NewBalance.com. I also liked this great interview on the research and development that went into creating the Minimus; it’s worth a read if you’re a geek like me.
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