Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barefoot Secrets, Part One

I thought I was the only nut out there who liked to train barefoot, but the more I watch things develop, I'm realizing I'm wrong. More athletes are realizing the benefits of training barefoot every day, deciding to do their daily routines in barefeet or specially designed shoes to mimic barefooting. Of course, this isn't news to these guys.
Why Barefoot?
Why barefoot? Men have worn shoes for thousands of years. Why would you take a step back to the primitive times before shoes? What's the use of that?
Let me draw a comparison for you. Imagine that you have a cast put on your arm at age two or three years. At night, you take the cast off, but during the day, especially when you go out to play, you are to put the cast on. The cast covers the entire arm and a lot of your hand. As you get older, you get bigger and more elaborate casts, designed to "absorb shock" and actually to help you lift things. It's a cushion around your arm. Imagine that as you get older, you wear it playing sports, you wear it lifting weights, you wear it doing calisthenics or doing just your daily chores.
Imagine that you have to wear this thing every day. Now imagine that you are the age that you are now, and you've worn these casts on one or both of your arms since the day you were born. Here's the question.
"What does that arm look like?" I sincerely doubt that it has an Arnold Schwarzenegger, stage-ready bulge to it. More likely, it is pale, zombiesque revenant's arm, a shrunken, stinky, pale fish of an arm.
Which when you think about it, is exactly what's been happening to your feet all of these years. Barefoot training seeks to restore more natural posture, gait, and movement while strengthening the feet and arches--to take the cast off of your feet for at least part of the day.
Barefoot training is another reason people stare at me and a great reason to work out at home. Pulling heavy deadlifts will get you stares. Pulling heavy and barefoot will get you kicked out.
Only Arnold can train heavy deads barefoot at the gym

The principal problem with shoes
The principal problem with shoes isn't that they make your feet sweaty and gross so much as they distort the way that your foot naturally works. By "stabilizing" and "torsion controlling" and padding everything in sight, your body doesn't know what to do with itself. In fact, studies have shown that you put about 12% LESS pressure on your knees when you aren't wearing shoes.
Here's another way of thinking about it. If you were to be doing some very delicate work with your hands, would you wear a pair of thick woolen mittens, work gloves, a thin pair of surgical gloves, or no gloves at all?
Now consider that the human foot has a density of 200,000 nerve endings--most similar, in fact, to the human hand.

What are the benefits of barefoot walking, running, and training?
Barefoot training will give you a better sense of balance, stronger, more injury resistant feet, ankles, and calves, as well as a more grounded sense of posture. Your posture will improve, and making this change can have far-reaching effects throughout your body, from lower back pain to shoulder problems. In short, imbalances start at the foot.
Conversely, this means that balances start at the foot as well. If you have strong feet, you have a strong root, and you can have strong ankles, calves, thighs, hips, low back. These create the core structure for the entire body.
I have another thought-experiment for you: how often do you do work lying on your back? I would say maybe less than 1% of the time. If you're wrestling a lot, maybe slightly more, but for most people, lying on the back is only a very small percentage of their actual performance time. The solution is to do most of your training standing up. That means ending your love affair with the bench press and getting to know standing military presses instead, preferably in your bare feet.
Some people say that they don't ever do anything physical, and that's sadly true for a lot of Americans. We are only recently in the age of "knowledge work" where it is possible to let the body atrophy. Making money in the recent past has mostly meant a lot of back-breaking work. Now, one has to seek out the opportunity for physical play.

I believe it is our responsibility and our honor to embrace our physical selves, and this means being reborn as the pale, sick, weaklings that we truly are. You have to embrace (or at least face) where you are if you want to go somewhere different, and that goes for being overweight, and that goes for building strength or endurance, and it goes for trying out barefooting or reduced shoes. It means taking a risk and doing things that other people aren't doing. It means doing things that other people might think are silly or destructive.

Eventually, embracing the physical means being the person that your friends call when they move because they know you are tireless and strong. It means having the energy to play with your kids, or having the energy to go hiking all day on the weekends, or being vibrant and alive enough to go for a swim, or lift weights, or do some barefoot sprints in your backyard or in the field near your house. It means creating the synaptic facilitation and balance throughout your system, or in plain English, developing the connection between your feet and your entire body.

Later in the series, we'll talk more about specifics: the "what" the "why" and the "how" of barefoot training. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

gilbert said...

barefoot for calves on a rubber sole according to gironda