by Maurita Marley, Group Fitness Instructor
Runners – have you ever considered running barefoot?
You might be asking yourself, “What? And ditch my hi-tech running shoes?”
Now before you dismiss this as just a crazy idea, read on …
First of all, let’s clarify – although running completely barefoot is a very natural thing to do (if you’ve read Born To Run by Christopher McDougal you will understand what I am talking about), I am actually suggesting a minimal shoe such as the Vibram 5-fingers shoe. You know…the one that looks like you’re wearing a glove on your foot. There is not actually any cushioning or support, but the sole provides a barrier to protect your tender foot from nasty things that could be in your path.
And why am I suggesting that it a good idea to make such a change in footwear?
If you have ever had a cast on an arm or leg after an injury, think of what happens when the cast is removed. There is a loss of muscle strength so therapy is needed to build up the muscles again. The foot covered by our heavily structured shoe is no different. There are over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the foot which will atrophy from lack of exercise too! Humans initially walked on their bare feet. When the skin at the bottom of the foot is stimulated, it begins to assess the surface beneath it. A flexible shoe free of cushioning and support that provides separation for the toes will create a situation very similar to being in bare feet. So as we run, the body provides its own technology, and the foot strike will aim for the midfoot rather than the heel. Our highly cushioned and supported shoes force a heel landing which can cause stress to the body over time. Think of those you know (and maybe yourself!) who have suffered from knee issues, shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, hip problems, plantar fasciitis, and other injuries. Back in the 80’s when step aerobics made its debut, studio shoes started to become more cushioned. But instead of protecting us from our landings on the step; the cushioning actually may have weakened the foot making us susceptible to these and other injuries.
Learning a new technique such as barefoot running requires patience as you want to build up your time and distance gradually. Over time, your body may begin to feel stronger, have greater endurance and actually minimize the risk of injury. But the key is to learn some Foot Fitness and to start slowly. Learn proper technique as well as stretches for the feet and lower legs. One place to start is by taking a willPower Method class to learn about foot fitness and how to land safely on your feet. As a bonus, you will strengthen your entire body from the ground up and increase your cardiovascular endurance.
Even if you decide to continue to use your running shoes, it should still make sense to remove your footwear from time to time to re-connect with sensory stimulation. Step outside and allow your bare feet to make contact with the grass, sand or dirt and you may even begin to enjoy some of the many health benefits of Earthing while you wake up those foot muscles!
EDITOR’S NOTE: You should always consult with your physician before making any major changes to your exercise programs or habits. While barefoot training can be beneficial for many, it’s not necessarily right for everyone. The recommendations and opinions shared in this post assume as much.
Maurita teaches willPower classes at Elevate Fitness which are a type of barefoot training. Learn more about these and other Elevate Fitness Group Classes here, and remember that your first class is always free at Elevate! Just fill out the form below: