Humans have been barefoot for most of their existence. It was only about 40,000 years ago humans began to wear shoes. Why does this matter? Is there any benefit to training barefoot as an athlete? Why is it essential for a non athlete to be barefoot? These are a few questions we will be examining. Training barefoot has many benefits to humans in performance and everyday health. The absence of shoes enhances proprioception, balance, stability, mobility, speed, force production, and overall health.
Before we dive into the specifics of barefoot training it's important to have a cursory knowledge of foot anatomy. Out of the body’s 206 bones, one foot contains 28 bones, 30 joints, and 100 plus nerves receptors. We have over 100 muscles, tendons, and bones in our feet. Our feet comprise over 1/4 over our bodies entire skeletal structure. The feet can act as a rigid lever, mobile adapter, a spring, and as a damage detector. It is sufficient to say the feet are an extremely important part of the body.
Proprioception is the awareness of our body in space. Our feet are the primary avenue in which our body obtains feedback. Thousands of receptors give our brain constant feedback every second. This information tells our brain how to balance and stabilize the body at a given position in space relative to our motion. This awareness leads to better stability and mobility. Our body’s are more effective the more mobile they become. Our bodies are meant to move. We were built to run, jump, hinge, rotate, push, pull, and bend. All of these movements stem from feedback obtained by the feet. As an athlete, increased force production is the ultimate goal. The higher production of force and rate of that force is equivalent to better athleticism. Strong feet and superior force production are directly proportional. If all this is true then why do we wear shoes?
Shoes were originally created 40,000 years ago to protect the feet from damage. Our ancestors ran and walked on very harsh terrain. Shoes were created to mitigate some of that damage. In our current time, shoes are a business. Shoes are fashion first and performance second. When we wear shoes a huge layer of rubber or plastic is added between our feet and the ground. This material shutdowns and blocks our feedback system the feet provide. Let's use gymnasts as an example. Arguably gymnastics is one of the most challenging sports. The amount of power, force production, stability, mobility, and balance required is so extreme that United States has fewer than 80 elite gymnasts. Gymnasts not only train but compete barefoot. The amount of feedback they require at this level relies directly on the barefoot.
This entire barefoot concept sounds great if I want to be and an elite athlete or gymnast, but is it beneficial to the everyday mom, dad, or elderly person not involved in competitive sport. The answer is absolutely! The number one cause of injury both non fatal and fatal, among the elderly is due to a fall. Properly training and strengthening of the feet could eliminate and drastically increase the well being of everyone. Balance is also a key component in neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the nervous system’s ability to develop new neuronal connections. Not only can barefoot training benefit the body but the brain as well. There is a process known as grounding or earthing. Our earth contains a field of magnetism flowing throughout it. When barefoot our body is directly connected to that magnetism. Being grounded can increase blood flow to organs, reduce inflammation, and eliminate harmful free radicals within the body. It is undeniable that being barefoot can improve your overall health.
Now that you have seen the benefits to training this way, it is important to acknowledge the precautions of starting to train in this manner. Just like endurance, this modality is something that needs to be developed over time. As a new runner, one wouldn’t enter a marathon after two days of run training. It's important to start on a soft surface and limit the amount of time spent barefoot, if this is brand new to you. As your training continues you can gradually progressively overload the time and surface your feet touch. There are many different ways to start developing your barefoot process, so remove your shoes and thrive!
Written By: Taylor Potts