I was maybe two weeks into CrossFit when someone told me the secret.
With a background in endurance running, and some serious mobility issues because of it, I couldn’t even air squat. That’s when someone suggested Olympic lifting shoes.
You can get into the proper position that way.
Problem solved. I would warm-up, slap on my lifters and all of my issues with any lower-body strength or WOD were magically fixed.
Sound familiar? I’ve been to upwards of 80 different CrossFit gyms and I’ve seen people run, box jump and do double-undersin a workout in their lifters, all to avoid taking them off. And therein lies the problem.
Lifters aren’t a fix for your problems. They’re a band aid and a dangerous one that can cover up real movement issues in CrossFit athletes.
But I can’t front squat without my lifters. I can’t get into the proper snatch position. I come up on my toes in a squat clean.
What you should be asking yourself is what am I doing to correct this? Your shoes may save a few lifts, but they won’t save you from injuries caused by poor mobility or technique.
I’m not talking about people who are competitive weightlifters- you want the stable shoe with a elevated heel. In competition, you need any edge and there’s certainly no one worth their salt taking the platform to snatch and clean and jerk for a max without their lifters.
But take a good look around the CrossFit realm. Look at former Games champion Ben Smith PR’ing his snatch in Reebok Nanos and Katrin Davidsdottir executing a perfect one-arm dumbbell overhead squat in —gasp— flat shoes. (If you think those are easy, try them.)
I know of several high-level competitors who shelve their lifting shoes during the winter’s offseason and work on form up until the Open.
One such competitor said she decided to do it after attending one of Ben Bergeron’s camps and listening to Bergeron talk about the importance of being able to execute a heavy front squat the same way: with or without lifters.
If you’re doing a workout for time, especially at sub maximal loads with the object of conditioning, why do you need your lifters? If you aren’t at a competition or attempting a one-rep max lift, why can’t you lift in flat shoes?
Form first is a common phrase you see on all kinds of CrossFit websites or written on walls. But rarely do I see coaches who encourage people to learn to air squat and overhead squat and gain an understanding of the mobility and stability needed to execute a movement first without an elevated heel.
A lot of places shun the use of belts for beginners because they need to learn how to brace their core. But shouldn’t that same rule be applied when learning one of the most foundational movements: the squat?
I slowly weaned off my lifters in WODs about a year ago and grudgingly gave them up for most sub-maximal Olympic lifts (and all squats) after attending an Active Life RX seminar this spring.
And you should, too.
If you’re not a high-level weightlifter, spend a few months squatting heavy and correctly with the amount of range of motion that you have. Take off your lifters. Even if it’s just for a few warm-up reps or weights you feel comfortable at. Stop relying on them in workouts where maximal weight is not the goal.
You’ll find that the more time you spend working your own range of motion, without an elevated heel, the more mobile and stable you become.
The easier it is to stay back on a snatch and upright on a front squat. And when you do use your lifters, if you go back to them at all, you’ll discover a new range of motion and a lot better movement patterns.