What? With all the awesome sneakers and shoes available, you're probably wondering why I would even consider the subject of working out in bare feet. But here I am doing it.
As someone who spent most of my time in the group fitness studio before becoming a personal trainer, I never dreamed of breaking a sweat without shoes on, unless it was hot yoga.
Fast forward to today, and you'll find my sneakers sitting next to my water bottle on some days, as I move around the weight-room floor in socks.
Why work out in bare feet?
It's very simple. Our feet are supposed to be as useful as our hands. They should be able to grab and reach and grip things. However, years of wearing constricting shoes have weakened our feet, and we're now all mostly dependent on the arch support of cushy sneakers. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can train your feet to be stronger, which could lead to big gains in your overall fitness.
Think about starting life as a baby walking around with no shoes, allowing your feet to grow and feel the ground. That's how our bodies are designed. While you need shoes to brave the streets of the city, (and it's unacceptable to go barefoot in public), you could probably go without shoes for a lot more than you think.
DISCLAIMER: It's not smart to rip your shoes off and try barefoot training immediately. You really have to work up to it, and begin to strengthen your feet. Not to mention, it may not be right for you.
It's something I wanted to discuss, because working out in bare feet is becoming more and more accepted and promoted in the fitness world, both by doctors and trainers. I did quite a bit of reading on the subject, and because I'm not an expert, will pull out a few facts for you from others.
According to an article on The Post Game:
Your foot has 28 bones, 38 muscles, 35 joints and 56 ligaments. Each one of these needs to be strengthened and stretched naturally. Wearing sneakers takes away from the natural strengthening and stabilizing ability of the foot.
And according to an article on T-Nation (a well-known weight-lifting resource):
Because your feet are the only point of contact between your body and the floor on most lifts, your lifting success depends, in part, on their proprioception — the sense of where they are in space. The more precisely they work to grip the floor, the better they'll help you activate the muscles farther up the movement chain.
Once I began reading more, it all started making sense. Many injuries and alignment issues stem from the bottom up, starting with our feet. If we spend more time working on our feet as they're designed to be used, some of those issues can be corrected. We could actually stand taller, have greater range of movement and gain better balance without shoes.
But you can't just head out on a run in bare feet. Like anything else, you have to condition yourself to be able to do it. Starting too soon could cause injuries, as our feet are completely accustomed to the form of padded sneakers.
How do you start barefoot training?
- Walk around your house completely barefoot a lot. Do calf raises on your toes and massage the bottom of your feet by putting weight on a golf ball. This will start bringing in some of the proprioception (ability to sense surroundings) of new feelings in the feet.
- Try working out in Chucks or Converse sneakers, which are one size too big. That gives your feet a flat surface and room to breathe.
- Try working out in Vibram Five Finger shoes. While I think those shoes are totally hideous, I now understand the benefits of their mechanics.
It is allowed at the gym?
A lot of gyms require that you wear the proper sneakers when using the facilities, so you want to check with your gym. Luckily, Equinox does allow members (and employees like me) to work out in bare feet, so I'm in the clear there.
But if you really want to try, just start doing some light bodyweight movements, stretches and warm-ups in bare feet at home, or in the group fitness or yoga studio of your gym before hitting the weight-room floor in shoes.
What's it really like to work out in bare feet?
I've only been doing stationary weight-lifting in my bare feet as I work up my strength, but I may consider doing some cardio intervals in the near future without shoes as well. So far I've really enjoyed the sensations on my feet while training and have felt new muscles in my legs and ankles developing. It's strange to feel your whole foot on the ground, and it can be a little weird at first. I've been worried about dropping weights on my feet, but I guess that would hurt whether I had shoes on or not.
I'm definitely not going to be running around the city or group fitness room in bare feet anytime soon. I think high-quality sneakers are a must for activities like that in public, but it's definitely an interesting experiment to begin working out here and there in bare feet, when the situation is appropriate.
But let's be real: I'm a shoe lover at heart, so I'll never give up my bright sneakers, no matter how cute my socks may be.
Questions of the day
Have you ever tried working out in bare feet? Does your gym allow people to go without shoes?