The name Django is a gypsy name that translates to “I awake.” This weekend I had two awakenings. I awoke to the amazing advantages offered by proper lifting shoes as well as how good it is to be in chains.
I will start with the shoes. I bought lifting shoes for the first time. The ones I picked, after a bit of research, were the Nike Romaleos 3. They list for $200 but if you aren’t picky about color you can find them for 149.99 online and if you get them from eastbay you can get a 20% coupon code which will also give you free shipping. So your price is somewhat mitigated.
First the fit. They fit a little tighter than a regular Nike. I bought them in the same size as my air max and they are a little snug. That said, because they are single purpose shoes meant for lifting, the extra snug fit was something I actually enjoyed. I think Nike did this intentionally. There is a single Velcro strap over the laces (unlike the Romaleo 2 which had one) that secures you. The sneakers come with two different soles. One of them is very firm and one is pretty much a rock. The heel height is .79 inches (20 mm) and the shoe is solid, unbending and like standing in a bucket of cement.
Next up is the look. Ok, this is the least important metric, but I must say these sneakers look badass. They come in a bunch of different colors; they have an aggressive and loud look to them. They are pretty cool sneakers.
Ok, now for the important part – performance. I had no idea what a game changer these shoes would be on squats. My squatting was deeper and at heavier weights than just a few days prior. My feet felt attached to the floor and I was not leaning forward during my squat, which is something that I fight against, but my body tends to do anyway.
I don’t know if it was the added depth, the weight, the shoe itself or some combination, but I killed my squats and felt them deeper in the muscle than I had ever felt before. Squatting with lifters was totally amazing. I can’t wait to get to leg day again. I kept the shoes on through my workout (until it was time to do cardio…that would be impossible). They didn’t make any real difference on any of the other lifts (though I believe they will make a difference on overhead press and, if you do any OLY lifts like cleans, jerks or snatches would probably be a big game changer) and they would be counterproductive on deadlifts (just go barefoot for deads) so I believe I will only wear them on squat days.
Finally, quality. Some reviews online said that the tongue ripped on their shoes. Having only used them once, I really can’t vouch for that. But the Romaleo feels like a really well constructed sneaker. The tongue that people complain about seems to have no real defect, the material is really nice and the shoes seems to be really high end.
So the pros here are pretty clear. Cool looking, well-made lifting sneakers that are total game changers on the squats. Cons are that they are expensive and can really only be utilized to their full potential on certain lifts. They are totally useless for deadlifts and cardio. You can (and should) go barefoot for deadlifts, you will need to bring a second set of sneakers for cardio.
Now on to my second awakening, my real Django moment, I started using chains on my squats. I added chains to the plates on either side of the bar as well as a heavy chain around my neck during my squat session. I had seen people use chains before and always just figured it was a cool looking way to add weight. Boy was I wrong. The chains made quite a bit of difference.
So what did the chains do other than looking bad assed? Firstly it works on the bar speed when coming up out of the bottom position. The chains on the bar are adding weight. As you squat, the chains touch the floor which effectively removes the weight of the chains from the bar. The bar gets lighter as you squat. Once you have hit your full squat (below parallel people) and begin your rise back to the top of the motion the bar will get heavier as the chain leaves the floor. This forces you to put the thrusters on a bit. Do this enough and you will find that the bar speed will improve the next time you squat without the chains.
The second benefit of the chains is core stability. The plates on the bar are not going anywhere. When you unrack them it is well balanced weight that you can predict. Once you add a chain around your neck and some chains to the end of the bar, however, from the moment you unrack the weight the chains are moving around and displacing the weight. This requires your core muscle to activate to stabilize the bar while the chains are whipping around everywhere. When I was done with my squats, on top of the normal feelings I would have after a good and heavy squat session, I also felt it in my obliques and abs like crazy from keeping the weight balanced.
Finally, another benefit of the chains is that it will help with your technique. As I mentioned above with regard to the lifter shoes, one of my bad tendencies with the squat is leaning forward. That is one thing with well banced weight across your back. However, if you lean forward with chains on the bar and around your neck the chains will swing forward and pull you down even further. After my 6th or 7th rep in the first set I noticed my form just getting better to compensate for the fluctuating weight of the chains. Remember, if your form is perfect the chains will have minimal movement. Between the weight on the bar from the plates and the chains, you will notice displacements and your body will automatically correct your form to minimize them. I imagine that if I squat with chains for a month or so my form will just start tracking better.
Anyone who is in a gym that has chains available or lifting at home and can find a few 50-pound chains really ought to give this a shot. Forget being unchained! Be Django Chained!