Barefoot Training: Is it Worth the Hype?
By: Dusty Jackson, SPARC Intern, ACSM-CPT
Many people in the fitness world today experience hip, knee, shoulder, and many other injuries. The majority of these issues have a cause that is unknown. In all reality, these issues all stem from the feet. Many people today have weak feet and ankles which may put extra stress higher up on the body and lead to a multitude of injuries. In order for a house to be stable it needs a strong foundation.
Weak feet and ankles often cause a misalignment of the entire body. People begin overcompensating which may lead to over-pronation and over-supination of the feet. This can disrupt walking patterns and other activities of daily life. Not only can this overcompensation lead to injury, but in the athletic world can lead to a decrease in performance. This misalignment may cause the muscles to contract incorrectly, and leave others not firing at all. In order to be successful and energy efficient in all movements, it is vital to be able to contract muscles with the correct timing and the correct force. Improper movement and misalignment over time can lead to severe decrements and over compensations of surrounding muscles. But there may be a cure for these faulty feet, barefoot training!
In today’s society people are limited by their shoes. Shoes may serve as a crutch and put feet out of alignment. Shoes can also limit muscle activity of the feet leaving muscles inactivated. So the solution popular of late is barefoot training. Barefoot training involves training and running in bare feet or minimalistic type shoe. This type of training has many positive benefits such as:
- Strengthening of the feet and ankles
- Correcting faulty movement and feet mechanics
- Increased support
- Improved muscular alignment
- Increased flexibility and range of motion at the feet
- Less blisters, bunions, ingrown toenails
- Decreased risk of injury
- Improved Proprioception (Better balance)
- Stronger arches
While, these benefits sound appealing, they need to be taken with caution. Many people who have bought into this craze have experienced injuries. Reason being is their feet were not ready to train this way. You must work on the mechanics and strengthening your feet before you go full steam ahead with this type of training. This involves retraining your feet to move into a more natural position. This is called neuromuscular training. One of my mentors, Dr. Joel Seedman of Advanced Human Performance, discusses many exercises, which can be found online, that can be performed in great detail in order to correct feet deficiencies. This includes exercises such as standing ankle pushouts, single leg stands, and training in unstable surfaces. These can help to correct years of feet and movement deficiencies and began to help you yield the benefits of barefoot training.
Things to remember when performing barefoot training:
- Start slow and train your feet. You want to correct years of faulty patterns and by going full steam ahead it can lead to a multitude of new issues.
- Focus on foot positioning in every lift.
- If you choose to go completely barefoot, make sure you keep your feet clean.
- If you use socks, make sure the socks allow movement for spreading of the toes.
- Choose a minimalistic shoe, with a zero drop in the heel, is flexible, and has limited ankle support.
I can personally attest to the use of barefoot training. I myself as an athlete growing up had many injuries. It continued early into my lifting days. I had many faulty movement patterns, which led to injuries all the way up to my hip and lower back. I went months trying to figure out where this pain stemmed from. I heard about barefoot training, but once I bought in and trained in a safe and effective manner, I became pain free. I also began improving in strength dramatically with my lifting. Below, I have a picture of my ankles, after just one session training barefoot. While focusing on the correct positioning and retraining my feet, I dramatically changed positioning of my feet. I believe this type of training works, but it needs to be done in a safe, effective manner. So if you want to improve performance and limit your chance of injury, throw those high cushion shoes aside.