I enjoy being barefoot as much as possible! At home, you can find me barefoot all the time. Outdoors, I opt for minimalist footwear like flip flops, Tom's, or shoes that leave room and are very flat. If I'm forced to train in shoes in a gym, I throw on a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Basically, I'm as close to barefoot as I can be at all times! Why? Because ...
Going Barefoot Has A Ton Of Benefits!
Your feet are the direct connection between your body/brain and the earth beneath you. They send the signal to your brain letting it know exactly where you are in time and space. Being barefoot (or wearing minimalist shoes) allows your body to receive the signal between the ground and the feet at a more natural rate. When you bound them up in big, thick, padded shoes, you create a barrier between your feet and the ground. This barrier slows and distorts the signal sent from your feet to your brain. Think of it like trying to type on your keyboard while wearing oven mitts!
Shoes also put our bodies in unnatural positions and cause compensated movement patters. Most shoes have a raised heel and confine our toes. A raised heel can lead to a shift in bodyweight leading to poor posture, back issues, and tight calves/immobile ankles to name a few. Being barefoot eliminates the heel raise.
Your toes are meant to spread out naturally, like little fingers on your feet (creepy analogy, I know). Your toes should help grip the ground and balance your body. Toes that are naturally separated are a sign of strong/healthy feet. Being barefoot, allows the toes to spread apart, grip the ground, and activate the muscles in the feet. Keeping your toes bound up in shoes, with little or no room to move, leaves the toes pressed together even when your shoes aren't on! The result, weak and inactive muscles in the feet!
Weak and inactive feet, coupled with immobile ankles, lead to a whole truck load of dysfunction in the rest of the body. They're the first connection to the earth beneath you and need to be kept in good shape.
Minimalist Shoes Don't Hurt People,
People Hurt Themselves!
Ask anyone who runs, why they started running. Chances are they'll tell you it's because they wanted to get into shape and lose weight. I think it's great when someone takes their health into their own hands and makes the move towards getting more active! The problem is, most people are in no position to start running long distances in the first place.
Long distance running/jogging has a very high rate of injury because it's a long duration and high impact form of plyometric exercise. Now, on top of that add in the fact that most people have poor posture, duck feet, and aren't doing any form of resistance training ... and we have a recipe for disaster. That's even without switching to minimalist footwear!
I'm sure you've heard the stories of people suing companies like Vibram over injuries they sustained from running in their minimalist footwear. The problem wasn't the shoes, or even running in the shoes ... the problem was "who" was running in the shoes.
If we take the typical person mentioned above, overweight, poor posture, weak feet, immobile ankles, and they're not strength training. Add in the fact that they also have no concept of the running technique required to run in minimalist shoes. Then throw them in Vibram's and start letting them hit the pavement, guess what ... they're going to get injured! It's not because the shoes are dangerous, it's because they didn't prepare their body for running in minimalist shoes.
Vibram Five Fingers
You Need To Prepare Your Feet Before Minimalist Running!
If you don't want to injure yourself when running in minimalist shoes, you need to take the right steps! That pun wasn't intended, but it works. The following are steps that I use with clients before they ever start running (sprints, jogging etc.) in minimalist shoes. Implement them, and it will make your chances of injuring yourself running in minimalist shoes go down significantly.
BUT! Remember, running for long distances isn't the most effective method for fat loss, it increases your stress hormones, boosts inflammation in the body, and is still a high risk method of training.
Step #1: Get your diet on point
Clean up your food, get your nutrition on point. You'll lose weight, keep it off, and improve every single aspect of your body through proper nutrition. Not carrying around excess body fat will also help reduce your risk of injury while running. You could pick up my "Paleo Quick Start" to get you on track!
Step #2: Fix your poor posture and foot positioning
If you can't stand up straight, and stay that way, then how the heck are you going to do it while running? Find out what good posture looks like, then get foam rolling, using lacrosse balls, and stretching in order to fix your poor posture.
Step #3: Start resistance training while barefoot
Go barefoot around your home, and in the gym. Most gyms will require you to wear shoes, that's ok because you can get some Vibrams and wear them in the gym. Start training with total body movements like squats, lunges, push ups, chin ups, and rows. This will help strengthen the feet during activity. This should be on going an ongoing process!
Training barefoot is a great way to prepare
the feet for minimalist running!
Step #4: Jump rope barefoot
Running in minimalist shoes requires an upright posture and the use of the forefoot while running. Basically, running on the balls of the feet. Jumping rope helps with both of these techniques. Jumping rope helps to further strengthen the muscles of the feet and conditions the calves and legs in a similar fashion to barefoot running. Jumping rope regularly for a couple months, coupled with your resistance training, should help build a good base for minimalist running.
Step #5: Learn about running and forefoot running technique
You must, must, MUUUUUST learn the basics of running in minimalist shoes before you start running. Many people who run in regular shoes use a "heel strike". Heel striking involves hitting the ground with the heel first while running. This is poor running technique with any kind of shoe, but it's even worse if you're wearing minimalist shoes. In minimalist shoes there's no padded heel to save your body from fractures or bruising. Running in minimalist shoes requires you to run with an upright posture and using the forefoot. Here's a nice little video to get your started.
Step #6: Ease into barefoot running
Now that you've covered your bases, you can ease yourself into minimalist running. Running on softer surfaces such as trails, grass, and sand, would be a good place to start. Then ease into running on harder surfaces like sidewalks. Take it easy, listen to your body, and take time off if something doesn't feel right. Remember to regularly roam roll and fascial release. There are numerous forms of physical activity and exercise, and they can all be dangerous. You need to prepare your body gradually and learn the technique involved for any method of fitness. Barefoot/Minimalist running is no different!