It's Gotta Be The Shoes

I've had much to say about the limitations and (sometimes) foolishness of common fitness products these days. It's for good reason, because of all the claims for simple, easy, and comfortable substitutions for the "problem" of disciplined, patient, and thought-out effort. While I'm no big fan of programs, supplements, braces, supports, and splints that promise the world to aspiring athletes, I really don't want to be known as the Fitness Nazi.

No Reps For You!
So here's one on the other side of all the marketing hype and junk fitness products, based on legitimate biomechanical principles.A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at the effect of certain footwear on vertical leap.

Following the lead of a few other investigations, researchers measured the vertical jump while subjects wore (a repeated measures design) standard shoes and "experimental" shoes that place the foot into slight dorsiflexion. If you were standing in the experimental shoes, your heel would be about a half inch lower than the ball of your foot.

The vertical jump of the the group of "generally fit but not elite" women being tested was almost two inches higher when wearing the shoes. This is a pretty drastic improvement. What's more, the researchers also gathered data while the subjects ran. The jumping shoes had no adverse effects on running economy, pain, or perceived exertion. So there were no drawbacks in this population of people, at least for the time being tested.

It's ironic that most high falutin' high tops rest the foot in the opposite direction (about 4 degrees of plantar flexion), which has been suspected of contributing to the acquired ankle inflexibility and knee pain seen in basketball players. Isn't it cool to think that a little tweak of the ankle may produce an immediate increase in vertical jump without the body "paying" for it elsewhere?

As compared to typical hoops shoes, flat old school may be better for the health of your knees and vertical jump.

"Little" being the key word here. A little scientific evidence from a little tweak, without major complications, will get hundreds of thousands of people suddenly up and jumping  more, which tends to create an increase in vertical jump. At the same time, if the shoes catch on and are bought up in those numbers, there will be problems.

I mean, can you imagine these things being picked up by Reebok and a multi million dollar ad campaign? The average Joe looking white kid is suddenly throwing down in traffic.

The body almost always pays for any extreme additions or subtractions, and even a subtle tweak risks the chance of pushing underlying movement dysfunction (like say, those who are already restricted in dorsiflexion) over the threshold to injury and pain. Poorly conditioned (okay, fat) boys and girls will wonder why their heels are sore and they're not hitting their heads on the (basketball) rim. Some men and women who were just hungry for a little performance edge will get a big serving of tendinopathy from the increased load to the achilles.

And still, the concept is cool. The shoes hold promise as the first product of its kind, well beyond shoes, that may legitimately help you get more air.

Promise, with reservation.

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