Barefoot Training

It’s funny how most of our lives are spent in comfy shoes as we give little to no thought to developing strength, mobility and proprioception (the sense of relative position to other parts of the body and the ability to react) in our feet. Around one third of all the joints in the human body are in the feet and when we walk, run or jump they are the only part of our anatomy that comes in contact with the ground. Want to test your proprioception (or get an idea what the word really means)? Take your shoes off, balance on one foot and then close your eyes. If you all of a sudden feel like you have had a couple of drinks too many and can’t stay balanced, then it’s time to work on your proprioception.

If you think about it no one is born with shoes on yet we are so quick to get into them. Many children these days are wearing shoes before they can even walk which is quite ridiculous! The big question is should we be spending so much time in the comfort of our shoes?

After some serious thought, research, asking questions and trial I have become an advocate of barefoot training. Our feet form a base of support from which all movement originates so it makes sense that while we train the rest of our body to get stronger and more mobile we should also be trying to develop strength, mobility and proprioception in our feet. It’s kind of a win win. Train barefoot and improve the health of your feet and ankles while at the same time improve your ability to efficiently deal with ground force when training thus improving your leg and glute strength and consequently your speed if that’s what you are looking to do.  This is particularly important in sport but it can be applied to everyday life as well.

When you don’t have good proprioception or mobility in your feet and you play sport you are most probably going to get injured. If you are running, jumping, side-stepping (cutting in and out), split stepping and having to stop and start very quickly you need to be able to feel the ground. Building this kinetic awareness is crucial and there is no better way than barefoot training as it stimulates the proprioceptive feedback we get with every foot strike into the ground. I am not just talking about running. I get barefoot to do active warm ups, single leg split squats, kettlebell swings, deadlifts, ladder drills, jump rope, medicine ball throwing, resistance band training and everything you can think of really. There are some exceptions like the slideboard which I suggest you wear shoes for and any running you do on hard surfaces like the road or track. If you can run around on a field then try doing it barefoot. Your feet and body will thank you for it. The better you are at feeling the surface you play the faster your body will be able to react to changes in direction and speed. I don’t recommend barefoot training  if you have any specific foot dysfunctions requiring shoe orthotics such as pronation syndrome -Walking, running and training with out corrective footwear will only worsen existing foot dysfunctions. I know we were born to run but we certainly were not born to run on concrete. We are born to run on natural surfaces such as dirt, grass, sand and mud. All of which have a certain amount of “give”. Concrete however, has no “give” and will tear up joints if you don’t have that extra padding from a modern day running shoe.

In saying that though wearing thick-soled shoes all day just does not make sense to me. It decreases proprioceptive feedback which is usually stimulated by the foot strike and thus has a negative impact on your stability. This may not seem like a big problem right now, but if you continue to wear shoes the rest of your moving life you are doing you feet and the rest of body a disservice.

You are increasing the possibility of injury and decreasing the possibility of athletic performance. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you a shoe. Don’t get me wrong I like a good pair of shoes. I just don’t wear them all day. I walk around barefoot as much as possible. I wear a nice pair of shoes to go out and I do wear shoes at all times in the nets when I am batting. I also field in spikes but only after warming up barefoot.

Martin Rooney once said “It’s not the shoe on the foot - It’s the foot in the shoe that makes the difference!”

Here are some tips to follow if you are thinking of training barefoot:

  • Time should be spent out of shoes each day working on either strength or mobility.
  • Shoes should be selected for feel and comfort, not look.
  • Lower body lifting sessions should be performed barefoot as much as possible.
  • Warm-ups should be performed barefooted as long as the surface allows (safety always comes first)
  • Barefoot training should progress slowly and gradually as like any other form of training. If you have been wearing shoes for a long time training without them will be like doing your first squat. Be careful! Take it EASY!
  • If you are used to wearing thick-soled shoes try regressing to a slightly lighter shoe with more feel and then once you have made this regression go lighter again until you are ready to train barefoot.
  • If you are looking for a shoe with more feel try the Nike Free’s. They are great!

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  • Wiglaf

    Good points on proprioception! Rock, granite for instance, is a natural surface, too. It has no give. Running barefoot on concrete will not tear anything up if your form is correct.

  • Michael Brundle

    Good point! Running on a harder surface requires a change in form. There will be less heal and more forefoot contacting the ground with a shorter stride length. For anyone carrying a decent amount of body weight this can get dangerous which is why I am somewhere in the middle when it comes to barefoot training. I think it is important to be without shoes to build that awareness but SAFETY is always my first consideration.

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