Approximate Reading Time: 7-12 min
Training barefoot allows your feet to work to their full capacity. Without the cushioning and protection of shoes (even more minimalist designs), your proprioception, mechanics, force absorption and even pain detection in the feet are forced to work at a higher level. However, training barefoot is not quite as simple as burning all your shoes. As with any change to your physical activity, making the transition a little smoother will reduce the risk of injury.
The biggest mistake made with transitioning to barefoot training is trying to become immediately adapted from a heavily shod training regime – in fact, a recent literature review showed that a large proportion of injuries occur during the first 3 months of transitioning to barefoot training methods, without adequate attention paid to gradual integration or gait analysis in different footwear (Hamill, 2011). So how can we begin to embrace the benefits of going barefoot? Here are a few tips to bring more sole into your day.
Practice a slow increase in time spent barefoot. It might be a few more hours barefoot at home, or walking around your backyard without shoes on. Outside of the house, try taking your shoes off for small periods of time: at the park, at the beach, or even on soft surfaces mid-hike.
DROP THE DROP - GRADUALLY
The ‘drop’ of a shoe is the distance from heel height to toe height. For example, when barefoot, the drop would theoretically be zero, but a 10mm heel in a training shoe would be a 10mm drop. Head to a good shoe retailer (locally in Vancouver we recommend Dave and the team at Distance Runwear) to find out exactly how much drop your current shoes have, and slowly work down from there over several pairs of shoes, if you can.
STRETCH AND RELEASE YOUR CALVES AND FEET
Your calves and feet may not have worked in a barefoot state for many years – so look after them. Foam rolling the calves and shins will help to prevent tightening and stiffness. Your feet will also be working harder to maintain their arches - try rolling a trigger point ball (or any small sports ball) under your foot (the plantar fascia) for 3-5 mins per day. When it comes to stretching ensure you are doing some traditional passive range stretching combined with active range mobility work (see our joint circle video). Lastly, sneaking in 'movement snacks' like resting in a deep squat can be a great way to keep the lower body mobile.
LEARN HOW TO RUN
This one may not directly apply to everyone, but the principle is universal. Lieberman D.E. states that ‘what matters most is how one runs, not what is on one's feet’ (2012). Forefoot striking (more ideal) may be further facilitated through minimalist shoes, but if you’re running poorly in minimalist footwear, then your risk of injury will increase nonetheless. On the flip side it is possible to adopt a forefoot strike whilst wearing shoes, even cushioned ones. Perhaps consider a running or gait assessment with one of our kinesiologists, to fix up your stride as well as your shoes. Even if you’re not a runner, think about how you are walking, moving and training – there may be other deficiencies above the ankle that could contribute to injury.
PAIN = NO GAIN
Listen to your body! Barefoot training will greatly increase the demand on muscles, not just in your feet, but of your entire leg, pelvis, lower back and trunk. Some discomfort in the front of your shins and in your feet may be experienced in the early stages of transition, but do not ignore these signs, and pull back if necessary. It may take months, perhaps years, to completely transition to a comfortable barefoot state. At Restore Human, we also go barefoot to connect to the ground and our environment. The feeling of sand
between our toes, water around our ankles or the forest floor under our feet – it’s a little reminder that we both exist alongside, and are inextricably linked, to our natural surroundings.