I hate shoes. My whole life I’ve struggled with them, never really finding a pair that fit well. I suppose I owe this to the relative health of my feet. I grew up refusing to wear shoes, something that was hugely beneficial to not just the health of my feet, but my to brain as well. My childhood running around barefoot as often as possible enabled them to grow, and strengthen, and develop as they should; broad toed and flexible with strong arches and stable ankles. Of course once I started to cram them into the standard thin, tapered toed shoes that are standard (for women in particular) I began having problems. But no more; if I wear shoes, I only wear ones that allow for an anatomically correct foot. This, or none at all. Kick off your sneakers, wiggle your toes, and let’s talk about how going barefoot as often as possible is going to revolutionize your health.
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Like so many human concepts, (most) shoes are incredibly flawed. Protecting your feet is a good idea, don’t get me wrong, but we have taken an idea with good intentions and gone and warped it into something destructive. What a surprise. Your standard shoe has a raised heel, a thin body, and a heavily tapered toe box. You squeeze your feet into these things year after year and distort their original, highly functional design; effectively weakening the entire structure and decreasing proper function. You lose flexibility. You lose strength. You lose stability. And your entire body is suffering for it.
You are born with great toe splay and flexibility. If you were allowed to grow barefoot, your overall development would be optimized. As you began to walk and run, your arches would develop sure and strong. Your brain development at a great advantage due to the sensory information you gather from the soles of your feet. Your balance nearly impeccable. Your ability to turn, pivot, take off, and stop impressive. You would have a great sense of kinesthetic (self) awareness or Proprioception; and naturally be more mindful and aware of your surroundings. Compared to your shod peers, you would have greater core strength, better posture, and healthier circulation.
Unfortunately, baby shoes are cute as hell and your parents probably weren’t aware of these benefits. It is likely that you developed in shoes that have hindered you in a number of ways, though you might not know the difference because this is your normal. You can start over! You should start over! Improving the strength, flexibility, and capability of your feet is going to greatly benefit your entire body, including your brain! You literally have nothing to lose in this equation. Treat your body right, and start loving your feet.
Key Benefits of Going Barefoot
This one is a given. First of all, you’re allowing your feet to breathe. When they are trapped inside of shoes and socks, heat and moisture are trapped in there with them. Going barefoot helps to stem the growth of fungus and bacteria. A little bit of airing out goes a long way.
Without the restriction of shoes, your feet can stretch out and splay. Dormant muscles that have been deactivated by your shoes begin to wake up and strengthen. Arch supports and lifted heels have made your feet weak and lazy. Your Achilles tendon is shortened and your calves weaker than they would be if they could fully activate.
Previously un-stimulated nerve endings fire and send more information to your brain. A greater volume of fresh, nutrient rich blood is sent to aid the muscles that are now contracting. The connective tissue becomes more flexible and hydrated.
Muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue that attach to your feet span considerably past your ankle. Going barefoot causes you to use and tone more muscles, and in different ways, than you would in shoes. Your calves and Achilles stretch to meet the ground, and contract further as your roll up onto the ball of your foot and toe off with every stride. The Tibialis Anterior, the meaty muscle on the outside of the front of your lower leg, makes a greater effort to push your weight forward from your toes.
Walking barefoot will cause your stride to change from heel striking, to a more correct mid foot strike with a slightly bent knee. Muscles all the way up to your hips activate differently, and tone up. Your ankles gain greater stability and strength as the tendons and ligaments reach a healthier status.
Improved Core Strength
Going barefoot strengthens your core by promoting better posture through greater kinesthetic awareness. Your muscles have developed around how you balance inside of your shoes. Removing them from the equation causes a different orientation, and your body must work to right itself according to this new, correct, leveling. This promotes proper spinal alignment as well!
This goes hand in hand with greater core strength, though increase in balance is seen more heavily. Proprioception (self-awareness) is greatly enhanced for a number of reasons, and greatly benefits your Vestibular (balance) system.
Stimulating the nerves on the bottom of your feet is mainly responsible for this action. New information from your feet builds new neural pathways in your brain. These new webs and maps of information help you to balance without you ever realizing it. Couple that with the improved strength and flexibility, and your balance improves in leaps and bounds.
