Sunday, 27 September 2015

Plimsolls vs Converse All Star

Chuck Taylor
Last year, I reviewed Feiyue shoes on this blog. And whilst I enjoyed their lightness, sole flexibility, and their 'cool' factor due to the cult status these shoes seem to enjoy, I also bemoaned their poor durability and the lack of stability provided by the rounded heel, particularly for exercises which are already inherently unstable such as pistol squats...

I have since been looking for an alternative in my daily practice, and this naturally led me to Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, but also to generic brand plimsolls which -in many respects- I have found to be superior to better established brands.

Just like Feiyue shoes with parkour and martial arts practitioners, Converse All Stars enjoy cult status among powerlifters. They come highly recommended by some strength coaches (such as Louie Simmons of Westside Baerbell), thanks to their incompressible rubber sole, and their cheapness as compared to powerlifting shoes.
But how do they fare in the context of a movement based practice?

The rubber sole and shoes' build
Chuck Taylors offer excellent stability and power transfer thanks to their incompressible rubber sole. The heel to toe drop is minimal, encouraging full ankle mobility and flexibility. And whilst the soles are by no means thin, they are flat enough for deadlifts. The strong canvas and reinforced rubber toe box and edges both benefit the shoes' stability.

All Stars' flexibility
Whilst the Converse's sole is flexible (as shown in the picture opposite), the shoes main drawback in my mind is their bulkiness and their weight, making them less than optimal for a movement practice. At 250g per shoe (over half a pound), these shoes are bulky and chunky, and -for someone used to minimalist shoes- they feel like a significant weight on your feet.

- Incompressible rubber sole offering maximum stability for squatting and deadlifting
- Low heel-to-toe drop, encouraging ankle mobility
- Build quality (strong canvas and rubber reinforcements)
- Price (as compared to weight-lifting shoes)
- Wide toe box
- Style and 'cool' factor - these shoes enjoy a bit of a cult status

- Weight and bulkiness - these shoes are not designed for movement.
- Price: in the UK these retail at between £30-£60 - there are many cheaper alternatives.

 These are a pair of generic brand plimsolls I picked up for a fiver (£5) from my local Lidl supermarket. The styling is vaguely similar to that of Chuck Taylors (without the rubber toe box), but the rubber sole is much thinner, making them a much lighter shoe.
And for a fraction of the price (one eighth), I have found them to be a much better alternative in the context of not only squatting and deadlifting, but of general bodyweight training and movement practice.

The rubber sole and shoes' build
Just like All Stars, these shoes have a one-piece, incompressible rubber sole making them ideal for squatting. The thinner sole also means that with your feet closer to the floor, the bar has less distance to travel when deadlifting, maximising the weight you can lift.
Despite being much cheaper than All Stars, these shoes are made in a similar strong canvas material and reinforced rubber edges.

Plimsolls' weight and flexibility
As you can see from the picture, this type of shoes offer excellent sole flexibility. The thin sole and light canvas material also means that they are extremely light, making them as close to a minimalist trainer as can be. The absence of a rubber toe box give them a different look than All Stars, and it means a bit less protection, but theis also greatly benefits the shoes' weight.

- Incompressible rubber sole offering maximum stability for squatting
- Thin sole, ideal for deadlifting
- Low heel-to-toe drop, encouraging ankle mobility
- Light - these feel as close to a minimalist trainer as can be, at a fraction of the price
- Price - much cheaper than the Converse's
- Wide toe box

- Styling, and 'cool' factor - these look like imitation All Stars, without the distinctive rubber toe box: they will not earn you any fashion points
- Durability - I was lucky to have picked up a pair which have lasted me forever (a year in fact, and still going), but the thing about generic-brand plimsolls is that they are -well- generic! Different brands will obviously offer different build quality.

The verdict:
In my book, there is no contest: having already bought them, I wear the All Stars as an everyday fashion item, but I will sooner train in the plimsolls. Their lightness and flexibility make them ideal for movement. For squatting, the flat, incompressible rubber sole and stronger build quality also make them far superior to the Feiyue shoes I reviewed previously on this blog.

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