Once you set foot in our studio you may notice something a little odd and it's not the fact that one of the trainers may be walking around wearing a superhero cape. Although, that is pretty odd, too, don't you think? You'll notice that many of our clients train barefoot for most of their session. From the warm-up to deadlifts to kettlebell swings we encourage people to go sans shoes (especially running shoes) while they train.
Why should I train barefoot?
I'm sure at this point you want to know why and it's actually a question we get quite a bit so I'm going to break it down for you in this article. Get ready to have your mind blown and your socks er... shoes knocked off!
My first question to you is, 'Why do you train'? I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that it is to improve your health, fitness, to look good naked, or a combination of the aforementioned. Am I right? You surely spend a lot of time training your butt, your arms, your chest, your butt (yes, I mentioned butt twice...now 3 times and yes, it is related to your feet. Stay tuned!), and your legs but how often do you think about training your feet?
When you think about it, your feet are the only body part that consistently touches the ground when you move, walk, run and train. It is the ONE body part connects you to the ground and helps you transmit force to the rest of your body. And yet we rarely spend any time training them. Think about that.
Leonardo da Vinci stated that the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art. Almost 30% of all of the joints in our body are located in our feet. Not only that but there are over 100,000 nerve endings in the foot which are the first sensory input to the brain for movement. What do you suppose happens when you cover your foot in the wrong footwear?
Most shoes are designed mainly for fashion do little more than protect your feet from the elements and take up space in your closet. When it comes to strength training wearing the wrong footwear may hinder progress and even f your s up!
Shoes we like for training:
- None. That's not a brand, take your shoes off.
- Newbalance Minimus
- Chuck Taylors
- Vibram 5 Fingers
Shoes we DON'T like for training:
- Running shoes
The benefits of training barefoot!
Now that you understand WHY training barefoot is important we can go over some of the benefits when it comes to results. The important part! ;-)
1. Creates better stability Your balance starts from the ground up which means your feet are the connection...well, unless you are doing a handstand. So it makes sense that a good solid base will help improve balance and control and most shoes are designed with a cushion which does just the opposite. Just an FYI, if you can't balance you can't be a ninja. And it will be harder lift heavy weights of course!
2. Strengthens the ankles and calves Cramming your poor foot in a tight shoe may seem like a good idea to perform better but it can become problematic down the road. For one, your ankle is supposed to have a good amount of mobility. Also, by artificially stabilizing your foot and ankle you are not allowing the muscles in your feet, ankles, and calves to do their job. Don't get lazy calves, get sexy ones!
3. Improves alignment Our feet, more specifically our heels, are meant to be flat to the ground. Elevating our heels, much like throwing a pebble in a pond, has a ripple effect and changes the alignment of joints from your ankles all the way up to your neck! It shifts your weight forward which may put more stress on certain joints like your knees, low back, shoulders and neck. This can have a negative effect on muscle balance and may contribute to some chronic pain syndromes. Just saying.
4. Encourages 'weight on the heels' Putting your weight on your heels allows you to shift your weight back to your posterior musculature (e.g. your calves, back and butt...see, your feet DO effect your booty!). For exercises like deadlifts, swings, squats, and RDLs which primarily focus on these posterior chain it becomes increasingly important to get your hips back to train the right muscles.
5. Better sensory input We now know that there are over 100,000 nerve endings in your feet. This means that your body picks up information right from the ground through your feet. This is called 'proprioception'. This is EXTREMELY important whether you are looking to improve your posture or balance, swing a kettlebell with good form, or deadlift 500lbs.
Barefoot training is NOT for everyone ALL the time. Make sure you check with a fitness professional, specialist or your doctor before engage in any training program, barefoot or otherwise.
If you are new to training OR barefoot training it is important to start slow and see what feels good. You can start with some of the shoes I mentioned before going straight barefoot style. Start with exercises where your feet are planted like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, squats, and RDLs.
Running shoes are designed for running, not training. That said, I am NOT an advocate of barefoot running. For most people, years of bad posture and poor footwear have taken away that ability and running barefoot for long distances may actually increase the risk of injury.
Remember, always train smart!