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Training Barefoot

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
In an age where athletic shoes are becoming more "high tech," here is some interesting info:

"Chronic foot, ankle and knee injuries continue to plague athletes and active adults alike. Some experts suggest that the evolution of athletic footwear may have increased the incidence of these injuries rather than protecting against them.
As shoe companies continue to enhance heel cushioning to improve shock absorption, increase stability of the ankle, and attempt to reduce pronation, the rate of injuries has increased. This comes along with epidemiological data, which shows that barefoot runners and people from “barefoot societies” have consistently fewer injuries to the foot, ankle and knee.
According to Dr. Mel Siff in his text Supertraining, the increased cushioning a shoe provides reduces the natural protective reflex of the plantar surface. This reflex response has a couple of important roles. First, it prevents injury by decreasing the rigidity of the ankle, which would place increased stress on the ligaments, and allow for reduced peak force on impact. Second, the reflex is responsible for allowing the nervous system to know the position of the knees and hips in order to stabilize the joints effectively. Thus, this sensory awareness may affect the natural recruitment patterns of the muscles that produce and stabilize hip and knee flexion/extension. As a result, Dr. Siff suggests that compression of any part of the sole during any closed-chain strength or explosive exercise (i.e. running, jumping, squats, etc) can cause general instability and consequent injury.
In addition to interfering with the plantar reflex, the height of the heel can shift the center of gravity forward increasing stress on the knee and altering optimal patterns of movement, which can make squats, dead lifts, lunges, and other closed-chain lifts unsafe.
Although a long-term solution likely lies with shoe manufacturers there are a couple things you can do to help protect your lower body. For example, during strength training wear a shoe with very little sole and no heel elevation. A soccer, wrestling or ballet-type shoe may be best suited.
Shoe manufacturers have begun developing sneakers that mimic barefoot running with very little sole and limited lateral stability. In the meantime, Dr. Siff suggests that we should attempt to spend more time barefoot to maintain the sensitivity of the plantar protective reflex and reduce the impact of wearing shoes."

Supertraining. Mel Siff (2003) 466-467.
post #2 of 21
When researching tai chi versus traditional balance work for seniors, this is precisely what they atributed the balance improvement to, increased ankle and foot integration and improved foot/ankle muscle rectuitment. I use non supportive thin leather mocassins for all my tai chi practice along with most of my other workouts, including jump rope work. I also do all the foot and ankle exercises in the probodx book, barefoot. I made the pipes myself for about $5.00, use my wifes step with the top bridging down to the floor for the incline work, and bought some cheap balance disks ($15.00 ea.) at walmart for the disk work.

For anyone who doubts the effectiveness of these simple exercises I would only add, try them, I think you will be surprised. My tai chi work allowed me to jump into the exercises without the use of the balance poles which is telling.

thanks for the article LM. As usual, really good stuff. Later, RicB.
post #3 of 21
Wow, thanx for the article.

What a coincidence. I had 15 minute to kill this morning and was considering getting on the treadmill, just for a moderate walk to wake up. I decided against it as I was barefoot and didn't want to lace up my sneakies. Next time, maybe I'll try a light walk barefoot and see how it feels.

I already knew lifting exercises with the raised heel of running shoe was well less than optimal.
post #4 of 21

barefoot? or with boots?

i agree with barefoot, but would one also learn more about his "tools" doing balance work with boots on?
post #5 of 21
Thread Starter 
Actually, Twist Conditioning in Vancouver has pro skiers use the Bosu with theiir ski boots on. I almost had a heart attack when Nick Herrin did that at ESA!!!!

Probably both is best. A few years ago, I posted some research about martial artists having the lowest incidence of ACL injuries. It was speculated that training barefoot increased prorpioception and prevented injury.
post #6 of 21
I find it interesting that in Japan, most athletic shoes have little support and low heels. But a Japanese manufacturer like Asics will only sell shoes in America with high heels and beefed-up support. They must think we're all fat and lazy. Unfortunately, they're right.
post #7 of 21
My PT has insisted that all my rehab work be done barefoot for this very reason. However, they make me wear shoes on the treadmill---I think because the Nylon ramp material would cause friction burns and they're afraid of toes getting stuck in moving parts!
post #8 of 21
I used Nike Free running shoes to come off a broken ankle last spring. Nike claims you should run about 20 minutes once a week in them. I feel they helped strengthen my foot & ankle.
post #9 of 21
Track shoes:
Thin little wafers of rubber under your feet with sockets to screw in various lengths of metal spikes. I ran on those for years with no difficulties.
post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 
That's an interesting point, Echo! I remember when I was running marathons or teaching high impact aerobics, my feet would kill me from the weight of all the "stuf" they would put in those shoes. Things got better when I went "low tech."
post #11 of 21
Originally Posted by doogiedoc View Post
My PT has insisted that all my rehab work be done barefoot for this very reason. However, they make me wear shoes on the treadmill---I think because the Nylon ramp material would cause friction burns and they're afraid of toes getting stuck in moving parts!
Okay, don't laugh too hard but I found these things to be useful.


Having once been a marathon runner I found that I was having problems with my knees, hips and feet as I got older. So I decided to try something different.
post #12 of 21
Thread Starter 
Wow! Those things are interesting!
post #13 of 21
I guess I'm confused. I went barefoot most of my life until last year. I could run on gravel as a kid, and whenever I didn't absolutely need shoes, I didn't wear them. I've never worn heels.....ever.

