The Newest Fitness Fad; Exercising Barefoot

The Newest Fitness Fad; Exercising Barefoot

Our feet are the only part of our anatomy that touches the ground to transmit all the force that we spend so much time developing in the rest of our body. Think about that –  the only part of our anatomy to touch the ground when we run or jump – and most of us spend little to no time developing strength, mobility and proprioception in the feet.”

Although a growing trend, this training technique is nothing new.  There are many pictures from the ‘70s of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his buddies training barefoot.  Not only a more natural way to train, going barefoot or minimalist provides some very real performance advantages.Bunions, corns, hammer toes, Achilles shortening, athlete’s foot, and ingrown nails are just some of the issues associated with training in shoes.

The Science

The architecture of the hand and the foot are almost identical. So what would happen if you had incredibly weak hands? If you have incredibly weak hands then you can’t pick anything up and if you can’t pick anything up then the arms, back and legs can’t get strong –  and it would be easy to see that if the arm isn’t strong then it’s also more susceptible to injury. It only seems right that the same principle applies to the foot.

The Benefits

No Heel-The lift caused by the heel of a traditional shoe alters the body’s center of balance on its vertical axis.  This shifts the weight slightly forward and as a result the body compensates by exaggerating the lumbar curve.

Uneven Cushion-When weight is applied in the direction of gravity (such as in the case of squats) the foam compresses unevenly and inconsistently introducing an element of instability into the lift.  This can lead to less weight per lift. As the lifter attempts to move the weight against the pull of gravity (as in the case of a deadlift) the compression of the cushioning fails to transfer all of the lifters energy to the ground or lifting platform which robs the lifter of the full benefit of his or her efforts.

Increased Balance And Posture-There is no substitute for the bare foot when it comes to improving posture.  Proper posture leads to improved technique which allows you to lift more weight more efficiently and more safety.

Yoga Like Benefits-One major difference can be seen in yoga class. The feet of those who have been performing yoga barefoot for a lifetime are different than those who may have just begun. Well-formed arches and un-cramped toes are often the results of barefoot training.

No More Shin Splints– The subtly raised heel and the added arch support of the average training shoe change the natural mechanics of the foot. In short, time spent in a raised heel unnaturally tightens the calf muscle and lengthens the shin muscle. Calf cramps and shin splints are often directly caused by shortened calves and lengthened shins.

Reduced Joint Pain– Artificially supported shoes can force unnatural pressure into the knees, spine, and even neck. One way to naturally strengthen the arch and shin, relax the calf, improve overall ankle stability, and promote proper muscle alignment is to train barefoot.

Less Impact– “People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike.” “By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike.

Negatives

The Shock Factor-Suddenly going barefoot or wearing a minimal shoe can be quite a shock to the foot and require a slow adaptation phase. Like anything exposing new movements and training regiments at full force can cause injury overuse.

Why Fix What Isn’t Broken-If you have no problems and no pain, do you really need to change anything?

Gym Rules-Many gyms don’t allow you to train barefoot

Dirty And Unsafe Surfaces– Shoes can provide protection from glass, dirt, and other random debris that can cause foot damage. But lets be honest, if you drop a weight on your foot than you are going to be hurting either way.

Blisters-Almost everyone who switches to a minimal shoe or starts going shoeless will find themselves battling blisters for the first few weeks until calluses are formed.

Conclusions

It seems petty but strengthening your foot is an essential part of strengthening the entire lower limb. I think the hand analogy describes it best. What would happen if you had incredibly weak hands? If you have incredibly weak hands then you can’t pick anything up and if you can’t pick anything up then the arms, back and legs can’t get strong. It seems like the same principal should apply to the foot. That is why I  am recommending that people give this a shot. I have always been an advocate of eating things as they are found in their natural state. I have the same ideas towards exercise. Whether it is choosing the treadmill over the elliptical, free weights over machines, or barefoot over shoes, always go with the most natural form of sutff. Start off by incorporating a few exercises and build up to an entire barefoot workout. If you are a germ freak and can bare the weird look of them, give Vibrams a shot  http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any comments or questions.

From South Bend,

Kevin
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