My History With Barefoot Training
My history with barefoot training /running started about 3 years ago after I read the book Born To Run. It follows a reporter turned ultra-marathoner who travels to Mexico to visit a remote Indian tribe that is famous for their endurance, running distances of 50+ miles wearing only a thin soled sandal.
After that, I started to transition to a more natural forefoot strike. You see, up until three years ago, when I ran, I would wear a big running shoe and would land on my well-cushioned heel. I was a heel striker all my life. I should also mention, as for the sport of running, I was average and never really that good. I was a middle of the pack runner who can boast that he only qualified to run varsity Cross Country at only one race. My average race pace was around 8:30.
After transitioning to a more natural forefoot strike, and training with minimal footwear (which took about a year), I wanted to do a marathon. During training, my average pace for long runs dropped to 7:00-7:30. I would do my sprints in a grass field barefoot as well as a good portion of my strength training without shoes.
Barefoot training and running in a “barefoot-running-shoe” made me a better runner.
Now, Even though I am not running as much as I used to, I still know the benefit of having strong feet. So whenever I do a workout at home, whether it’s plyometrics or upper bodywork, I am always barefoot. Even when I am dead lifting and lunging, I take off my shoes.
Rational Behind Barefoot Training:
- In physical therapy; if your shoulder is injured or knee or any other place, the approach is always restore mobility, then strengthen.
- Except with the foot. They immobilize it. First a big shoe with a thick sole, then a bigger shoe, then a boot. No work on strengthening.
- The foot has the same amount of bones and muscles as the hand. 25% of the joints in the human body are in your foot.
- If you injured your hand, you wouldn’t put your hand in a big glove and never work on mobility and strength after you healed. But that is exactly what is done normally with feet.
- We have become a world of tender footed people.
I’m not saying that shoes are not needed, you wouldn’t play football in a tennis shoe, and you wouldn’t squat wearing soccer cleats, however, what I am saying is, it’s not about the shoe on the foot, its more about the foot that is in the shoe!
As soon as shoes are put on, there is reduced mobility and proprioception of the foot. This can lead to not only weak feet, but also an increased risk of injury due to weak stabilizer muscles in the feet and lower leg that are so important to balance.
In less developed countries where people wear no shoes, there are no common foot problems that we see in areas where people do wear shoes.
Do you have Poor squatting ability? Perhaps you are not able to get all the way down for a full range of motion squat. There is a good chance the ankle may have some mobility or strength issues, Both of these have the potential to benefit from barefoot training.
The Feet are Amazing:
Athletes competing in the Olympics have run barefoot. A man won the marathon running barefoot on the cobblestones of Rome. I don’t say this to tell you to go out and run barefoot on the street. I say it to emphasize how adaptable the human foot is.
People with no hands can learn to do incredible things with their feet. From putting in contacts, to even learning how to play the guitar.
Most people in developed countries have trouble picking up a pencil on the floor with their feet. Can you?
How to Start:
For most people, easing into barefoot training is advisable. It also can be perfectly safe if done slowly and gradually. This is not something you can rush. If you have spent your whole life in shoes and then suddenly ask too much of your feet before you are ready, there is an increased risk of injury.
Now, there are a small percentage of people with old stress fractures, or maybe they have very high arches. For those people, some support may be a better option. That’s the exception, not the rule. Most people will have no problem beginning to strengthen their feet.
What to Do:
- You must gradually build up. Too much too soon will hurt you rather than strengthen you.
- If you feel pain. Stop.
- While in the house, go barefoot. This is an excellent place to start.
- Rolling the foot with a lacrosse ball, stretching the calf muscle and foam rolling the lower leg will help with flexibility and recovery.
- Spend time out of your shoes every single day.
- Once you have done that consistently, you can start to warm up with your shoes off. Jumping jacks, body weight squats and lunges etc. (even in TLF warmups, I encourage you to do them barefoot if you are ready)
- Once ready, heavy dead lifts and lunges are good for barefoot training.
- Not heavy squats! This is because most people do better with a slight heel rise so they can get lower in the squat and not put unwanted pressure on the low back.
So if you want to prevent injury during exercise and every day life, prevent common foot ailments, or learn a more natural way of running, barefoot is the way to go! Just remember that this is a process. Your feet are made for running and jumping, but if you have spent your whole life in shoes and suddenly take them off and ask too much of them, there is a chance of injury by doing to much too soon. If it hurts, call it a day and start again tomorrow. Have fun!