A few years ago, as I was coaching high school football, I began experimenting with barefoot training. In between double sessions, I would jog the football field with no shoes on. The guys I coached with gave me a little shit (and probably a few kids) but I wasn't too worried about that because it felt great on my feet and my mood improved greatly. The effect it had on my energy level was tremendous. Later, I learned this is because of a reaction your body has with the earth when barefoot. It is known as grounding and you can find more info by clicking here. Beyond those wonderful benefits of grounding, there are other factors to take into consideration when going barefoot.
All of this came after reading Born to Run and I felt like channeling my inner Tarahumara. Minimalist footwear is on the rise and has been able to show some positive benefits towards athletic achievement. The foot receives a large amount of sensory input. Of the body's 206 bones, 28 of them are found in one foot (if you have two feet, that's 56 bones which equals roughly 25% of all the bones in your body). The foot also has 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 tendons. As you can see, there is tremendous value in training the foot and having strong feet. The body is a kinetic chain. A weakness in the foot can cause issue in the ankle. An injured ankle can cause knee pain which can cause hip pain which can cause back or spine issues and so on.
Like everything else in life, there is a progression to strengthening and improving the quality of your feet. One thing you can do to improve the fascia is by placing a tennis ball on the ground and using your foot to roll the ball around. Make 10-20 circles on the base of the arch with the ball. It will almost massage the foot. For some, the bottom of the foot may be a very tender spot. That is ok. Relieve some of the pressure and continue on. Over time, this will improve. Make sure to breathe through any difficult spots. The next step is to do some basic things with no shoes on. Get to a yoga class (side note, that is where I am heading if I get this post done sometime soon), walk around the house with no shoes, perform your exercise warmup barefoot, etc. The important thing is to not do too much too soon. Gradually work your way to more and more barefoot work. There is nothing wrong with weight training barefoot, just be careful not to drop a plate on your foot!
A few years ago I read a crazy story. I heard about a college runner who had flat feet. His coach begin implementing some minimalist shoes and encouraged the runners to do some activities barefoot. What occurred was this mans foot shrunk. He had increased the strength in his feet. His arch became more pronounced. Needless to say, he needed to buy new footwear for his next competition!
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!