Sometimes people ask me what shoes I recommend for training. Nike, Adidas and the like have spent billions in marketing dollars getting us to pose this very query. I suggest working out barefoot.
Much of my childhood was barefoot. Our summers (and winters) were spent outside in the neighborhood on asphalt. I used my socks as a baseball by wrapping them in electrical tape, rather than putting them on my feet. After a long day of playing sock ball or skateboarding, my soles were black. The dirt washed off in a bath and I’d be right back out there the next day.
My point isn’t that I didn’t have shoes. My point is I was a kid and I didn’t need them or want to wear them, even when society deemed my activities shoe-worthy. I’m 38 now, not 11, so I spend much of my days with my feet covered. But I’m training as much as possible without shoes.
Performing squats in bare feet allows for better balance and grip. Sans shoes, I don’t feel like I have to navigate the cushion, I can simply have solid and direct contact with the earth. Assuming I can control the environment, I’ll walk steps, perform deadlifts and do just about anything with my feet uncovered.
There has been more research done about barefoot running than training in general, but many of the same principles apply. From chicagonow.com:
The International Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that when you run barefoot there is a 5.7% lower oxygen cost on the body and ‘that at 70% of VO2 max pace barefoot running is more economical than running shod (with shoes)… and there is a more than a 10% increase step rate.’
Working out barefoot also reduces the incidences of bunions, corns and athlete’s foot, increases flexibility and mobility of the feet and ankles, and improves proprioception, leading to better balance and movement.
Perhaps my favorite studied benefit revolves around plantar fasciitis. It seems that every season, athletes miss time nursing this injury. From the Epoch Times:
Plantar fasciitis (inflammation and pain in the arch and heel) is another common symptom that can be worsened by shoe support. The muscular structures in the arches of the feet are designed to absorb shock and encourage proper mechanics of walking, running, and exercise. Artificially raised arches directly remove responsibility from arch muscles to perform their job.
I suppose playing a baseball or football season without cleats is sort of out of the question. Sliding into second base when a leaping Troy Tulowitski is bearing down on my bare feet with his spikes doesn’t sound appealing. Training barefoot, however, strengthens the arch muscles and may prevent plantar fasciitis.
Shoes work like wrist straps – because they offer support to your feet and ankles, those parts aren’t getting as strong as they might otherwise be. From elitefts.com:
Simply put, barefoot training is essential. Almost 30 percent of all joints in our body are in our feet. Feet are your base of support, the foundation of movement. If the feet lack strength, mobility, and proprioception (the ability to feel yourself in space and the ability to react) and we have strengthened the rest of the body so that the force that will be put into the ground through those feet is increased – we’re asking for trouble.
Next time you go to work out, leave the shoes behind and you’ll have happier feet.