Barefoot or Shoes? Here’s the Best Way to Train
My first big fight over a pair of Nike’s happened when I was about 14 years old in 1998. I remember this since it led to start of a mystical journey with running and shoes.
Though my elder sister had put a big front to discourage my folks from purchasing a pair as those few thousands of rupees felt astronomical.
Cut to 2019 and its quite common to spot Nike’s, Brooks, Asics and many top international performance and athletic footwear brands everywhere. As a long distance runner, strength and conditioning coach and student of exercise science – I do realise that there is world where ‘big feet small problems’ is no longer a cliche.
My intent here is not to side by any technology or brand nor rubbish the significance of the natural bare foot.
Rather, I am trying to see a middle path, where I feel lies the real opportunity. I don’t suggest that you dump your latest running shoes to switch barefoot nor do I believe you need to carry specific weightlifting shoes into your gym class. (Candidly, I have done both)
How to Choose the Right Shoe?
There’s a billion dollar market where we spend to keep our feet comfortable, sexy and hip. At the same time, we ditch this loyalty and expect these same feet to work miles and toil forever and never complain. Eventually they do complain.
I am not going to get into the incidence of injuries on the ankle or foot for every sport, but let me reassure you that the foot or ankle connects you to your entire kinetic chain (ankle, knee, hip, spinal column, shoulder ) and every movement – human or athletic –requires the ground to contact, absorb, load and fire from the ground up.
You can cure your back pain and cervical spine by also engaging your ankle or foot – sounds absurd but remember the movement in our body favours the path of least resistance and we tend to compensate.
We can go endlessly about shock and absorption of the foot wear but let me also remind our readers that their feet may be small but not fragile. The foot arch is a marvel despite how it looks to your naked eye.
Why Your Foot Health Matters
The performance outcome of our feet is based on these arches and their support to balance our body weight as we move on different surfaces. The shoes have a role to support and protect our feet. However, endless hours in them without reconnecting your foot to the ground has also led to an epidemic of fallen arches, external rotated feet ( the ‘Charlie Chaplin walk’), heel pain and dysfunction across the knee and hip.
I am a personal living example of this. With many half marathons under my belt and years of strength training, I still missed the most important part – my feet.
Why do I train barefoot in the gym? Simple, I dig my heel into the ground, press my toe and fingers while engaging my arch to ensure there is proper force transfer in every exercise I do. Do I own running shoes? Yes, and many pairs.
My realisation is rolling your feet, barefoot training, and understanding ankle mobility and stability have brought me back into running – my personal best at a 5K, along with strength training, all barefoot.
The best of both worlds can be mixed – it’s up to you. Listen to your feet. Try a small experiment and start noticing the feet of folks around you at work, in a mall or on the road. Do they all walk with their toes pointing straight? Are they able to lift their heels off the ground effortlessly when they jog or run?
You will see the point. Engage your foot to engage your entire body.
Finally our whole body works as a unit and if one component fails, the other suffers as well. This chain reaction complicates dysfunction and treatment, so where does the treatment start?
The Answer? Everywhere.
(Jeevan Aujla loves his coffee and stoic philosophy. He has challenged his decades old beliefs on fitness while studying sport & exercise science for his master's. He is currently enjoying the nuances of running an early stage start up called Decode Strength+Conditioning . Follow him on insta @decode_vasantvihar)