BENEFITS OF BAREFOOT TRAINING
When it comes to the building of any critical structure, the laying of the foundation stone is usually a special occasion celebrating the yet to be built structure. Ever wonder why architects and builders pay such importance to the building foundation? Of course, you don’t! Everyone knows the importance of the foundation in keeping the rest of the structure up. There wouldn’t be a building standing without its foundation being strong, would there? And yet, when it comes to our feet, we hardly pay them any attention other than covering it up.
Our feet are the foundation on which stands, the rest of our body.
When we walk, run, jump or stand, our feet are usually our only contact with the ground. When we work out, our feet carry our body and the weight we lift. Carrying almost the whole body weight all day, our feet transfer the entire force from the body into the ground. This little thing with such a heavy job to do, one would think we would take extra care and strengthen our feet. But do we?
Instead, we wrap it up and put it in a box called a shoe. Maybe I’m being too harsh here. Shoes have got their benefits too. Especially if you are old, have some medical condition that requires the feet to have additional support or are in an environment where bare feet might not be welcome, comfortable or even dangerous.
However, that is hardly always the case. Able young folks have the soles of their feet always cushioned on their shoes. As soon as a toddler has his feet on the ground, we put it in a shoe. And we don’t stop till we end up in a box, and even then, we have them on. Here’s the thing. Nature didn’t expect or need us to protect our feet with shoes. Feet have their unique purpose, and like any other body part is equipped with the necessary tools to perform their task efficiently.
Our feet have about 26 bones and over 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments. Compare that to our upper arm, which has only 4 muscles. Yet our arms tend to get much more attention than our feet.
The Foundation Always Comes First
Our feet are our primary support and the foundation of our movements. Almost all of our movement begins with the neural firing in our feet. But the feet not only initiates movement, it also handles the consequences of our movements. That is, when we run or jump, the skeletal structure of our feet absorbs the force of the impact, thus protecting us from any injuries. Like any other body part, these too need to be conditioned, strengthened and used properly, in order to function effectively. With shoes on, much of the responsibility is shifted away from the feet.
“Nature has fitted us with these premium quality shock absorbers, called feet, and we can’t just let them rust in a shoe.” – Benefits of Barefoot Training
The feet are packed with joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that provide stability and a range of motion. They are also covered with proprioceptors which are our body’s sensors that let the brain interpret the space we are standing in and the movement in that space. It does so by taking in information regarding the muscle tension, joint angle, muscle length etc and the position of our limbs in space. This is what helps to keep our balance, provides stability and prevents injuries. These to need to be exercised and used correctly. Shoes prevent us from doing so.
Our feet affect us much more than we may realize. Numerous studies have consistently shown that the entire kinetic chain of movement from the feet up gets affected when the feet are not at their optimum. Tremendous pressure gets exerted in the knees, hip, lower back, and neck. Thus affecting our posture as well as performance.
Barefoot training, on the other hand, helps to strengthen the muscles in our feet that are otherwise not much used due to our habit of wearing shoes. That’s one of the reasons most of my favourite training activities like yoga and clean the beach boot camp (CBBC) are performed barefoot. Barefoot training is, in fact, an integral part of CBBC and one of the reasons why the CBBC is great for fat loss.
Most of the people who do take the time to work out and even the professionals for that matter believe that wearing the right shoes is enough to take care of their feet. They couldn’t be far from the truth. In fact, most of the lower body workouts and even some of the other workouts, don’t need the support of shoes at all, or rather the feet and eventually the overall performance, will benefit more without them on.
That is not all. Most of the common foot ailments like corns, bunions, Achilles tendinitis etc are the effect of wearing shoes all the time. If you’re still dearly holding on to those gym shoes, here are some benefits of barefoot training that might convince you to take them off!
The Benefits Of Barefoot Training
1. Our ankles are the hinge that supports the rest of the body while enabling a range of movement. Artificial support from shoes can cause improper alignment which puts pressure and causes pain in the knee, lower back, and neck. Barefoot training helps in strengthening the ankle and in correcting the foot mechanics.
2. Since most movements stem from the initial neural firing in our feet, the entire kinetic chain of movement is affected. Barefoot training makes the neuromuscular pathway stronger, thus improving the initial neural firing, which in turn helps the rest of the body movements.
3. Our feet are filled with numerous muscles which, due to the regular wearing of shoes, tend to lose their touch. Barefoot training, on the other hand, strengthens these muscles, improving our stability, balance and even performance levels.
4. Our feet are filled with proprioceptors, which is the body’s natural sensors to subconsciously interpret space, orientation and our movement in it. This is what maintains our balance and stability without us even realising it. Covering them up in shoes inhibits its performance while barefoot training improves its effectiveness thus improving our balance and movements.
5. Shoes, artificially lift up the arches in the feet. Doing so, causes the arch muscles in our feet to lay dormant and becomes weak, creating tension over time. This is a vicious circle since the more you wear shoes, the weaker the arches get and the more you need the shoes.
6. Another lesser known but quite important benefit of barefoot training is ‘grounding’. The cells in our body store static electrical charge. Add to that our increased usage of electronic equipment like mobile phones, laptop, microwave etc and this charge in our cells increases even further. Nature originally intended our feet to be in contact with the earth causing a natural earthing effect and releasing the charge. Barefoot training enables this process thus releasing the accumulated tension while exercising the feet.
7. The releasing of energy through the grounding process also improves the chi or QI flowing through our body.
8. Common feet ailments such as bunions, ingrown nail, corn, Achilles shortening etc are a result of prolonged shoe usage. Barefoot training massages our feet, preventing such common foot ailments.
9. Improper alignment of the ankle, which results in an overall incorrect body posture causes knee and hip problems. On the other hand, barefoot training corrects the ankle alignment, thus improving our body posture.
10. Barefoot training promotes stability, strength, flexibility and a range of motion in the feet, resulting in healthier feet.
11. Since the sweat glands in the feet are able to breath more easily, it results in our feet not stinking compared to those training with their feet trapped in a shoe all the time!
12. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you immediately throw away your shoes. The use of common sense takes priority over anything else. You must first take into consideration your lifestyle, any pre-existing medical condition and the environment you are in.
If you’ve been wearing shoes most of your life, then you should probably start slow. Begin with just some barefoot warm-up or yoga. Gradually increase the time spent barefoot and the muscle soreness in your feet will only be temporary. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes could require the support of shoes for your feet. And of course if the environment you are in, is not safe to be barefoot due to hazardous materials, then, like I said, use your common sense!
So the conclusion we come to and the advice I always give my students is,
“It’s good to be on your feet, but it’s much better and healthier to be bare-feet!”
Have you personally experienced any positive changes or got an increase in your performance levels due to the benefits of barefoot training? Put it in the comments and share it, so you may help dispel the false ideas regarding the performance benefits of shoes.
Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time, he is very active, has a passion for gaming, and has his own Twitch stream. You can contact him via his Instagram if you have any questions.