For one reason or another, someone at some time decided to develop a shoe with a giant cushion on the bottom. While this type of shoe is really good for making one’s feet feel really good when they walk or run, it’s not what we’re looking for in the performance setting. In this article, I want to discuss why this shoe doesn’t aid performance and how it actually hinders one’s performance in the gym.
While I don’t want to knock Adidas, because every shoe company makes a shoe similar to this, it’s a very inefficient shoe to train in. I’m sure these shoes feel great on the feet, but when it comes to performing movements like a back squat, lunge, deadlift, etc., they become a hindrance.
Why is this shoe so bad?
This shoe is bad from a performance perspective in the weight room, mostly because of the cushion on the bottom. The cushion acts sort of like a mattress (hence the title), in the way it absorbs force from the ground, then working its way back up into the foot. It feels a lot better when landing from a jump with a cushion on the bottom of your feet than it does when landing on your bare feet. This initially might seem like something an athlete would want when working out in the weight room, but it can limit one’s ability to hold good positions. The problem the cushion produces is that it’s hard for an athlete to feel where the pressure of his or her foot is in relation to the ground. For example, an athlete’s knees might be caving in while performing a squat, but he or she can’t feel the weight caving towards the inside of their feet, because they have a big cushion on the bottom of their shoes. It’s also hard to create torque against the floor and increase hip stability when performing a squat or a lunge, because, as soon as you go to do that, your foot may just slip and collapse to one side of the shoe. Essentially, while the cushion provides support from force driving up into the bottom of the foot, it also creates imbalance issues, because it’s an unstable surface. Imagine trying to wrestle someone when standing on a bed. It’s very hard to create stability throwing someone around compared to wrestling someone on a more solid surface. The “mattress-cushion” shoe also does a disservice when performing movements like a deadlift, because it creates another inch or so that the bar has to move from the floor.
If someone walks into the gym with these type of shoes on, what do we do? At Force Barbell, it usually comes down to the movement the athlete is performing that dictates what type of adjustments to footwear we might recommend. Usually, for jumping and more explosive types of movement that require considerable impact with the ground, we have the athlete keep his or her shoes on. There might be an instability issue when the athlete lands from jumps, whereas their feet usually cave in one direction or the other, but when they land with their bare feet, they usually have worse consequences. And, the athlete is usually hesitant to jump with high intensity if they’re bare footed. For most lower body exercises, like back squats, walking lunges, deadlifts, KB Swings, etc., we usually have the athlete take his or her shoes off. These exercises don’t involve a lot of impact with the ground, and using their bare feet helps the athlete achieve better positions by being able to feel the ground more fully with their feet and, in turn, they’re able to transfer force a bit more appropriately. Most of the time, our athletes’ squats drastically improve when they take their cushiony shoes off and are able to feel the floor with their bare feet. As for upper body intensive exercises, we have athletes keep their shoes on. While the entire body is always used in one way or another, regardless of what exercise they’re performing, generally, the lower half of the body is far less active during most upper body activities.
In a perfect world, an athlete comes in wearing the perfect shoes. These shoes are mostly flat, with a stern surface, so that the athlete can feel where his or her weight is being distributed in relation to the floor. Most of the time, this isn’t the case, simply because most people aren’t educated when it comes to choosing the right footwear. A lot of athletes might get the “mattress cushion” shoe, because it feels comfortable to walk around in, yet they’re unaware of the consequences it has in the weight room when performing movements. Our job as coaches is to always be educating athletes related to everything that we know. Footwear is one of the first things we get on athletes about, because it’s something that’s very simple, yet it has important consequences in terms of one’s quality of movement. We don’t expect kids to buy new shoes the first day after we bring this to their attention, but we’re always making adjustments to give athletes the ability to perform at their best in whatever environment they’re in.