Take off your shoes! Train Barefoot for Real Results

This isn’t just about feet, trust me! Don’t click on! This is a serious read for anyone who has physical issues, ranging from too arched, too flat, or cramping feet to a shoulder issue and everything in between (yes, hips, knees, etc.) Everything in our bodies is interconnected and your feet are a good first place to start in “fixing” any issue.

Foot A is that of a child who has worn shoes for a mere three months, while Foot B is that of an adult who’s gone barefoot his whole life. Three months was all it took to drastically shape the child’s feet. Already his big toe is turning inward. – Mark’s Daily AppleAbout five years ago, we made barefoot training the norm. At Fitness on the Run (FOR), we realize the benefits of using the ground as a tool to produce more efficient, and better yet, more effective workouts and an injury-free existence. From the day we begin to walk, we are bare footed. Why stop NOW? The benefits of barefoot training and living are many. Here are my top 10, with the science to back them up following:

1) It’s nothing to shake a fist at: There are 52 bones in a pair of human feet, and 107 ligaments. 25% of all the bones in the human body are down in your feet. When the bones are out of alignment, so is the rest of your body (foot.com)

2) Puts thousands of nerve endings in touch with the ground, providing the source of energy necessary for efficient human movement.

3) Better posture: Posture starts at the feet. When you wear shoes with an elevated heel, you’re forced into a forward leaning position. To account for the lean, you compromise the position of at least one (but likely all) of the major joints along the chain of joints from foot to head.

 

4) Better and improved balance: Gives those thousands of nerve endings in your feet access to the sensory information provided by the environment and improves stability and balance. Thick shoes remove this proprioceptive awareness, reducing balance and stability and increasing the risk.

5) Feeling the ground with your whole foot can quickly fix a poor squat or deadlift. Why is this important? Because you sit (a squat) and pick things up (a deadlift) hundreds of times a day. Wouldn’t it be nice to squat and deadlift without those hurting/pulling/aching knees or hips? Starting with proper use of your beautiful feet will help to correct those movements.

6) Gentler walking: When you walk barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you feel it if you’re walking abrasively because you feel it in your bones. Your feet send you the signal to walk gentler. Many folks don’t even realize they are “pounding” their feet when they walk.

7) Better awareness: Injury happens much more frequently with those wearing shoes because the shoes place a layer between your nervous system and the ground giving a false sense of confidence in your movements. For example, overtraining, a common problem in our area, can start with the feet not being able to fully communicate with the body when it is “done”/ “toast.”

8) The feet have 18 muscles on the bottom. Yes, 18! They are responsible for the loading and unloading (weight) of your body. That is enough to not shake your head at and focus on strengthening them.

9) There is a good correlation between our foot strike on the ground and our core — a direct link. The real question is how quickly they can communicate. The more you go barefoot, the quicker.

10) Direct contact with the ground allows you to receive an energy infusion.

11) My personal favorite: You use your WHOLE FOOT when barefoot. Look at any person’s feet who train SHOED, they will have callusing in specific areas while other parts of the foot are soft.

I can go on…but I will defer to what we hear when we ask folks to take off their shoes.

A foot that rarely – if ever – saw the inside of a shoe. Note the wide toes and the straight line drawn through the axis. Looks pretty healthy and stable, right? – Mark’s Daily Apple“I wear orthotics” (FOR answer: Orthotics will only harm the natural gait and further weaken your foot muscles.)

“I don’t want my feet touching your gym floor” (FOR answer: You don’t mind push ups with your hands on our gym floor?)

“My pedicure is really old” (FOR answer: Look around you. Weathered feet are in the process of getting stronger. Want stronger or prettier feet?)

“I’m afraid I’ll get hurt” (FOR answer: Shoes give your body a false sense of confidence, potentially leading to injury.)

“I want the cushion of my running shoes” (FOR answer: That cushion puts your posture in a forward leaning position for all movements.)

There is a large movement of researchers and practitioners (beyond podiatry, into cardiology, pulmonology, etc.) who are finding that the effectiveness of barefoot training far surpasses training with shoes (also known as SHOED pronounced “SHOD”). They are training professional and college level teams to workout barefoot and are finding amazing results.

