Barefoot Training:

What You Need To Know

Christophe answered SHEERLUXE MAN

Find below the full interview follow by the article at the bottom of the page.

SL Man: What are the benefits of barefoot training?

 

Christophe: Whether you are training to run or lift weights barefoot, you are basically having an opportunity to reconnect with your body and work with your muscles, not against them.

Like many other barefoot activities where the focus is on the foot work and the posture. (Yoga, Barre, Pilates), you will pace and correct your efforts wisely as any bad move will quickly feel odd when training barefoot.

However, foot work and posture work should always come together because your feet are your foundation and your posture the first victim of their bad performances.

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Can you list the main ones for us?

The main benefits of barefoot training when it is properly and gradually introduced are:

 

When running unshod:

  • A softer landing and a better control when pushing off.

At first you will focus more on the way your feet land on the ground in absence of heel cushioning from the footwear (In trainers, the cushion under the heel will have more viscosity than elasticity for a soft reception).

By taking away the artificial cushioning of a pair of trainers, you land more softly straight away. In fact, barefoot running force people to shorten their stride to avoid a heel strike, increasing their cadence to naturally soften their landing.

Then you’ll focus more on the way your foot and body bounce forward in absence of forefoot cushioning from the footwear (In trainers, the cushion under the forefoot will have more elasticity than viscosity for a strong propulsion).

 

When lifting unshod:

  • Reinforce your intrinsic muscles, those one become stronger and provide you with a better grip, control, and overall foot stability when lifting weight. In trainers those muscles work less and become “weaker”.

 

Any training unshod:

  • Increase your proprioception which is the way you perceive your own movement. Because the sensory messages sent by the foot to the brain are clearer and more accurate when no artificial sole is interfering. Here you can understand that some “barefoot shoes” will act like a pair of latex glove: a superficial protection for the skin but not beneficial for your proprioception.

Are any of these male-specific?

Not male specific but when studying injuries on plantar fascia, and Achilles tendons for example, we now know that while the oestrogen hormone level is fluctuating during a woman's menstrual cycle, the strength of the tendons, ligaments, and fascias / the only support you have left when you train barefoot will reduce, showing a greater laxity (looseness) therefore making women more prone to injury when barefoot training.

Are there some people who would particularly benefit from training barefoot – e.g. people prone to a certain type of injury, marathon runners?

 

Actually, not everyone is inclined to run barefoot or with minimalist shoe. Running and barefoot running are two different sports, like tennis and badminton.

 

Before talking about the benefits of training barefoot, whether you want to implement some in your training or if you want to transition exclusively towards it, you must ensure your basics are right.

 

Have your alignment, balance and posture checked. With any joint out of alignment comes a group of muscles working too much and a group of muscles ensuring the opposite function working less than they should (those ones will be called weak muscles by many).

 

The foot is beautifully designed to stock and restore some kinetic energy (created by our movements), like a wheel on a bike.

 

Often hyper-mobile patients and/or patients with “weak intrinsic muscles” (intrinsic means that both ends of the muscles are inserted in the foot) will dissipate this precious energy and use their extrinsic muscles more; such as the calves, tibial anterior, tibial posterior, long and short fibular muscles.

 

The problem with muscles is that they are subject to fatigue, pain and injuries. This is why giving them more work without reinforcing them first is putting you in danger and is likely to keep medical practitioners busy.

 

Barefoot running and, in general, forefoot running means that you will run more with your muscles (mechanical energy), as ankles, knees and hip bent are unlocked, and the muscles already work to stabilise them before generating any movement. There is no problem with the muscles working more when you are healthy, active, rested… Because a good muscles and tendons health come with good diet (food, drink, sleep, rest, stretch, exercise…)

But if you dismiss the above, you could be in trouble.

 

Are there any studies that show barefoot training is better than wearing regular trainers?

 

The best cushion is already under your feet. Your fat pad, the natural cushion, underneath your heel bone and balls of the foot is repumped because it is vascularised, while any shoe sole would need an additional technology (encapsulated air, gel, natural air, plastic or carbon board, etc.) to try to do the same thing but without the same success.

 

However, there are no studies that show that barefoot training is better.

This has been admitted by Christopher McDougall when he released his fantastic book Born to Run. Fantastic because he took this interesting subject on the table and forced shoe manufacturer to think twice about their drop and so on.

 

At the time, I was training 9 stores for Decathlon, and we had the 6 majors’ running brand in store, barefoot was a trend with a new product to promote, at first the minimalist or reduced drop shoes, the 5 fingers then the oversized.

 

I find interesting that some of McDougall’s reader joined the community, others rejected it and a small part turn to a fanatism and quickly understood that it is not a matter of transitioning into that new discipline but implementing it slowly to complement their running regime that would benefit them.

 

In short, the barefoot trend came too quick, everyone wanted to be ahead of it and we had no clue about its real benefits and dangers. Today, we must assess people first and guide them in their training, teaching them how to listen to their bodies and remind them to be patient - rather than becoming a patient.

 

Are there some sports that training barefoot is particularly good for?

 

Definitely, yes!

 

Firstly, any sport where your foot is your tool: gymnastic, yoga, barre, Pilates. Also, activities where your feet need an extra care as you’ll change direction a lot (dance, tennis, boxing, running, slalom, to name a few).

 

Your feet count for ¼ of the skeleton and are your only foundation in most sport. You will certainly miss out by not training such important parts of your body, in terms of their flexibility and mobility.

 

How best to get started? Any top tips? E.g. tips for technique, brands like Vivo barefoot?

 

“Barefoot shoes” are mainly to protect your feet superficially, they will keep them clean but won’t allow you to step on a stone, so we should lower our expectations.

 

At a foot level, the toe box must be wide to accept your forefoot spreading in absence of heel drop, the reduction of the drop doesn’t help to arch your foot and, in the absence of arch support, as you won’t be able to wear any orthotics, only exercise will help.

 

The heel cup should grab your heel nicely to keep your fat pad - which is a better cushion than any shoe foam - well under your heel, and you should do some foot work to reinforce your foot muscles and improve your stance and posture.

 

How long do you need to stick with it for the best results? When will you start seeing the benefits?

 

Implementing barefoot training in your regime takes time.

 

At first you must build up some skin, the only protection you’ll have when unshod. Allow yourself 8 weeks to build up the skin. Start on a short distance or on a small part of your regular circuit if you want to run barefoot. Be patient and persistent but don’t go through pain without extra care. Your extrinsic muscles including your calves will ask for more attention and rest, do not rush.

 

If you have tried training barefoot but are struggling, do you have any advice?

 

At first, list all the commitment required, see if you missed any in the past and see if you can realistically tick all the boxes. Training barefoot is a way of life that doesn’t match every lifestyle.

 

If you are struggling but made it a new year resolution or a life goal, then you will have to cut things out in your general diet as much as in your busy diary. Have an MOT with your Podiatrist, Osteopath, or Physiotherapist and look for a coach and or a training buddy as motivated as you. In short, team up to step up!

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