Chuck Taylor Redesign: A Survival Guide

Converse Chuck Taylor StrongFirstFolks, Converse has announced an upgrade to their classic Chuck Taylors — the first such modification in 98 years. This new version appears in stores starting today.

Among the changes:  CUSHIONING.

ronswansonbobbyknight
It’s true. But before getting all Ron Swanson-channeling-Bobby Knight about it, let’s take a deep breath and examine the situation.

The History

Chucks have long been favored among lifters for their no-frills, retro-cool style and flat, inflexible (un-padded) sole, which was difficult to find, prior to the modern barefoot/minimalist revolution triggered by Born to Run and brands such as Vibram (Five Fingers) and Vivo Barefoot, and which then moved quickly into the mainstream. For decades prior, the simple-as-can-be Chuck Taylors reigned in the parks and gyms and are still as ubiquitous as ever.

The Problem With Cushioning in the Chuck Taylor Redesign

The designers were careful to change very little about the external appearance, but the newly-cushioned sole is a soul CRUSHER in our strength-training world.

Why? Because it disperses and displaces energy. The connection between yourself and the ground must be solid — no gaps, no squishy room, no “other” place for the force to go but to exactly where you “tell” it to (the implement). How much more difficult would it be to press a bar or bell overhead if you first have to compress all the foam beneath your feet before anything else happens?

Plus, it’s safer, allowing for greater proprioception. Our feet were designed to give us feedback about the environment, not be blinded from it. Arches and the common fallacy of arch support are yet another component to this — but that’s a discussion for another time.

In any case: A legion of strength enthusiasts and culturists will not be among the converts to this squishy new model.

Chuck Taylor Redesign Issues
Jason Marshall wears Chucks to deadlift.

Not a Replacement… Yet

We are assured that the Chuck II will not replace the original… at least not yet. For now it’s merely an addition to the line.

If the new design is a hit and outsells the original, we can expect some boardroom discussions, to be sure. Our team of speculators are forecasting a 79% probability of the eventual discontinuation of the classic Chucks, in the wake of a successful Chuck II launch. #veryveryscientific

The Intersection of Performance, Style, and Culture

We are champions of substance over style, so if the substance (or lack of in this case… read: cushioning) is replicated elsewhere, then have we become a bunch of crybabies griping about style? Over the past six years, the market has exploded with minimalist shoe options with thin, flat soles — perfect for lifting. (No, we will not attempt to list them all here.) So maybe the Chuck Taylor devotees should just suck it up and stop throwing chairs and give the NB Minimus or whathaveyou a chance (and many of us have already — see the below comment about toe-room).

But still, if and once the classic Chucks are discontinued, we will have lost a little piece of tradition and nostalgia, not to mention an iconic (and affordable) old-school Americana style represented in gyms across the nation (if not the world), as one of the few styles of ANYTHING, EVER to so seamlessly and successfully span both genders and generations. This characteristic is quite fitting, in the context of their gym use — StrongFirst methods of training being scalable for, and perfectly indiscriminate of, age or gender, even of one’s era. They are universal. The principles are everlasting. Is the Chuck Taylor a “footwear” representation of this? Stop to consider how amazing it is, that an apparel item of one specific style could be every bit as appealing to a typical eight-year-old girl as it is to a typical eighty-year-old man. I mean really.

Tradition, Though — Does it REALLY Matter?

Maybe it’s silly. Or, maybe there is something pretty cool about matching a photo of yourself or of your offspring to one of a great-grandfather or great-grandmother, performing the exact same exercises in the exact same athletic shoe. Barbell, kettlebell, and bodyweight strength training have been around a LONG time, and are here to stay. Chuck Taylors have already been around for 100 years, and it seemed like they just always would be. I mean, they’re a piece of canvas stitched to a slab of rubber with a toe cap, for goodness sake, and that’s really all that we have needed from a foot-covering. (Extra toe room for the wide-footed among us, notwithstanding.)

Chucks have been one of those few simple and enduring constants, among such mainstays as the perfection of 5×5 or even of the deadlift itself. A silly, perhaps, but still very real connection to history. To our history. To the un-fancy and the un-complicated. To a thing that, in the lifting world at least, AIN’T broke and does NOT require “fixing,” man.

Pavel Tsatsouline Chuck Taylor
Pavel’s shoes of choice.

So, considering all of the above, a few response options are left available to you.

