Why all the hype about BarefootTraining?

Posted: November 29, 2010 by Louie Brockhoeft in Exercise Tips
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You may have had heard a lot lately about exercising, walking, and running in your bare feet. For some, the thought of putting on shoes is ridiculous. There’s a running group in New York’s Central Park specifically dedicated to the no shoe, running barefoot philosophy. Humans are born without shoes, right?  So, why not? Well, in today’s society, with all the concrete, glass, metal and let’s not forget the fashion police either, moving around with no shoes on would be inappropriate. But, let me put this into perspective.

Your hands, feet, and face have the highest amount of proprioceptive (touch) receptors than any other place in the body. How dull would your sense of touch be if you wore gloves around on your hands all day? I’d bet that report for work would be a little more challenging to complete. And, how difficult would it be to communicate on facebook?

Barefoot training improves agility, strength, equilibrium, plus it delivers sensory feedback that allows people to make corrections in their gait, improving the efficiency of walking and running. Also, people are more apt to land at mid foot, creating better body alignment, lowering impact, and reducing stress and injuries.

Most modern day shoes crush the foot into abnormal positions and you don’t get the movement the foot is designed for. This throws off gait alignment and can cause ankle problems, knee pain, and lower back issues. Today, about 20% of the adult population have flat feet and a small subset received theirs from genetics. The others developed their flat feet over time from wearing tight fitting shoes with too much support, high heels, injury, and age. Check out the pictures below from a study by Dr. Hoffmann, in 1905, the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery explaining how wearing shoes effects the structure of the foot. The picture on the left shows a foot of an adult wearing restrictive shoes while the other is that of an adult who rarely, if ever, wore shoes.

You can see how the shoes narrowed the structure and cramped the toes. Look at the axis from the heel to the big toe, it points inward. And, the shoeless foot shows a straight line drawn through the axis, with a healthy, well-balanced stable foot.

So, what do we do about it? Well, I wouldn’t go barefoot all day. I’d try to go shoeless as much as possible though. You’ve probably seen a few people wearing the Vibram Five Fingers. The shoes that pretty much look like a padded sock. Although these are great shoes, I wouldn’t jump right into them right off the bat. I would go for something with a little more cushion and padding. If you watched Oprah the other day, she recommended her favorite things of 2010. On that list, the Nike Free running shoes, a great buy. I have a pair. I will not go back to a overly stable, overly supported running shoe again.  I’ve made tremendous strength gains in my feet, as well as my hips and legs. I no longer have joint pain in my lower body and, believe it or not, my injured shoulder has been feeling much better since I purchased the barefoot training shoes. And, I haven’t had to roll on the foam roller in quite some time. So, when going to buy shoes, remember a few things: 1) buy the least amount of shoe so you can get a good sense of the ground below 2) your toes should be able to spread and flex in the shoe 3) you should be able to flex your foot in the shoe and lift your toes with the ball of your feet. In all, look for flat soled shoes that are flexible with little support and some cushion. Bring back those Converse Chuck Taylors. Crocs are good. Also, try a pair from the Vivo brand.

Work yourself away from orthotics and shoes with plenty of support. Rather than help you solve your problem, shoes with arch supports prop you up and lead to weak, atrophied foot musculature. Your feet aren’t grasping, pulling, pushing, and flexing inside a pair of athletic trainers; they’re growing soft and growing weak. Fixing, or at least modifying your flat feet is going to require some serious foot strength. It can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 years for your feet to change.

Next, spend as much time as humanly possible with your bare feet. If you’re at home, remove your shoes as soon as you enter. If you’re heading out to take the dog on a walk, try circling the block in your bare feet. Mail comes? Shoeless. Early morning paper? Barefoot. Living room workout? Do it without shoes on. You’ve got to learn to use your feet again, and the best way to do so is to simply live, eat, breath, and sleep barefoot.

A Few Simple Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet

 Do toe spreads. Sit, stand, or lie down and fan your toes out as widely as possible. Create space between each toe. Hold this position for ten seconds, and repeat the exercise ten times daily per foot.

 Point at things with your toes. Pick something, anything, in the room and point your toes at it. Now flex your foot. Hold it for five seconds, then release. Again, do this ten times per foot each day. For extra work, try tracing the alphabet with your feet in midair each day.

Get on your toes. Stand on your tippy-toes and just walk around for five minutes each day. Never let your heels touch the ground for the duration. Barefoot toe treadmill work is a worthy alternative.

Try side walking. Stand up (barefoot, of course) and get in a shoulder wide stance. Bend your knees slightly and roll onto the outer edges of your feet. Keep the weight on your outer feet and slowly raise up on your toes. You should feel your longitudinal arch stretching; once you do, hold that position for five seconds. Repeat five times each day.

Walk in sand. If you’re on vacation, get out and hit the sand. Besides the tremendous view, your feet will love you.

I can’t stress this enough: go slowly. From the previous pictures, it’s obvious how much of an impact shoes can have on our bodies. For many of us, a lifetime of shoe wearing means the risk of overtraining our bare feet is possible, or even likely, if we don’t exercise caution. You don’t want to leap blindly into barefoot sprints with severely flat feet and risk injuring yourself even further, do you?


  1. Gayle Zinda says:

    Thank you so very much Louie for the great info.This has been an issue of great debate