Now I have lots of foot problems, and after 3 surgeries for arthritis and neuromas, I'm told NEVER walk barefoot again, plus I may need a footbed in addition to shoes being worn whenever I walk. and :

Could being barefoot for 50 years lead to this? Or is it just my personal problem? Have there been any studies that connect long term shoelessness to foot problems?
post #14 of 21
Don't know if it's an issue for you, but extra weight can be a problem. Also, in my opinion, just walking around barefoot, while helpful, is not enough to keep the foot sufficiently strong. I've been walking around barefoot a lot over the last year or so after making a commitment to making my feet stronger. It helps, but there's a world of difference between walking barefoot and running and exercising barefoot. I can walk around barefoot all day, but as soon as I start jogging on grass, the muscles in my feet that aren't stretched and utilized while walking begin to ache pretty quickly. I've worked up to jogging about twenty minutes. Also started doing some plyo-type circuits barefoot and my feet are pretty sore after that, too.

If I were you, I'd try to VERY VERY gradually strengthen my feet and not rely on footbeds. But that's me, and I don't put a whole lot of stock in conventional medicine with long-term pain issues.
post #15 of 21
Is it just a matter of 'strong' feet? If so, I shouldn't have a problem at all!

I'm not grossly overweight. I'm stronger than most women my age (51), even though I have MS. I'm not sure how much more I can (and should) be worried about it, because I'm not 20 anymore, and won't ever be again. I'm more accepting of aging, and this may just be part of it.

If we felt as good at 50 as we do at 30.....
post #16 of 21
Thread Starter 
I'm not sure, but your foot problems may be related to the MS.
post #17 of 21
It probably isn't much of an issue for you given your needs at this point. For moderate everyday activity, I don't think you'll do much harm with footbeds and not going barefoot. For me, I'm still trying to keep everything intact for a lot of very physical activity -- mogul skiing, basketball, competitive running, etc. And I think stronger feet (that aren't being lifted by the heels found in most athletic shoes) will put less strain on my knees and probably provide benefits further up along the body chain.
post #18 of 21
It seems like eons ago, but once upon a time when I really was in super shape, I used to run barefoot on the beach (Assateague National Seashore), moving from the relatively firm but wet and pliable sand in the water up onto the soft deep dune sand. The great thing about the sand was that, except for the hard strip near the water line it was soft enough to move aside and provide good support all along the foot while simultaneously giving the whole foot a pretty good workout because the foot could flex freely. Shoes, on the other hand, in the effort to provide distributed support for the foot, generally trade off flexibilty. As I recall, it was important to stay off the hard shingle even though it seemed to provide easier running. The soft dry dune sand also gave a pretty good general workout because, like running on snow, it would give way under the backward thrust of the stride. Best of all you could vary the routine by running down into the breaking waves and cooling off occasionally. Running in the water provided good resistance to the movement of your legs. Naturally this was in summertime. I was under the impression this was a very healthy workout for the feet. When I got on a bike my feet felt stonger and more flexible. Nowadays, (30 years hence) overweight and with a foot injury I look for the best supportive shoes I can find though.
post #19 of 21
Thread Starter 
Just received another study:

During the 1980s and 90s researchers reported correlations between increased incidence of injury and modern footwear. The findings indicated that the support and stability provided by a sneaker altered the natural response to foot contact and produced a negative effect on gait mechanics. A few current studies may implicate modern footwear in the progression and/or development of orthopedic diseases such as osteoarthritis (OA). There has also been significant innovation in footwear technology that may correct the problem.
In one study researchers at Rush Medical College in Chicago compared the dynamic loading mechanics of the hip and knee in adults with osteoarthritis. Abnormal loading mechanics are thought to be responsible for the progression of OA. Researchers hypothesized that modern shoes further alter loading mechanics and may contribute to progression of OA.
Seventy-five adults (mean age 59) participated in this study. Each underwent gait analysis while walking both barefoot and in sneakers. The results indicated that loading mechanics were significantly better under the barefoot condition with peak joint loads nearly 12% lower than in the control condition. This information should aid physicians and therapists in directing care for current patients with osteoarthritis. A conclusion could not be made with regard to the contribution of modern footwear to the development of OA. Further research is necessary to address preventive strategies.
A second study evaluated a specific advancement in footwear called Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT). The footwear was designed based on observations of the barefoot Masai people of Africa amongst who back pain and other orthopedic conditions common to the US do not exist. The MBT possesses an unstable rounded sole intended to distribute plantar pressure more evenly and ease pressure at the heel, to mimic what happens while walking barefoot.
Researchers at Marquette University Medical College of Wisconsin put the MBT to the test to determine the biomechanical implications of the shoe design. Forty healthy adults participated in gait analysis using both the MBT rocker shoe and a control sneaker.
While wearing the MBT shoe, participants’ stride frequency increased, plantar flexion at terminal stance was increased, and increases in mid-stance hip extension and knee flexion were significant. All findings confirm claims by MBT that the shoe reduces stress on the joints and lead to more favorable gait mechanics for preventing injury.
The MBT negative-rocker shoe is different from traditional rocker shoes in that it places increased stress on the forefoot and reduces the stress at the heel. Thus, it might not be a good choice for some individuals with forefoot pathologies. However, the research is indicating a potential use with individuals who have orthopedic conditions such as back pain, hip and knee pain, plantar fascitis or heel pain.

Shakoor, N., and Block, J.A. (2006) Arthritis and Rheumatism. 54(9): 2923-2927.
Myers, K.A., et al (2006) Biomechanical implications of the negative heel rocker sole shoe: Gait kinematics and kinetics. Gait and Posture. 24(3): 323-330.
post #20 of 21
I've heard that too - that all the cushioning in the shoes have weakened the foot muscles leading to foot problems......

However, I won't lift without shoes, my gym wouldn't allow it anyways and while sneakers won't prevent a broken foot, they may contain the blood from a possible cut from a dropped plate.....
post #21 of 21
Thread Starter 
Agreed. I would never lift without shoes. However, NIKE, I believe now has one of these low-tech shoes that are similar to going barefoot.
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