This is a question I receive quite often at the Ninja Academy. In fact, I just got an email last night, and I was inspired to write about it in the hope that this will shed some light on the topic for others.
What Are The Best Shoes For Ninja Warrior?
This can be a topic of much debate, and really at the end of the day, is a matter of personal preference. So, before I get into specific recommendations, I’d like to take a wide lens view.
Right about now, you are probably sitting in one of 2 categories, either “Dang, I need new shoes?!” or “Yay, shoe shopping!”.
Regardless, of the specific style or brand of shoe you choose, there are a few common factors we look for in a good pair of shoes for Ninja Warrior training.
There’s a reason this is number 1 on the list, actually multiple reasons. Flat soles are imperative for training and sport in general. First, the elevated heel of a traditional running shoe causes long-term position/posture deficiencies. Basically, what happens is the ankles collapse inward,putting the joints in a compromised position, which can lead to injuries of the ankles, knees, hips, and onward up the chain.
(As you can see in the image above, the ankle on the left is in a good, neutral position. The one on the right is collapsing inward, or what is commonly known as “pronated”)
Besides the positioning issues we see, the other reason I recommend flat soles is proprioception. What that basically means “ …is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.”
This factors mainly into our ability to balance and jump. With a big, cushioned sole of a traditional running shoe, our feet have a poor sense of the ground. When we are trying to walk across a balance beam, we need to be able to use the more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments in our feet. Our foot muscles grip and adjust to help us correct our movements and not fall over. Years of having mattresses strapped to our feet cause these muscles to weaken, leaving us poorly coordinated and prone to injury from simple drills and obstacles.
2. Rubber Soles.
This one doesn’t need the in depth explanation that the previous point needed. Due to recent advances in shoe development, I see more and more shoes that have soles made of a styrofoam type material. This has made shoes incredibly light, which is great. The main drawback here is that these shoes provide very little in the way of “grip”. Running up walls, across steps, and over balance beams, you need a little bit of traction. The new style of foam doesn’t do very well. It breaks my heart when I see folks who physically are more than capable of defeating an obstacle, experience repeated failure because their shoes cause them to slip. Rubber soles are where it’s at.
3. Low Tops.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but in general, I recommend low top shoes. Again, a lot of this is personal preference, but high-top shoes tend to be heavier, and the extra support around the ankle can inhibit flexibility and movement which is essential for many of the balance and agility obstacles common in Ninja Warrior training.
So this is where the debate starts to heat up. What are the best brand-specific shoes for Ninja Warrior? Everyone has their fav, so here are a few tried and true recommendations.
My personal favorite are indoor soccer shoes, such as Adidas Sambas, Asics Onitsuka Tiger, or Pumas to name a few.
Another great all around shoe, believe it or not, is the old-school Converse All-Stars. Lightweight, durable, flat bottomed, and rubber soled.
If you’re a bit of shoe diva, you can go with higher priced options such as merrils, or other shoes marketed to the CrossFit and OCR crowd.
Also, some people like the barefoot/toe shoes. Some people really like them, however, they don’t usually last too long. They can get damaged pretty easily on the obstacles. I can’t comment on their utility, as I have webbed toes, and don’t care enough to get a custom made pair.
To close this out, I’d like to share a little anecdote. While shoes are important, don’t make them your excuse for poor performance. To prove this point, I wore out a pair of training sneakers to point that they had holes in the bottom, and the rubber was nearly worn down. I mainly did this to illustrate that while important, it’s not the end of the world. Breaking in your shoes getting used to your equipment is more important. I got a bit tired of people changing shoes 3 different times during the course of one training session.
“Oh, hold on coach, I need to get my warped wall shoes on!”
FInally, and this is incredibly important, it takes time to get your body used to this style of footwear. If you are older, inflexible, or have been using traditional running shoes for years, you need to get your body used to flat soles. Start slow, take some short walks first. Do some light workouts in them. Learn to jump rope. Just as the training and adaptation to get your hands use to swinging and climbing, so does the training to get your feet, ankles and legs use to the minimalist style of shoe.
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