You might be wondering what all of the hype around barefoot training is. I know when I first spotted someone in the gym wearing no shoes, I definitely gave them a sideways look. I was also concerned that they may drop a weight on their foot and lose a little piggy! But think about it, why don't we lift weights with mittens on? It allows us to feel the bar in our hands and develop better grip strength. This same exact principle holds true for your feet.
Each foot contains 26 bones and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is through the feet that we connect to the ground under us and information is sent up to our brain to help us move and balance through space.
The feet are built to manage a great load and act as a shock absorber while we are jumping and skipping around our daily life. So what happens when movement is limited over years of restrictive footwear?
If you're like most people, you wear shoes outside, to work, at the gym, to appointments, and sometimes indoors. Shoes provide lots of structure and support for the foot, which causes the muscles in the foot and ankle to become very weak and dysfunctional. Binding the foot and not allowing it to do its job can lead to faulty movement patterns and poor proprioception. This dysfunction then has a trickle effect that often results in weakness and/or pain in the body.
Honestly, spending more time barefoot is healthy for most people. The trick is to start gradually. If you never spend time barefoot, I don't want you to read this article then go instantly throw away all of your shoes and declare yourself a" born again bare-footer"! I want you to think of your shoes like a cast. If you've ever broken your arm and then got your cast off 6 weeks later, it's visibly smaller and weaker. You wouldn't suddenly go and do a full upper body workout, you would take your time and gradually work up. Think of your shoe like a cast that you wear on your foot for 80% of your day.
If you're considering ditching the restrictive shoes and focusing more on strengthening your feet, you have to take small steps.
The first thing that I would recommend is rolling the bottom of your foot with a lacrosse ball. You have many nerve endings on the bottom of your foot and you want to start bringing some sensation back into the arch. Spend a minute on each foot rolling around and trying to curl the toes over the ball. You can also try crunching your feet up on the floor and moving your big toe independently of the rest of your toes.
If you have a stiff shoe with lots of support, consider looking at a more minimalist shoe that brings your foot closer to the ground. Vibram is a great company, they even have shoes with individual toes to provide even more movement and freedom!
When you feel ready to try going completely barefoot, start small. Do the first 10 minutes of your workout in bare feet. Try walking around in your backyard in bare feet and feel the grass under your toes.
If you progress too quickly, there is a risk of creating more injury and setting yourself further back. Listen to your body, there isn't any rush.
The goal should be to allow your feet to be as free and strong as possible. You should be striving for barefoot squats and deadlifts under load with good form. By making these your target, it will force you to gain greater strength, coordination, and stability from the ground up.
Remember, your body is fully connected and your shoulder or back pain might be stemming from your weak-ass feet. Try progressing yourself towards a more functional body and let me know how it goes!