Working your muscles forces your body to send more blood to them. It is no different in your feet. As they flex and bend and contract, fresh blood is pulled down to rejuvenate and build. The pressure differences created by muscular and structural activity aid the heart in circulating blood to and from the area. You’ll notice your feet are less prone to reaching uncomfortable temperatures on either side of the scale.
Walking barefoot has been shown to decrease inflammation throughout the body, as well as decrease blood pressure and anxiety. A number of explanations have popped up for this, namely the concepts of Earthing and Reflexology.
In Reflexology, it is believed that by stimulating various regions of the foot, one stimulates the immune system; consequently reducing inflammation, tension, blood pressure, etc. This would apply to walking barefoot, and particularly over surfaces of varying texture.
Earthing is essentially interchangeable with grounding; just as electrical appliances are grounded. The opposite of this is insulating – preventing electrical currents between you and the ground. The concept of Earthing is this; discharging our positively charged ions by connecting “skin to skin” with the negatively charged earth. This may sound hokey, but more and more research is showing that Earthing does reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and stress.
Really either way it works is alright with me.
How to Go Barefoot
Simple, take off your shoes and do everything without them, right? No, please don’t. Just like you wouldn’t go from sitting on the couch daily to running marathons, you shouldn’t jump full into being barefoot. Ease yourself in and build your strength gradually for success. I recommend starting by changing your shoe choice to something with a wide toe box and no heel, then work up from there. I started with Lone Peaks by Altra Running, after researching gear I would want for my trip through-hiking the Colorado Trail. I really am fond of shoes from this company, I have several different pairs now from one sale or another, and I have yet to be less than impressed. Click the banner below and browse to see if they could be right for you!
Go barefoot at all times at home. This is a great second step. Be mindful about how your feet are performing. Purposefully identify your motions. Notice, do you invert with your step, or roll your foot outwards? Are you using all of your toes? Where do you land on your foot with each stride?
Begin specific foot exercises. Pick small objects up with your toes and place them in a container. Point your toes down away from you, lift them towards you. Draw circles clock wise and counter-clockwise with pointed toes. Scrunch your arches
Move up to doing these exercises with resistance bands. Do barefoot calf raises. Balance on one foot, then the other. Build up your abilities until you can start working out at home barefoot. Start by going barefoot during weight training (or bodyweight training) Work up to taking walks outside barefoot. There is an entire movement of barefoot running!
Foot Care for Barefoot Success
Just like you stretch and rub your other muscles after working out, you should do so with your feet. Helping your feet to recover from building new muscle really feels incredible anyways, so don’t neglect this part
Massage your feet. Or get someone else to massage your feet. Because damn, massage just feels great, and is extremely beneficial. Squeeze your heels and make deep circles in the body of your foot. Trace around the bones at the ball of your foot, and squeeze and rotate each toe. Press down between each long bone (metatarsal) on the top of your foot. Massage over the tendons in your ankle. Use a tennis ball and roll pressure down your foot from toes to heel.
Stretch your feet. Keep that tennis ball around and place pressure down on it with the ball of your foot. Roll side to side and let the spaces between your metatarsals stretch. This is often sore at first, but feels incredible after several seconds. Stretch your toes like you would your fingers, away from each other, backwards, and down. Place a finger between each toe; pulse-squeeze and rotate side to side with your fist.
Soak your feet! Soaking in warm water is a time honored tension reliever. You can add Epsom salt and essential oils or clay for a detoxifying and cleansing experience.
Strengthening your feet by going barefoot is definitely a good idea. Going barefoot will not only improve the strength and flexibility of your feet, ankles, and legs, but it will improve your overall health as well. You will improve your core strength, enhance your balance, and fortify your brain. Ditch your shoes as often as possible, and reap the rewards a solid foundation will give you.
What about you?
Will you go barefoot? Are you already? What kind of shoes do you choose to wear when you do? Strike up a conversation in the comments below, or connect with us on any of the following social media platforms!
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not an adventure guide, personal trainer, doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
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