Most of us are so used to wearing sports trainers when exercising that we rely on this footwear to support and cushion the feet during different movements. Yet, the problem with this is that since the shoes are doing the work of the muscles in our feet, ankles and calves, these muscles eventually weaken or become immobilised.
When this happens, this can have a negative impact on the body, as the feet are designed to be the foundation for the entire body, helping to support and stabilise it. In fact, many of the problems that people experience with their feet are caused by reliance on footwear, or wearing the wrong type of shoes.
In recent years, health and fitness experts have been raving about the benefits of barefoot training. By ditching the shoes, or opting for minimalist footwear, the muscles in your feet can be reawakened to better support, align and strengthen the rest of the body, especially during exercise.
Experts argue that barefoot training builds foot strength and can maximise the correct mechanics of the feet, as well as prevent injuries. Ultimately, since the feet are blanketed in nerves and sensors, when your feet move or hit the ground, they send neural signals to the rest of the body, where this nerve feedback can encourage movement efficiency and may even stimulate extra muscle fibres in other parts of the body. Going barefoot also changes the way you train, and by altering body movement patterns, you use different muscles that can strengthen your entire body.
To reap the most benefits from barefoot training, experts recommend that you should spend around half of your workout sessions wearing minimalist shoes or going barefoot. However, much depends on what activities you perform, and if you’re a member of a gym, it’s a good idea to check the footwear policy before you let your feet loose.
Yoga and pilates are especially suited to barefoot training, but you can also gain performance benefits from slipping the shoes off when doing pushups, deadlifts and lunges. Be cautious about running barefoot as you might end up putting too much weight on your feet, resulting in injury. Plus, your feet risk getting cut from sharp objects. Other activities, such as tennis or baseball require specialised footwear, as going barefoot would place too many demands on the feet.
If you wish to wear minimalist shoes, look for ones that let your toes easily move, have a flexible sole and virtually no cushioning or ankle support.
Always start barefoot training slowly to get your feet used to it, and to prevent injuries from occurring. It can often take several months to go fully barefoot and get the muscles properly working in your feet and ankles. Start a workout session by doing warm-ups without shoes on, for instance, or if you lift weights, use a lighter weight with one shoeless set, and then gradually increase this over time.
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