1. Freak Out

Scream, stomp your feet, start a petition, write letters, kick sand, do whatever you can to ensure the original design remains in stores forever and ever. Your battle cry? “SAVE THE CHUCKS!” (By the way, yes, you are a big dramatic crybaby. But we totally get it.) 79%…

2. Stock Up

The originals ARE still available, so if you just cannot handle the idea of life without them, why not stock up now on several extra pairs? #logic

3. Switch Brands

There really are like dozens of alternatives out there now, and you don’t have to spend upwards of $150 for some great (and great-looking) zero-drop minimalist training shoes. No, we don’t want to be forced into this option, but it’s still a fine option.

4. Break out the Scalpel

Maybe the inner liner/padding can be stripped out? Someone check that out and let us know in the comments.

5. Just Go Barefoot

Build/start your own gym, without a footwear requirement. (Hey, we are listing ALL options here, not just the “easy” ones.) *wink*

Chucks do look cool, but barefoot training still rules. That said, of course we would prefer that the classic product will be here to stay. 21%… we’ve seen worse odds.

StrongFirst Chuck Taylor Redesign

nikki shlosser
Vice President of Marketing, SFG Team Leader
Nikki is the VP of Marketing for StrongFirst, Inc. and an SFG Team Leader in Venice Beach, California.

25 thoughts on “Chuck Taylor Redesign: A Survival Guide

  • If you do some basic research you will see that the OGs are not going away. The Chuck IIs are just another option. Takes your credibility away when you don’t know basic facts that are easily Googled.

  • Actually, i have a question. I love my Chucks and have trained in them for years. But I admit I have not hoisted the weight most of you have (I’m 57 and 145 lbs). I was wearing them a few months ago for loaded carries and I developed plantar fascia (I have high arches if that matters). I’m not lifting in Brooks Beasts until I figure this out. Any thoughts?

  • There are also Xero Shoes (Xeroshoes.com) which are ultra minimalist sandals designed to be sprinted with. I have worn out too many Chuck’s especially in the heel cup. There is no perfect shoe, but Xero Shoes are quite good when you can get away with open toe shoes (sandals).

    • from the review it looks like the cushioning might all be in the insole? Just take the insole out – what I tend to do with running shoes – barefoot at a fraction of the cost

  • +1 for Vans. They’re great skate shoes. They have flat, unpadded soles to give skaters good board feel. I bought mine to use for Longboarding but they could make good weightlifting shoes too.

  • Local gyms banning barefoot training was one of the excuses I used to justify building a private 12’x20′ gym in my backyard. The other one being “There are other people there!” 😉

    I have extremely wide feet and I have not been able to find any chucks or other minimalist shoes that fit, so it’s barefoot all the way with me.

  • I have used wrestling shoes with great success since i started lifting weights as a teenager. It always amazes me that you don’t hear about them in articles like this.

  • Chucks have been cool for a long, long, time. I wore them as a kid. But then also as a kid, I saw the movie, “Sandlot”.
    There’s cool, and then there’s cool with a whole lot of swagger! PF Flyers aren’t as commonly seen now days, but they are definitely out there. They can be had in a surprising amount of colors too. I own several pair and love ’em.

  • Altra Zero drop shoes, they have one called Samson, it’s a very minimalist shoe, with the wide foot shaped toe box, great shoes, I now wear nothing else, take a look.

  • Vote with your wallet. It’s the most effective vote you can cast. Much better than the ballot box IMHO. 🙂

    I wonder what percentage of their current sales of Chucks are due to people like us? Could this be “New Coke” all over again.

    I too have a pair of the Converse One Star from Target. Pretty much a pair of Chucks without metal eyelets for the laces. Personally I like the look of the classic. Low tops all the way for me.

  • I’ve always preferred Palladium sneaker-boots to Chucks anyway – similar price-point, construction and materials (they come in canvas, but also leather and few ripstop ‘tactical’ options), but I think they’re better designed. You know that splitting that inevitably happens where the toe-cap rubber joins the sidewall on Chucks? Totally doesn’t happen with Palladiums. Because I am a geek, I appreciate the company’s history (they originally made aircraft tires in WWII, hence their expertise with canvas and rubber). Because I am also Fancy, I appreciate the collaborations Palladium does with different fashion and industrial designers every so often. I won’t plug them so far as to include a URL, but if you google the brand, you’ll find ’em.

  • Consider Vans shoes as an alternative. Same price point, same thin unpadded sole. And, in my opinion, they are far more comfortable (they look better too).

  • what about the one-star converse pseudo-chucks at Target?
    Are they basically the same sort of thing? They never seemed particularly cushioned to me

    • I have a pair of the target ones i got them because apparently they are wider than the chuck taylors. I hope those do not get changed!

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