Exercising while barefoot is nothing new, yet it’s quickly becoming one of the hottest fitness trends of 2017. Proponents of shoeless fitness insist that going barefoot improves biomechanics, strengthens the foot (ligaments, tendons and muscles), lengthens the Achilles tendon, and enhances coordination and balance.
Through the throws of time and across rough terrain, successful runners ran barefoot. The first marathon runner, Pheideppides, ran barefoot from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. In 1960 an Ethiopian, Abebe Bikila, won the Olympic marathon without wearing shoes. Stories of “natural runners” continue into modern times. Running barefoot is not the only exercise you can do shoeless. Working out without shoes allows for natural movement of your feet.
There are several exercises that fitness experts believe can and should be successfully completed without shoes. Here are just a few.
Exercises that require balance and stability, such as lunges, can actually be more comfortable without shoes on. If you are new to exercising barefoot, begin slowly with no extra weights. When you lunge, use your entire foot to grip the floor’s surface. Your foot is designed to grip and balance. Lunging barefoot helps you to feel more grounded by expanding your foot and spreading your toes, creating a solid base to support your movements. Give it a try.
Zumba is a great workout, incorporating dance moves that will blast fat and keep you healthy. Barefoot Zumba, as well as other dance workouts, is an awesome way to work the muscles in your feet and to increase the mental health benefits that come along with dancing, as many report feeling a greater sense of freedom and connectedness when going barefoot. Indeed, many cultures around the world dance barefoot in the grass, sand or dirt to feel at one with Mother Earth. It is a soulful experience that brings energy through the ground and into your body. Dance is also a great exercise for any age group.
Another exercise that requires balance and stability, push-ups are almost always better barefoot. You can really get a grip with our toes, allowing your foot muscles and joints to stretch and move fluidly. It’s a natural movement that energizes the entire foot. Doing pus-ups barefoot also increases flexibility, providing a much wider range of motion.
You have to be careful with this one and keep a really tight grip on the bar; dropping weights on your foot would not be conducive to a successful workout. However, according to fitness experts, balancing with bare feet is a natural movement that can allow for a greater deadlift experience. Traditional “lifting shoes” have a hard sole and no flexibility, making it difficult to grip the ground. Going barefoot allows for greater flexibility. Some people say that they prefer to go barefoot because any forward incline (as when wearing shoes) is diminished and leaning forward is avoidable. Plus the distance that you have to move the bar is slightly shortened. If you’re working out in a gym, you may want to skip this one, since most gyms have a shoe-on requirement. However, if you have some privacy, give this method a go to see if you notice the difference.
Squats, too, require balance and stability. When doing a squat, you shift your weight back, as if sitting in a chair. Going shoeless allows you to drive more into your heels, creating a better, deeper and more targeted squat. Of course, there are pros and cons to doing squats barefoot. Some people have a greater experience without shoes, but many who wear socks or flat-soled shoes invariably switch to going barefoot. You decide.
Hip problems seem to be an issue with the older population. Questions arise as to whether hip problems are connected to weakness in the feet. Fitness experts are moving towards the premise that exercising barefoot actually strengthens feet and helps to prevent future problems, such as hip and joint injuries.
6. Thai Chi And Yoga
Relaxation workouts such as Tai Chi and yoga are always better without shoes. Shoes are clunky and can disrupt with the natural fluidity of these movements. Our feet consist of a network of nerve endings and acupuncture points, and when we practice yoga or Thai Chi barefoot the connection of the joints, points and muscles with the floor leads to the strengthening of the feet. Alignment is critical in yoga, and bare feet allow you to better judge your alignment. In yoga, everything begins from the foundation (your feet) and moves upward; you’ll find greater stability and balance with bare feet.
No matter your preference, abide by the rules. You can always go barefoot at home or at the beach, but when you’re at the public gym, please wear the appropriate footwear. If you prefer going barefoot, be aware of the dangers. Without the protection of shoes, you are susceptible to infections, cuts, scratches and other wounds (like stubbing your toes – ouch). Other issues may include stress fractures, knee problems, or heel injuries.
Oh, and by the way, bare feet are naturally odor free! Feet stink after being jammed into an athletic shoe, so if you’ve got naturally stinky feet, going au natural may be right for you.
Lastly, be smart about the types of exercises you do barefoot. Going shoeless is not for everyone. If you have diabetes, open sores, numbness in your feet, atherosclerosis or poor circulation, going barefoot is not recommended. Consult with your fitness or health care professional before attempting any exercise that may strain or cause injury.