Understanding Your Feet
Your feet are rarely the focus of any training program yet are the most important part of your body when it comes to your movement. Most people tend to wear shoes that are overly supportive and/or constrictive so the muscles in the feet become weak. There are 28 bones in your foot, twenty muscles and over thirty joints. Since your body doesn't work in isolation, any decrease of strength, mobility or proprioception in your foot doesn't end there. This deficit impacts your entire body and can lead to injury.
When you wear shoes (especially with thick soles or high heels) you change the sensory input your brain receives from the ground. You lose a significant amount of feedback from the ground and some muscles shut off because they don't work due to the support of the shoe, while others work too hard or at the wrong time. This influences how the rest of your muscles work in the body and how you move!
The Benefits of Training Barefoot
By training barefoot you will improve your strength, mobility and the proprioception of your feet. Proprioception refers to knowing the position and movement of the body and the ability to react accordingly (think about if you feel like you are going to trip but catch yourself). When you wear your shoes you lose this proprioceptive input. This means if something unexpected happens (you slip on ice or quickly cut while playing sports) your body won't be able to perceive this change and react accordingly.
Want to test your proprioception?
Take off your socks and shoes, stand on one foot and close your eyes -- this will test your proprioception! Remember: the body works as a unit, and an issue in the foot can lead to an injury at a completely different part of your body.
Interested but still skeptical? Let us put your mind to ease.
Worry No. 1 - You will hurt your foot and potentially get stress fractures.
Gym folklore says this happens due to increased load and lack of cushion. But this is just not true. Sure, if you go from training in cushioned shoes to running 10km a day barefoot outside, you might have some problems. This is why you also need to transition into barefoot/minimalist shoe training very slowly.
For all of you who believe you will get stress fractures if you train barefoot, let us remind you of something called Wolf's law of Adaptivity. This law was developed by German anatomist and surgeon Julius Wolff (1836-1902) and states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads under which it is placed. This law explains that if loading on a particular bone increases, then the bone will remodel itself over time to become stronger to resist that particular loading.
The inverse is also true. If loading on a bone decreases, the bone will become weaker, as it is metabolically costly to maintain bone and there is no stimulus for the continued remodeling required to retain that bone mass. So basically, if you train barefoot, you will improve the strength of your bones, making them able to withstand more load. But if you constantly wear cushioned shoes, you will make your bones weaker. Seems like a no-brainer to train barefoot.
Worry No. 2 - You will drop a weight, kettlebell or your water bottle on your foot. #ouch
Short and sweet here. First, try not to drop a heavy weight on your foot and you will be just fine! Second, if you were to drop a weight on your foot, the small amount of fabric provided by a shoe is really not going to make a difference. Trust us. That little cushion isn't going to be the difference between a fracture and no fracture. Sorry to break it to you, but although you might feel fearless in shoes, if you do drop a weight on your foot, and we really hope you never do, your shoe isn't going to protect you (unless you wear steel toe boots to the gym....).
Worry No. 3 - If you train barefoot you will get athlete's foot or some other gross foot infection.
It is possible but we have had members training barefoot for almost nine years that we have been in operation. We have never had one incident where a member has gotten an infection. Ever. With that being said we have our studio professionally cleaned multiple times a week and no one is allowed in our studio with outdoor foot wear.
Because barefoot training is important to us, and we know the HUGE benefit it brings to our members, studio maintenance is key. Most gyms a) do not allow barefoot training and b) aren't clean enough. So remember to investigate into whether or not you are better off to train in minimalist shoes like vibrams to protect your feet and your health wherever you choose to train!
Perhaps we have convinced you to give barefoot training a shot. Next question -- where do you start?
Our only rule is to transition slowly. Start with doing your warm up and cool down barefoot and if you feel comfortable start lifting barefoot. Again, do that until you feel comfortable. Then, when you're ready, transition your conditioning (sprinting, jumping, etc.) to barefoot. Take your time, listen to your body and we promise the benefit far outweighs the sometimes awkward transition!
Not only will you feel the difference in your lifts, but your body will thank you for making the change. And our recommendation as always, if you're unsure of how to make the transition work with professionals that can help you move from stage to stage without risk of injury.
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