You may have noticed workout shoes on the shelf called Minimals or Barefoot shoes. Though the trend was more recently popularized by the running community, barefoot training has been a part of foot and ankle rehabilitation and athlete strength training for decades.
As the only part of the body that connects with the ground, the foot plays an essential role in feeling the environment and sending messages through the body to allow for fluid and efficient movement. There are 26 bones in the foot and 29 joints purposefully allowing for a lot of movement. The soft tissue (ligaments, fascia and muscle) work together to stabilize and power this machine.
The nerves in the foot act as do whiskers on a cat; the messages sent from the nervous system in the foot have a direct line to the muscular system. Have you ever noticed that your right arm swings forward when your left foot steps forward? This movement pattern isn’t learned, it is simply the natural reaction of the nervous system when a step is taken. When the input from the ground is muted because of shoe cushioning or the movement of the foot is limited due to stiff footwear, the message to the body is incomplete and inefficient gait patterns are often the result.
Children are at a huge advantage. They have not been wearing shoes long enough to permanently affect the movement and strength of the foot. To provide your children with an environment that will strengthen their foot muscles, shop for shoes where the sole bends easily. If the sole twists too, even better. Let your kids be barefoot as much as possible. There is a reason they like to strip their shoes and socks the minute they run into the house. Gymnastics (for both boys and girls) is an excellent sport to promote foot strength and overall body awareness.
If as an adult you are thinking of purchasing a pair of barefoot shoes, wean yourself slowly out of your old pair. Start by walking around the house barefoot as much as possible. Engage in a thorough foot stretching and self-massage routine. Then, begin wearing the barefoot shoes for only short periods at a time, increasing the time or distance you wear them by only 10% per week. Most importantly, if you have had any past foot or ankle injury it is highly encouraged that you consult first with a professional to regain the mobility and strength lost with the injury.
I will soon be uploading a video with my top tips to ready your feet for barefoot workouts. Stay tuned!