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Barefoot training: not just for the beach anymore

Barefoot training
Barefoot training

Barefoot training used to be reserved for the beaches.  Research this decade, however, has uncovered many benefits of training barefoot.  Let us take a look at some of the benefits:

Better circulation: Training barefoot can actually prevent circulation problems, such as deep thrombosis or varicose veins, by allowing less pooling of blood in the lower leg and enhanced venous return.  In other words, more effective blood flow from your unrestricted foot through the leg muscles en route to the heart, as opposed to your foot confined to a shoe where blood flow is often restricted.

Improved balance: On account of the preservation of proprioceptive sensitivity.  The sensations offer improved balance during the movements, which explain the reason why many gymnasts, dancers, and mixed martial artists prefer to perform barefoot.

Strengthens the foot: Shoes protect the feet so much that certain foot muscles can become weak because of lack of use.  If you think about it, what is the point of working the upper legs and calves if the feet, the connectors that deliver the force to the ground, remain underdeveloped.  Running barefoot, on the other hand, forces you to land mid foot, increasing the work of the foot's soft tissue support structures, thereby increasing its strength and possibly reducing the risk of injury (Yessis, 2000).  Moreover, some exercises, such as plyometrics, can be more beneficial barefoot on account of maximizing the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle in which muscle recruitment can be facilitated quicker than with shoes on.

Prevents injuries:  Doing agility drills barefoot actually decreases the likelihood of ankle sprains and chronic injuries, such as plantar fasciitis because of the heightened awareness and, over time, strengthening of the foot muscles and ankle ligaments.  On the other hand, wearing shoes when doing agility, such as rapid stop and go side movements, actually increases the risk of sprains on account of shoes making the runners unaware of the foot's position.

Increases flexibility: With shoes, your feet are restricted to the confines of the shoes' suppleness.  When training barefoot, you can work your foot's full range of motion.

Forces good running form:  When running barefoot on hard surfaces, the runner compensates for the lack of cushioning underfoot by plantar-flexing the foot at contact, thus giving a softer landing (Fredericks, 1986).  Studies have shown drastically lower rates of acute and chronic lower limb injuries and increased running performance for those who run barefoot because of the mechanical correction it imposes by forcing you to land on the balls of your feet rather than the heel; consequently, this decreases ground contact time.

Progression to barefoot training:

Begin bouts of barefoot walking to gradually toughen the soles and adapt to the varying pavement temperatures.  Progress to a slow jog.   In this beginning phase, work on good running  form with the toes up as the ball of your foot hits the surface with limited heel strike.  Shorten stride at first to master the strike phase of the run.  Progress to sprinting on grass or sport turf with acute awareness of good form.  And by all means, hit the beaches to sprint barefoot on the sand, especially as therapy for people who are overcoming soft tissue damage to help build strength in the foot. 

There are many forms of exercise, such as, but not limited to: sprinting, plyometrics, agility drills, martial arts, gymnastics, dancing - that when performed barefoot - will enhance your fitness level and overall well being.  Over a month span, you will be amazed at how well you adapt to training barefoot - with increased speed, flexibility, and less joint pain over time.


  • Anonymous 5 years ago

    "Barefoot training used to be reserved for the beaches."
    Not in the 1970s. Many weightlifters and bodybuilders trained barefoot. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger during the 1970s. It was perfectly normal in my college gym. Why is this news now? Going barefoot outside and toughening your feet during the 1970s was also quite common. Apparently the shoe companies did a great job brainwashing the public during the 1980s.

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