Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lose the Shoes!

Interesting article about feet and barefoot training:

by Helen Vanderburg published by The Calgary Herald 2008

There is a growing movement amongst some runners to abandon shoes and go barefoot.

These runners point to famed two-time Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bikila who ran barefoot as well as famed-Olympian South African Zola Budd.

What Is It?

Barefoot training is gaining popularity with coaches, personal trainers and runners. The idea behind barefoot training is that our technically designed shoes may actually give us too much support, cushioning and stability, making the muscles and neuromuscular pathways of the foot and ankle weak and "lazy."

By training barefoot, some believe we can re-activate the small muscles in our feet, make them stronger and therefore improve our balance and sports performance. Yoga, tai chi, running and dance can all be done barefoot.

Barefoot training is controversial and, at this point, it lacks substantial research to support it for everyone. We are all built differently and some people need more support than others.

Like any training program, start slowly. If you haven't run barefoot since you were a kid, you will likely experience some initial soreness.

To prevent injuries, you may want to start with an indoor activity first.

Start with five to 10 minutes once a week of barefoot training on a soft surface such as a rubberized mat. Gradually increase the time or number of times per week spent training in bare feet.

Try a non-impact or low impact activity like yoga, Pilates and tai chi in bare feet before walking or running. Or try a soft shoe such as the Nike Free, which simulates the feeling of being barefoot more than most shoes.

When it comes to outdoor activities, it's important to start on flat, preferably cushioned, surfaces like grass and ensure you have good lighting to prevent stepping on something you shouldn't. Wait until any initial soreness in your feet goes away before re-attempting another barefoot run or outdoor activity.

Who Would Like It?

If you've always enjoyed being barefoot, it might not be hard to convince you to try some activities without your shoes. Go slow and use common sense.

Who Wouldn't Like It?

Going barefoot is not for everybody. And being barefoot outdoors can be hazardous. Nothing takes the joy of exercise away faster than pain or injury.

If you have had any foot or ankle problems in the past, or if you have diabetes, balance problems or a vascular condition, consult your physician or health-care professional first.

The Sweat Factor

Taking off your shoes and performing the same exercises you used to do with your shoes on is an entirely new experience. For example, try standing on one leg with your running shoes on. Then try it in bare feet. Try to do alternating front lunges with and without your shoes on.

If you're like me, you'll see just how hard the foot, ankle, knee and hip have to work to make this movement happen without shoes and just how much stability your shoes give you. Don't worry; the great news is that you're actually strengthening your entire body.

The Klutz Factor

After years and years of wearing shoes, most people become dependent on the stability that shoes offer. In fact, most people feel naked going outside without shoes. If you have balance problems or are apprehensive about exercising shoeless, don't do it. Just because someone else does doesn't mean you should.

The Cost

Going barefoot is free. Training appropriately for barefoot walking and running requires coaching. The cost of coaching varies, depending on how serious you are about the training. If you are are looking for general fitness and healthy feet, you don't need to invest any money. But if you want to run a 10K barefoot, I highly recommend a professional training program. Don't just take off your shoes and start running. Ouch!

Where to Get It?

Train barefoot at home, in a park or at a yoga studio. Be aware that most fitness facilities will not allow bare feet in the gym because of the health and safety hazards associated with gym equipment.

If you train outdoors, it is recommended you wear lightweight shoes to prevent injury.

Calgary has many personal trainers who incorporate barefoot training for athletes; check out

Bottom Line

Being barefoot is not new. That being said, if you decide to go barefoot, use good common sense, go slow and consult your health-care professional if you have questions.

Helen Vanderburg is a renowned trainer, corporate wellness speaker and owner of Heavens Fitness.

No comments: