Barefoot exercise is not a new workout concept like yoga and Pilates, but some athletes have been taking it to the next level with barefoot running, weightlifting, and more. Before heading to the gym to work out without any sneakers, be sure to check your gym's health and safety policies.
Barefoot exercise, particularly barefoot running, has become more prevalent in Western culture since 1960.
Barefoot exercise can be done outside or inside at home; however, there may be restrictions at the gym.
There are benefits and risks associated with barefoot exercise.
Some gyms have a “no shoes, no entrance” policy, which could be a barrier to the barefoot gym-goer. This article explores the benefits and risks of working out barefoot.
One reason barefoot exercise has become so popular is because, most often, the only point of contact we have between the floor and our bodies are our feet. Each foot has over 26 bones and many neuroreceptors to help balance, coordination, and proprioception. Some proponents of barefoot exercise believe shoes get in the way of this; therefore, barefoot is better. Doctors recommend starting slowly because it could lead to overtiring more quickly. However, doctors disagree if barefoot running or high-intensity exercise is beneficial for reducing injuries.
The history of barefoot exercise
Indigenous tribes have hunted barefoot for centuries. Runner Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia, a 1960 Olympian, said barefoot was how he trained at home and won the Olympic gold. Since then, barefoot running has become more popular.
If you're new to barefoot exercise, you may want to try a light regimen of walking, squats, weightlifting, and balance and build to more intense workouts. Eventually, you may add kettle bells, barbells, running, and others, but there are associated risks. Most gyms require shoes not only for sanitary purposes but to reduce the risk of injury should a weight or other piece of equipment comes into contact with the feet.
The benefits of barefoot exercise
According to the Marathon Training Academy, barefoot exercise not only saves on purchasing footwear, but it has health benefits from stress reduction to strength building. Some additional benefits include:
- Increased proprioception (your body's ability to sense position, movement, and action)
- Increased foot flexibility and strength
Increased blood circulation
- Increased balance and stability
- Increased short-term memory
The risks of barefoot exercise
Barefoot exercise isn't without risks. Barefoot runners don't land on the heel, so there's an increased risk of damage to the mid and front foot. Other risks include:
- Injury caused from outside terrain
- Injury from weights or equipment
- Increased calf soreness
- Increased stress fractures of the feet
- Slow gait transition
Tips for exercising barefoot
When you exercise without sneakers or any type of foot protection, you'll want to take precautions, especially when learning and adjusting to working out with bare feet. The following tips can help prevent injury or exhaustion:
- Take time to warm up properly
- Don't overdo it, especially when you're in the learning stage
- Stretch your feet before and after each session
- Focus on one exercise per day, such as one day running and weights the next
Doctors began to see a lot more barefoot running following Bikila's gold medal win and drew some conclusions. They discovered running injuries can occur with or without shoe protection. Common running injuries, including knee and hip injuries, can occur in both shoed and barefooted runners. Even though barefooted runners may be more prone to stress fractures, they can also occur when wearing shoes.
When running barefoot, weight tends to go more into the middle and front of the foot, which is the preferred way to land when running. However, while wearing running shoes, we tend to land more on cushioned heels.
Running barefoot is contraindicated in people who have foot deformities or injuries.
Having strong, and also flexible feet is important as you age and probably the last thing on most people's minds when it comes to exercise. However, barefoot exercise can help improve this and build a stronger mind-body connection.
In the end, the barefoot exerciser needs to consider cleanliness, floor surface (carpet or other), home, gym, or outside, and whether it's safe for their feet. If you have any concerns, consult your doctor or podiatrist before starting to exercise barefoot. If you are a high-level athlete or planning to train like one, it can be beneficial to include barefoot exercise into your regimen based on what is listed above.
- Science Daily. The Olympics and bare feet: What have we learned?
- Journal of Novel Physiotherapies. Understanding the concept of barefoot exercise science and its application in physical rehabilitation.
- Marathon Training Academy. 9 Reasons Why Running Barefoot is Good for You.