Friday, 12 February 2016

12th Feb 2016: Shoes, glorious shoes!

From day one in the UK scene, one of the first few questions when getting into Parkour is "what shoes should I get" and while the question itself does have some merit and value, it's a very loaded question with so much that could be said and considered.

Some of my current students have been asking questions recently on the subject so I thought I'd make a quick post sharing my suggestions/guidance for both current and future students to make an informed decision.

As much as the information below is here to help and inform, shoe choice is still a very personal preference to use this information as you see fit based on what and how you train.

1. Protection, Feel and Grip.

Protection: We're not built for hard surfaces so shoes offer protection against artificial textures and terrains which we wouldn't have experienced hundreds/thousands of years ago. In today's urban environment shoes support the protection of our feet against numerous hazards like glass, sharp stones and other rough/sharp objects, as well as certain movements which may hit, bruise or damage skin, joints or bones.

Personally, I have spent some considerable time training barefoot (Inside and outside) as a challenge, to toughen the skin on the feet, strengthen the feet and ankles through HAVING to use them more. This also helped develop a better understanding of my body's limitations in relation to the environments used. What you would and wouldn't do in terms of certain movement's/impacts really gets you thinking about what's best for your body both in and out of shoes. (If you plan to try going barefoot, get used to walking and strengthening the skin of the feet first, this can take weeks/months of committed bare-footing from my experience, as ever, do some googling and do some research!)

Some movements used in Parkour can include impact and sliding utilising the foot (think arm jumps), so having some protection when doing this on wood, bricks etc is useful, if not essential for some situations/larger impact movements. This is why it's generally always a good move to think smart about your movement and keep impacts lower/softer where possible to protect yourself.

Feel: As much as protection and an amount of absorbency (cushioning) is useful, we should also be making decisions about the suitability of each movement ensuring our choices are working WITH our body, not just using (and for some, abusing) it. Having an amount of sensitivity or "feel" through your chosen trainer is very important when surfaces/textures are vastly different from one terrain to another. A hard-solid sole for example would be difficult to wrap around a narrow bar/rail during balancing. Too much cushioning can/will also dampen the amount of feel and your sensitivity to your environment which may negatively affect your movements based on feel or the lack of.

Grip: This is perhaps the most focused on thing with a newer practitioner, mostly as strength and technique are still developing and techniques are being found difficult. Grip absolutely helps, however all surfaces will differ from one another, further affected by weather, temperature, paint types etc.... it's very difficult to find something that would grip (at all times) so it's important to note the limitations of our footwear and grip. Moving yourself effectively utilising what you've got rather than having the "perfect shoe" to depend on, I believe is a better approach. Strength and technique will improve your ability to use a variety of shoes so I'd suggest thinking about this rather than shaping your training/movements around the shoe and your dependence on it.

2: Examples of footwear:

As pictured above here are a small selection of preferred shoes currently. You will notice that all of these have some protection/abrasive resistant qualities around the toe/nose of the shoe which can be useful in protecting the toes from unplanned impact (Stubbing toes) and can stop the material developing holes exposing the toes to the elements.

Merrel/Vibram Shoes:

I picked these up in TK MAXX for around £20, Merrel are generally an off road,trail running company quite thick and beefy shoes. I found these slimmer, fitted shoes and was interested as they'd teamed up with Vibram for the sole of the shoe... they provide a number of soles for varying applications but you may have heard of their "vibram fiverfingers" and as such, pride themselves on creating a "natural feel" with regards to the soles of a shoe.

You will notice the soles look very "foot like" in shape with a very low profile/low cushioning and reasonably thick rubbered sole across the majority of the sole albeit in a few separate sections (Left to right: Orange heel section, yellow and orange forefoot). The fact that you have a grippy rubber sole for the width and length of the foot means wherever you land on your underfoot, you should have some grip. The separate rubber sections (not one solid piece) around the forefoot provide a very flexible shoe, moving well with the foot itself during crouching and (on-toes" movements, however, during certain movements (arm jumps), some sections of the yellow grip have pulled away from the shoe which could trip you up/ruin the shoe if not glued back down and repaired. Due to this happening often if you have separate sole sections, I tend to look for a whole grip sole such as in Fieyue's or seen in the Puma Naritas. That being said these are very comfortable which again, is an important element in general, if you feel comfortable it should translate into your movement.


"New feel" trainer from Decathlon:
I bought these out of necessity during my Level 2 Parkour Coaching certification week. I wore some very simple, light, shoes (Fieyue's: discussed later) and needed something with a bit more protection due to the amount of physical work being completed over the consecutive days. I was quite surprised how good I got on with these, as they were only around £15.

These shoes velcro-up which might not give as much stability at laces but fits well. There is good sole "rubber" coverage across the shoe apart from the arches but we shouldn't be landing there in general. The main thing to ensure is not hard plastic sections in the arches, because if you DO happen to misplace a landing on a rail and make contact with the plastic, you are either cracking it, or more likely sliding which rarely ends well when you are trying to grip/stick it. Again, a low profile good sensitivity and does the job for feel, grip and protection.


My favourite shoe at the moment, hands down. A very low profile sole/heel which supports a good sense of feel/sensitivity of your surfaced is futher supported by 2 large thin rubber soles which provide excellent grip (helped me up the warped all on Ninja Warrior UK) without running the risk of the soles pealing off like I mentioned with the Merrel shoes above.

The thinner cushioning and sole mean that with rail balancing you can really wrap your feet/toes around the bar to get better purchase and feel of whatever you are on. The only limitation I have found with these is that the soles grip (groove) are not too deep so can become slick after a few months which affect the grip in wet/slippery conditions moreso than when they are now, so be away when the pebble grip becomes worn.

Honorable mention for all.....
Fieyue Martial Arts Shoes: 

These are often used for Wushu, Tai Chi and other related martial arts, however, Parkour practitioners have adopted these as the are cheap, offer fantastic grip and feel, while having a low profile, feeling very natural on the foot.

American Parkour sell them via their site and in my opinion are the perfect blend for protection, sensitivity and grip. They force you to land better due to the limited cushioning and as long as you are listening to your body can support in strengthening the feet and ankles due to their basic nature. They stretch out to fit the foot quite well, once you find the perfect size for you, enjoy! The only real limitation is the sole can degrade quite quickly if you are doing big slidey arm jumps and wallruns, so these are more for small, technical movement training.

In conclusion:
"Barefoot is the best shoe" has been stated by David Belle and in my opinion, holds some merit, if you wouldn't do X, Y or Z movement out of shoes... perhaps you should be thinking about the impacts you are taking and is it the best thing for your body.

If you're looking for a shoe I recommend:

  • Low profile, low cushioning to ensure a good "feel" of your terrains. 
  • A solid, flexible, rubber sole that can move with your foot when flexing, and extending the toes and ankles.
  • Avoid shoes with plastic in the arches of the shoe.. plastic + metal = slide. (Not that you should be landing there anyway)
  • Avoid shoes with smaller glued sections of rubber sole, a larger one or two piece shoe (like the naritas) are less likely to pull/peel off. Make sure the rubber sole is on the majority of the soles.
  • Make sure you're comfortable in them.
  • Have a look at the build if you see things that might pull off, rip out or wear through quickly, perhaps keep hunting!
While there are some companies pushing out Parkour specific shoes, in my opinion, they often fall short and are pricey, the following options should be cheaper and fit for purpose.

Useful links:
(I've always had a very positive and prompt experience from these guys)

Puma Naritas: (Sports Direct Link)

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