There is something that really chaps my hide about CrossFitters and Paleo enthusiasts: the arrogant purism that makes everyone and everything else into something inferior. Often this comes free with a big bag of ignorance about the the topic in question. Today’s subject is weightlifting shoes:
“Ah, well, no, I don’t think so. They don’t seem to confer any kind of advantage — I certainly squat less with them than without them. I think most people do.”
“‘Should’ is a bit unfair, but for the most part people can either can squat without them or can be taught to squat without them, yes.”
NO. If they were a work around for inflexibility they wouldn’t be allowed in the tightly controlled, minutely scrutinized sport of weightlifting. Further, weightlifters of all sizes, proportions, ability levels and degrees of flexibility wouldn’t use them. What they are is an injury prevention device. Here’s how the most famous weightlifting coach in America, Greg Everett, put it:
“Weightlifting shoes exist for a reason. It’s not an accident. You have a raised heel ‘cause that increases the range of motion of the ankle. And the ankle has to flex — dorsiflex — a great deal to hit those bottom positions with an upright torso, which is just unavoidable unless your femur is only four inches long. So in one regard, it’s a safety issue: If you bottom out that ankle, you’re going to be in big trouble. It’s not going to feel good, it’s going to take a long time to recover from, and it’s going to be a huge limiting factor forever, essentially.”
The principle problem I see with suspicion of lifting shoes is ignorance about how they work: people tend to think that increasing the flexibility of the hips will fix the problem being covered up by lifting shoes. But there is no amount of hip flexibility that will re-balance a person whose weight is behind them. I repeat: your hips can be as flexible as you like, if all your weight is behind the center of your foot, you’re going to fall over. No two ways about it. Thus Greg’s comment about the length of the femur: the longer your upper leg, the more your hips (and consequently your upper body and the weights it’s carrying) are going to be displaced behind your foot as you squat; that distance reaches it’s longest as the thighs get to parallel. Increasing the flexibility of your hips isn’t going to do anything to change that.
To put it another way, here’s what people seem to think is going to happen:
But this is so obviously wrong, and our subject is so obviously off balance that anyone can see it, right? If you can’t, grab a ruler and hold it up so it shows a vertical line from the middle of her foot. No, really, try it.
I hope you saw it: if she was an athlete in your gym, she’d be falling over backwards. The only thing holding her up is the power of illustration.
For those of you out there who think that you look this way when you squat, you’re fooling yourself: either your butt is closer to your mid-line (your ankles are dorsiflexed enough to carry your knees forward past your toes, and your femurs are, as Coach Everett puts it above “four inches long”) OR your torso is inclined forward, so your chest and shoulders are over the midpoint of your foot OR your toes are pointing waaaay out. It has to be one of the three; physics doesn’t allow for other possibilities, including the hand-wavy, “because I say so” hip-flexibility voodo preached by Yoganistas.
And by the way, the picture above has more forward lean in the upper body than most, if not all, oly coaches would accept! Let’s let Coach E demonstrate:
See his upright torso? Cover up his legs with your hand. He could just as well be standing, right? Aimee Everett agrees:
Alright, I’m being a bit too harsh, so lemme’ walk that back: you do need (NEED) hip flexibility in order to squat properly. Even with oly shoes. Coaches who preach every day about hip flexibility and range of motion aren’t wrong, they’re doing most people a big favor. That said, without the deeper knowledge it takes to improve intermediate athletes, most CrossFit coaches are going, ultimately, to fail their members.
For more, here’s an external link that should help: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2013/04/23/fixing-the-snatch-and-overhead-squat-position/