Why? Because it takes away the artificial layer or shield of a shoe and you can better feel the movement of your whole foot. Your body can also more quickly respond to movement. Research is finding the benefits far outweigh any cost.

Grounding your feet while training gives you greater neuromuscular control – from the ground up to the top of your head.

An often-ignored fact is that our feet play a huge role in our knee and hip function. The foot directly integrates with our knees and hips with any movement.

Everyone’s feet are different. Some feet lean outward, known as inversion and is more rigid; other feet lean inward (normally flat footed), known as eversion. The latter is when the foot becomes flexible and unstable. The trailblazers in this field are less focused on whether an athlete is flat-footed (which 255 Americans are according to foot.com) or higher arched as they are on this above movement pattern. It is more indicative of movement than flat or high.

“Thousands of small nerve proprioceptors on the bottom of the foot detect the vibrations of impact forces making the bare foot the gateway to understanding how hard we are striking the ground and how quickly our foot to core sequencing needs to occur,” says Dr. Emily Splichal, a Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist and Founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy. She adds, “stability is the foundation through which power, force and resistance is generated”.  Splichal is a leader in the barefoot research and training movement, author off Barefoot Strong.

It all starts with the skin at the bottom of your foot, according to Splichal. She says the skin at the bottom of the foot can generate massive power.

Every movement (walking forward, backward, sideways, stepping, pedaling, running, etc.) is associated with an “impact force,” says Splichal. When we move and don’t react well and fast enough to the impact force – more often than not, injury occurs. (Think about that. Every move you make causes your body to “react,” not anticipate these movements). I don’t know about you but that statement alone is enough to make a change. After all, don’t we all want to anticipate, not react in all aspects of our lives? Why not start at your feet?

Once we put on shoes, we are forced into a reaction state; not an anticipatory one. Or better yet, our reactor is a millisecond to seconds too slow. In an athlete’s (I mean you too!) world, a millisecond is the difference between reaching a wide backhand on a tennis court and not scoring a goal in LaCrosse. In our world, it’s the difference of sending the proper nerve and muscle stimulation up the leg for a KB swing or otherwise beautiful bodyweight-only squat. It’s muscle building to the max.

There are thousands of small nerves in the feet. Small nerves respond faster than the other nerves in the body. So, when you take off your shoes/cleats/slippers, your body will be abler to respond quickly to movement needs.

Splichal and others, like Dr. Mike Martino, recommend starting slow. They suggest training without shoes will drastically improve the speed and reaction time of athletes, professionals and readers like you!

Even if you start your workout, and warm up barefooted, studies have shown how effective the shoed training can be. Again, stimulation to the feet increases reaction time exponentially.

Another trailblazer in the barefoot field is Dr. Mike Martino, full time Professor and Exercise Science Program Coordinator at Georgia College in Milledgeville. He serves as a researcher, athletic director and is very active in the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). According to Martino, stabilizing (locking down the foot) is the key to athletic performance. He says “This creates a strong base for which the athlete can react to and respond proactively to movement.”

Another pioneer, Dr. Stephen T. Sinatra believes grounding gives you energy. He says, “Emerging science reveals that direct contact with the ground allows you to receive an energy infusion, compliments of Mother Earth”, says Dr. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.,  a board-certified cardiologist, certified bioenergetic psychotherapist, and certified nutrition and anti-aging specialist.

He likes to think of “earthing” (barefoot) as “Vitamin G” – G for ground. Just as the sun above creates vitamin D in your body, the ground below provides you with vitamin G, a kind of “electrical nutrition.”

When it comes to training, and I mean the likes of professional athletes, success has been tantamount.

Ever notice how a millisecond can change a tennis match, football game, or just prevent a fall? Barefoot training gives your body that stability and connects to the rest of your body in a holistic way – joint by join, nerve-by-nerve, muscle-by-muscle. So when the Carolina Panthers (and other athletes) train in the sand, why do you think their players felt it in their feet, knees and hips for days?

There is no better time to bare those feet than summer. Give it a try, we promise you’ll notice a difference.

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