So you’re in the fitness industry and keep hearing more and more about “barefoot training” or “barefoot shoes”, but what’s the deal? If you are in the Martial Arts world, you’re used to training barefoot and are ahead of the curve, but the rest of the fitness industry has fallen behind. Most likely the shoes that are on your feet as you read this, are not created for optimal performance. We’re not just talking about performance in the gym, we’re talking about the daily function of your feet. Here’s a test: take off your shoe, flip it over, put your foot onto the bottom sole of your shoe, and spread your toes out. Do your toes extend way past the sides of the soles of the shoe? That means while you have standard footwear on, your toes are scrunched together along with all of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Imagine what’s happening as your lift, run, or roll on the mat! You’re leaving a lot of muscles inactive while they should be active. Do we have your attention now? Let’s dive a little deeper into the barefoot world and take a look at the 4 benefits of barefoot training.
Your feet are one of the most important parts of your body that carries you around throughout your day. They help you walk, run, jump, lift, or grapple so are you giving them the space they need to function? Probably not. Think about standing up tall with your feet together and someone comes up and pushes you. You’ll probably fall over. Now if you were standing with your feet apart, taking up more space, and someone pushes you, you have more stability to not fall over. This is exactly what’s happening inside your shoes. Your toes are crunched together. If you are training barefoot or wearing barefoot shoes, your toes are spread out, and the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are activated and ready to perform at their highest potential.
Pro Tip: if you’re looking to increase your stability and have spent many years in traditional shoes, spending just your training hour in barefoot shoes or without shoes is not enough. Let your feet breathe as much as possible. Reversing what you’ve done thus far is possible!
Bunions are not just unappealing to the eye, they are also a direct sign that your foot is not operating properly. If you don’t already have a bunion from smashing your toes into traditional footwear, but your big toe slightly turns in, you’re on your way and it’s only a matter of time. There are a couple of ways that you can reverse this from happening. The first is to stop wearing traditional shoes a majority of the time and spend a lot of the time barefoot or in toe socks. The second is to use extra tools to reactive those sedentary muscles and separate those toes.
Pro Tip: The Toe Spacer company has a great bundle of tools including toe spacers, rock mats, and different massage balls.
It’s fairly obvious that when you allow the muscles in your feet to spread out they will naturally strengthen (including the ligaments and tendons), but going barefoot also helps strengthen the rest of the muscles that are connected to the feet. These muscles include the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and up through the back. Many barefoot advocates say, “the closer contact your feet have with the ground, the more connected the rest of the body will feel. That’s especially true for the core, which is more activated when you’re walking around sans shoes”.
Propriocep-what?! Proprioception is “your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location” without having to think about it. Without this ability, you have to think consciously before performing mundane tasks such as walking, picking things up, or going down the stairs. Instead, you come to a set of stairs and have the ability to fly down them. These receptors live in muscles, joints, and tendons. The stronger these receptors are within your feet, the more natural coordination, balance, and reaction time.
So now we know the benefits of training barefoot and you’re ready to kick those shoes to the curb, but not so fast. You don’t want to transition to the barefoot lifestyle too quickly and end up falling into injury. The transition should be slow over time and gradual. Start by being barefoot at home as much as possible. Be aware that you will feel discomfort as your body starts to adjust to the way it was meant to be handled - naturally!
You can check out The Foot Collective for more information on the barefoot lifestyle. Some great barefoot shoe companies include VivoBarefoot and Xero, or if you’re looking for a lower price point, check out Whitin Shoe company on Amazon.
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