Benefits of Barefoot training
When it comes to training, most people overlook two of the most critical parts of the body – their feet. They train the upper and lower body, and core, giving no thought to strengthening their feet.
Our feet are undoubtedly important. They are the first contact point when hitting the ground and the last contact point when leaving it. They play crucial roles in the movement. Thus, it is easy to agree that a strong foot, and the whole ankle complex for that matter, have several performance implications. If you are unable to perform a majority of your activities including strength training, walking, jogging, etc. in either bare feet or the most minimal shoes, your feet and ankles just aren’t functioning the way they were meant to. When these muscles aren’t activating properly, much of the stress is transferred to tendons, ligaments and joints, and surrounding connective tissue, thus resulting in various injuries over time. Instability in feet and ankles also results in various postural issues that may go all the way up to the spine.
Our body is a constant feedback loop of information. With the foot as the only contact point between the body and the ground, much of this information enters our nervous system through the feet. If this information is tuned out or unable to be sensed by the nervous system, inaccurate movement patterns, and delayed time to stabilisation (i.e injury) are the results.
One of the primary causes of the inability to sense the essential proprioceptive information of human movement is footwear. If we throw on gardening gloves while typing, we will have no idea where our fingers are, how hard to push the keys, and how much force to apply. It is because there is no sensory feedback from the skin to the brain.
Similarly, thick, cushioned, supportive footwear completely tunes out the foot during dynamic movement. These cushioned shoes cause a lack of foot control and awareness, preventing us from properly distributing weight across the entire foot. Aside from cushy shoes and those with an excessive heel lift, many shoes have a narrow toe box that prevents the toes from spreading like they normally would if we walked barefoot. The toes are meant to spread apart with each step. This restricted toe movement also reduces the balance. Over time, the feet, ankles, and toes become inhibited and gradually lose their ability to absorb force effectively. The toes, arches, and lower leg muscles stop doing their job to support the foot.
Unfortunately, barefoot training has gone through some rough patches. First, it went through a fad with minimalist shoes. People abruptly went from wearing cushioned shoes to going barefoot (or barely their shoes) in the blink of an eye. An increase in stress fractures soon followed. Naturally, the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction, and overtly supportive and cushioned shoes came into existence. Now, even after a couple of years, the concept still seems to be misunderstood.
After years of wearing shoes for more than 12 hours a day, beginning to embrace barefoot training must happen gradually. The small intrinsic muscles in the feet are so weak, suddenly jumping from supportive cushioned shoes to no shoes may actually lead to injuries. The damage done by wearing supportive footwear must first be undone before training in bare feet. Simply walking around barefoot can begin to strengthen the small muscles in the foot, and is a good way to start. One can invest in a pair of minimalist shoes and start by wearing them for one or two hours a day, gradually adding an additional hour every month. The transition to barefoot training should happen over the course of a few months or even a couple of years.
Benefits of Barefoot Training
1. Better Proprioception – Each foot is made up of 33 joints, 26 bones, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments; and it is loaded inside and out with sensors that subconsciously interpret space, orientation, and our movement in it This is what maintains our balance and stability. Barefoot training helps enhance this mind-body connection. It is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the small nerves found in the feet for proprioceptive training and is widely used for rehabilitation as well as injury prevention.
2. More Power – All the force we generate to walk, run, jump, and deadlift comes from the ground. Our feet are the only part of our bodies that are in contact with the ground and transmit the force. If there is a cushion between the ground and the feet, the force output reduces. But if we are barefoot, the force isn’t lost and instead can be incorporated into the lift.
3. Glute Activation – The big toe is directly related to glute activation. Training hip hinge movements like deadlifts and kettlebell swings barefoot can help create improved foot feel and can help target the larger muscles in the hip that drive these movements.
4. Improved posture and overall mechanics – Our feet affect us much more than we realise. 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 best. Foot and ankle dysfunction often contributes to faulty hip and knee mechanics, which indirectly affects the spine. Poor spinal alignment is often the cause of low back pain, neck pain, shoulder injuries, as well as weakness of the upper extremities. Going barefoot strengthens the neuromuscular pathways of the foot and leg, thus improving the initial neural firing, which in turn helps the rest of the body movements.
5. Stronger Base – Our feet are intended to feel the ground and to withstand incredibly high forces, and should provide more in terms of shock absorption than perhaps any other body part. The balance and stability required while moving without shoes maintain this ability and strengthen the foot musculature over time