Lately I've been asking my Barry's Bootcamp clients to check in with me after class if they have a "tweak" or an issue in their body they've been feeling; it's a great way for me to help by recommending stretches, foam roll techniques, and mobility that can really help them work out those tweaks on their own. We do a lot of high intensity runs, hills, and sprints, and many of the issues people feel are concerning feet and ankles & knees; so one of my biggest recommendations lately has been to get outside and let your feet get naked!
Think about it... shoes are relatively new in human history. Yes, they are important for most of the things we do today, but still, many of our long-ago ancestors went barefoot a lot more often than we do now.
And truth be told, the human foot was actually designed to work beautifully without shoes.
Each of our feet contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and over a hundred muscles, tendons, & ligaments. When we keep our feet shoved into shoes all day-every day, (and don't get me started on high heels) we can start to lose the function of all those muscles. Shoes can restrict movement patterns that we would normally feel if our foot had all the freedom it wanted, to stretch and work. And if you start to lose some of that foot strength, the muscles surrounding the ankle, lower leg, knees and even hips can start to compensate to keep your whole body moving correctly. Enter: weird "thing" you're feeling in your ____ .
Here are a few other reasons I recommend you try to incorporate a weekly barefoot walk, run or sprint session:
Improved foot strength, balance and posture
Simply put; like other muscles, if you don’t use them, you lose them. Making the feet and toes work and stretch by going barefoot will improve your overall foot strength. When all of the foot muscles are working well & correctly, you’ll be able to balance better. And without a slight heel or lift off the ground from the sole of the shoe, your posture will adjust to a more natural and strong form.
Stronger running stride
There’s a big debate in the running world as to whether it’s best to land on the heel, midfoot, or front of the foot as you run; but many people will notice less pain, injury potential, and better running speed and strength when they shift from a heel-first landing, to a forefoot strike. Try this: take a few strides outside in your running shoes, and notice what part of your foot strikes first. Then take a few running strides outside of your squishy, cushioned running shoes and you’ll likely notice right away that you land mid- to front foot instead. Regular barefoot jogs/runs outside can allow you to find a more natural foot strike for your body, and allow your runs to become less painful on the joints and stronger!
Grounding - an antioxidant & anti-inflammatory
I have to admit for a while I thought this one was just some nature-loving hippie stuff, which just FYI I am 100% in support of. But then I started to see the studies coming out which link human contact with the earth to better health & and a sense of well-being. The theory is, that since the earth’s surface is abundant with the energy of negative electrons, when we connect to that surface via the skin, we absorb some of those electrons and energy. (And there’s more and more abundance of positive electrons from all of the electronics in our world, so we need that negative electron balance.) The results are showing an overall anti-inflammatory effect, plus better sleep, increased brain function, and more antioxidants in the body to combat free radicals.
Cold feet? Using & strengthening all those muscles in the feet can improve circulation to your extremities!
Meditation & focus
This one is just a benefit I’ve noticed for myself; regular walks in nature and runs on the beach make me happier and more calm. It’s a form of meditation. Walking & running outside requires an alertness, focus and concentration (so you don’t step on a rock). It requires your awareness of your surroundings, and allows you to connect more to the present moment. (So long as you please don’t take your phone!)
Try it yourself:
- Get outside! Find a park, beach or soft dirt pathway and take off those shoes! Use caution; watch your step, obviously, for rocks and sharp objects. Take it slow at first. If you are just starting barefoot and your feet haven’t seen the light of day for a while, go a very short distance the first time.
- RUNNERS ESPECIALLY - don’t overdo it the first time, or you can risk injury or VERY sore feet/legs the next day. Seriously - after my first beach run in a while I notice calf muscles I've never known I had!
- Take it at your own pace. The health benefits come just from contact with the earth, so walk, jog or run.
- If you’re ready for higher intensity, find an area with less rocks/distraction. Warm up first with 5 minutes of jogging, then run 10-30 seconds as hard as you possibly can, followed by as much recovery as you need. Repeat as long as it’s fun!
I want to hear from YOU! Do you let your feet go naked? What benefits do you see from barefoot walking & running? Comment below!