The Scientific Benefit to Barefoot Training

Dr. Jonathan Richards

Before we get into it, always check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to engage in different types of exercise.

Barefoot training improves your balance, agility, power, and strength, all while improving your joint health, muscular alignment, shock absorption, mobility and movement mechanics. Active, agile, resilient humans weren’t meant to be stuck in shoes all day. Shoes and orthotics have become a crutch for our weak ankles and flat feet. The preference of many physical therapists today is to rehab injuries barefoot to avoid this crutch, and strengthen injured muscles and ligaments back into their natural state.

While shoes can support the weak parts of our feet and ankles, they will also inhibit strengthening the foot, and decrease our flexibility and range of motion. This is particularly problematic because restrictions in your foot don’t stop at the foot. Overwhelming evidence has shown that the entire kinetic chain up from the feet is affected by our feet, putting compensatory pressure on the knees, hips, low back, and neck. The lack of strength and mobility we often experience in our ankles, appears in our legs too, and can lead to ACL, knee, and hip injuries. By also improving our balance and stability, barefoot training can help prevent future injuries from falls.

If you don’t think the feet are that important, take a second to consider that they carry most of your body weight around all day, everyday, not to mention that the foot and ankle consist of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 16 muscles, and are covered in proprioceptors–”sensors that provide information about joint angle, muscle length, and muscle tension,…integrated to [provide the brain with] information about the position of the limb in space.” Most movement starts with the neural firing from your feet, so just imagine how much better your kinetic chain of movement will operate if the first signal is clear and strong.

What this means for the everyday athlete, the fitness newbie, and the injured person looking to rehab, is you can finally set and conquer new goals. With barefoot training, you will find increased mobility and strength, and diminished pain in daily activities; you can reach new depth in your squat by improving your ankle mobility and driving properly through your heel; you will develop balance in a lunge; your quickness with your kids and grandkids will surprise you!

Dr. Richards is a highly trained surgeon and podiatrist who is focused on achieving the best possible outcomes for his patients. An avid runner, his interest in athletics led him to seek a career that would enable him to assist people with the maintenance and improvement of their physical health. As such, he chose to pursue a career in podiatry with a particular focus on sports medicine.
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