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Training Barefoot

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If you have been living in a cave or just stepped out of the jungle barefoot then you can skip this article. However for most of us with feet that have been shaped and moulded from the shoe then welcome to an emerging trend in training called the 'Barefoot Revolution'. Companies like Nike have jumped on board releasing their Nike Free range and employing the likes of Paula Radcliff and Wayne Rooney to promote them. But is it just another gimmick? So is going barefoot a healthier option?

In this article I will outline the
1. Potential shoe dangers
2. A functional trainer's perspective to barefoot training
3. Tips to consider before going barefoot
4. Are barefoot shoes an option?

1. Potential shoe dangers

Wearing the wrong shoe can directly cause or aggravated the following:

Arch pain

Arthritis of the foot

Bunions

Calluses

Corns

Foot numbness

Hammer toe

Heel fissures

Heel pain

Heel spurs

Mallet toe

Overlapping toes


Adding to that list is the indirect effect of wearing shoes (especially improperly fitted ones) which includes especially ankle, knee, and hip dysfunction. The other major side effect indicated especially with poorly fitted shoes is back pain.
Beauty/fashion has seduced many people into cramming their feet into narrow shoes. I am constantly reminding female clients of the dangers of high heel shoes. Yes ladies, they may look good, but they are a sure fire way to encourage future problems (particularly in the back) due to progressively shortening and tightening of the calf muscles (which has a chain reaction effect to other areas like the back) and restricting the foot.

2. A functional trainer's perspective to barefoot training

Functional training expert Ian O'Dwyer from Fitness Personally on the Gold Coast in Australia gives four reasons why he trains his clients in bare feet:

a) The foot contains the most proprioceptors (sensors) in the body...why would we want to "slow" the messages to the nervous system by minimizing the impact/ground force the foot accepts.

b) The foot contains 26 Bones and 25 joints...if you think that the legs have 2 knee joints and 2 hip joints it would be obvious to reason that the feet would be more important to have working at optimal efficiency!! Very important that we get the foot to move in all 3 planes of motion incorporating gravity, integration, multiplanar movement, proprioception and dynamic stability.... this is very difficult when we have artificial sources (orthotics, heel lifts etc) stabilizing it.

c) The body recognizes movement not muscles (Bobath 1980). The more we can take the foot to its end range of function without pain or discomfort the better the reaction and the more likely that it will allow better activation of the abdominals. (For those biomechanically minded: during heel strike the calcaneus will evert/pronate causing the talus to internally rotate and therefore the tibia to internally rotate causing a chain reaction up the body. At the end, the femur internally rotates causing anterior tilting of the pelvis more rotation of the hip and activation of the abdominals).

d) It's a lot easier to see if the foot is contributing to a physical problem eg knee pain, hip dysfunction, sacro-illiac joint (SIJ) pain.

3. Tips to consider before going barefoot:

•Start slow: Your feet will adapt to harsher terrain over time, but they will not become impregnable.•Look at your background for guidance: If you have engaged in barefoot practices before, such as a traditional martial art for example, you will probably adapt faster than someone who has worn shoes all of their lives.•Only train barefoot in places you are confident you will not cause injury. Most gyms are not good places (dumbbells can do a lot of damage to little toes, so always be careful) and generally do not allow it.•Get your shots up to date! Tetanus is a key one. You never know when you may inadvertently puncture your feet on something sharp, no matter how careful you are.•Use your common sense: If the temperature is hot enough to see waves coming from the pavement, chances are you're not going to want to run on that. Try some grassy areas instead.•Consult a foot specialist before attempting any form of barefoot training. Have them check your foot-type to see if you are likely to encounter any problems with training barefoot.

4. Are barefoot shoes an option?

Well it sounds like an Oxymoron to me. I have used them and found them very strange in the beginning, you definitely have to get used to them. My first pair split quite early. The second pair have held up a bit better. That is on average the general consensus to date, most of the brands including Nike have created a shoe that allows an incredible amount of freedom but do not have a long life. Obviously it depends on the amount of use. My response is if you try them ask for a good guarantee.



By Craig Burton BSc (Sports Science), NASM PES
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.
Craig Burton BSc (Sports Science), NASM PES

Author: BSc (Sports Science), NASM PES

Biography: Craig is a prominent European based holistic health and fitness coach with more than 15 years experience. Craig is a Sports Science graduate of Edith Cowan University and has postgraduate accreditations in nutrition, massage, athletic training, and corrective exercise therapy.

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