During my deload week I met with a friend at EP Gym, Banbury to work on some deadlift technique. As we were resting between sets she asked “why do you train without shoes?”. Tongue in cheek I answered “would you bench press in oven gloves?” This relates to two opinions:

  1. Like bench pressing in oven gloves, I feel that lifting weights in trainers removes the connection between your body, the weight, and the movement.
  2. Oven gloves were designed to bench press as much as running shoes were designed to lift heavy loads.

However, having observed many gym goers wearing running shoes to lift weights, I decided to write a blog post on why and how I  transitioned to barefoot training.

I first began training barefoot in 2015. I was studying towards my sports massage qualification and learning more about the anatomy, function and evolution of the feet.  It became clear to me that training in shoes (or “leather coffins” as Tom Meyers from Anatomy Trains calls them) was not allowing my feet to work to their full functional capacity.

I was nervous about transitioning from trainer training to barefoot training, particularly as my ankles are pronated. I worried that this may cause injury. However, I was keen to make the change. To reduce my risk of injury I began by doing some specific barefoot ankle training at the beginning and end of my training sessions. Feeling the mobility I was gaining around my feet was lovely, though I did occasionally experience DOMS – a very strange feeling in your feet! It helped that I was receiving regular sports massage treatment. After a few weeks of this I then progressed to doing small sections of my main training sans shoes. Each week or fortnight I slightly increased the time I spent barefoot. By six months, I was doing most of my gym based training barefoot without injury. My trainers got promoted to phone-and-locker-key-holder as I moved between pieces of equipment.

Here are some of the reasons I like to train without trainers:

  • Better Biomechanics – Ankle pronation is usually related to weaknesses in certain foot and ankle muscles. wearing shoes that support the foot merely acts as a crutch. This doesn’t allow the ankle to strengthen its weak areas.
  • Improved Proprioception – Your feet are dense with receptors that send information to your brain about the position of your joints. Contact with the floor allows these receptors to receive better information as it is not dampened by the sole of a shoe.
  • Greater Stability – Training barefoot challenges my ankle stability. This better equips them to deal with unpredictable movements or changes of direction. This should reduce my risk of injury at the ankle.
  • More Mobility – Shoes can restrict flexibility and movement in the foot and ankle. This can cause compensations in other areas of the body. Training without shoes allows the foot to use its full range of motion.
  • Improved Efficiency – improving biomechanics at the foot and ankle can have knock-on effects further up the body, including improving knee, hip, and spine function.
  • Better Shock Absorption – The soft tissues around the foot and ankle are natural shock absorbers. If the tissues aren’t activating as they should, the tendons, ligaments, and joints take the impact instead. This leaves them vulnerable to injury. Training barefoot provides stimulation to the tissues and reduces the likelihood of muscular inhibition around the ankle joint.

If you would like to try barefoot training… Consider this:

  • Build up gradually to reduce risk of overloading the foot and ankle, which could result in injury. Use specific strengthening and stability techniques to prepare your body for barefoot training.
  • Consider using “barefoot shoes” to protect the sole of your foot. Look for a shoe with 0 drop (the toe and heel are the same level) a flexible sole, and minimal or no cushioning.
  • Get a regular sports massage to address tight muscles in the foot and calf, aid recovery, and receive personalised advice on strengthening the foot and ankle.

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