Lose the Shoes! 10 Benefits of Barefoot Training and Getting Started
Barefoot training is becoming more and more popular with more and more trainers and coaches. Barefoot running has been gaining in popularity and there are many other sports and activities can be and are done barefoot, including: my favorite, HIIT and also yoga, gymnastics, dance and Tai chi along with many martial arts.
Being barefoot is a natural way of being for us. Most of us learned how to walk barefoot and spent lots of time as a child barefoot. We have grown accustomed to shoes but it is a very liberating feeling to be without shoes and I think that once we get used to it, we all naturally love the feeling of being unconfined and shoe-less. More importantly, training and walking barefoot is something simple that we can do to improve the health of our feet as well as our whole body.
Being barefoot is our natural state of being. But it seems that there are many who think that wearing shoes is natural and that think that our feet are not designed to support us properly and that they are naturally fragile. Not so, and we realize this thought is just silly when thought out. Of all the species of the world, why would humans have been given inadequate feet that need to be supported by shoes?
Many indigenous and other people all over the world live almost 100% of their lives barefoot. Many wander savannas and rain forests without the protection or support of shoes and have strong healthy feet. The fact is that people who have never worn shoes have very few foot problems at all.
Why Barefoot? 10 Benefits of Barefoot Training and Going Barefoot
- Going barefoot strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the foot and ankle and makes them stronger. Shoes give a lot of stability and support and can make the foot and ankle lazy. Strengthening the small stabilizing muscles of the feet can improve our balance and overall sports performance.
- Going barefoot improves our proprioception which will improve our balance and movement. Proprioception is our unconscious perception of space and our orientation and movement within the space around us. Going barefoot helps us to feel and connect us to our environment and this helps our balance and develops our natural movements.
- Go barefoot for stronger ankles and more support. Almost 30% of the joints in our body are in our feet. Our feet are the base of support for our whole body. Often knee and back pain stem from improper foot mechanics. Artificial support from shoes can place unnatural pressure on the knees, spine and neck. Our foot mechanics affects our whole posture.
- Going barefoot improves muscle alignment. Different muscle segments are used when we are barefoot than when we are in shoes and different muscle patterns become habitually recruited and strengthened. In addition, going barefoot improves and strengthens the neuromuscular pathways of the foot and leg. These mold the muscle firing sequences and affect the way we move.
- Going barefoot gives you stronger arches. Wearing shoes will artificially raise your arches and directly remove the responsibility from the arch muscles to do their job. Wearing shoes can create a vicious circle with arch support. First our arch muscles become weak from not being used, as they are supported by shoes. So you get weak arches and you need more support to relieve the tension temporarily. But now if you go for a flatter or less supported shoe the symptoms will return. So you end up needing more and more support but the root of the problem does not get addressed. This leads to a life of shoes and orthopedic problems. Let your natural arch muscles develop naturally to avoid these problems.
- Going barefoot increases flexibility and mobility of the foot and gives a much wider range of motion.
- Going barefoot will give you healthier feet overall. Shoes are the cause of most foot problems. Shoes often lead to bunions, corns, athlete’s foot, hammer toes, ingrown toe nails and fallen arches. People who spend lots of time barefoot do not experience any of these and generally do not even get any callouses. Research has shown that people before the invention of shoes had much healthier feet.
- Going barefoot improves our Chi (Qi) and strengthens the entire body. Our feet are often the only part of us that touches the ground. It releases all of the energy and force that we accumulate throughout our body. Going barefoot helps energy to flow smoothly through our body.
- If the stability and mobility of the feet deteriorate, this affects and changes the ankle, knee and hip positions and makes them all more prone to injuries. How many older people do you know who have hip problems? It could easily stem from having weak feet. Go barefoot now for prevention later!
- Many athletes who train barefoot have tremendous results and experience fewer injuries.
- Bonus benefit: Bare feet do not naturally stink. The sweat glands in the feet are just like the sweat glands in the hands. Feet will only stink after being cooped up in shoes for hours.
Strategies to Start Training Barefoot
Start slowly. Keep in mind that some people require more support than others and if you have never run or trained barefoot you may experience some soreness at the beginning. If you experience any initial soreness from training barefoot, wait until it goes away before re-attempting to train barefoot.
HIIT is a great way to start training barefoot doing bodyweight exercises. Just practise without shoes for a few minutes each day. If it feels uncomfortable to you, try for just a few minutes a couple times a week and gradually increase the time you spend barefoot. Another alternative is to try doing your warm up or a period of yoga barefoot.
Try Vibram Five-fingers or another soft shoe that simulates the feeling of being barefoot.
Start on a flat and cushioned surface, such as a cushioned floor or a thick dense carpet. If you have a safe grassy spot outside that you feel confident is free of little rocks or worse glass, this would be ideal.
If you wear shoes most of the time, be careful in transitioning. One issue that can develop is calf pain or Achilles tendinitis, which occurs due to shortening of the Achilles tendon and from the foot being under developed due to the regular use of shoes. As your foot gets accustomed to walking, training and being barefoot the symptoms will disappear. The muscles, tendons and joints of the foot, ankle and leg will get stronger, but give it time to build up.
Blisters can appear on the feet if they are not used to training barefoot. They will go away and the skin along with the foot will become stronger.
If you have health conditions, such as diabetes, which affects the sensation of the feet, consult your health care provider first regarding barefoot training and make sure it is suitable or recommended for you.