Exercise Barefoot for Added Benefit

Working on my arch strength, while under load.

"Barefoot activities can greatly improve balance and posture and prevent common injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon, according to Patrick McKeon, a professor in Ithaca College's School of Health Sciences and Human Performance" in an article written by Stephen Shoemaker.

I couldn't agree more with this statement. Foot strength directly correlates with injuries to the foot and lower leg, as McKeon mentioned, but it doesn't stop there. Knee pain, hip pain and low back pain can all be attributed, to some degree, to foot strength and function. Now, I'm not drinking the Gary Ward kool aid quite yet, although he does make some sound points. I do believe that foot strength plays a vital role in the health of our entire kinetic chain.

Take a second to think about it. Your feet propel you forward and hold up the entire weight of your body. If your feet are not responding properly, that's going to screw up the entire system. Then you grab some supportive shoes, which in my perspective is like throwing a tarp over your leaking roof. Sure, you keep the water out that night, BUT how long till the tarp blows away or starts leaking. You need to fix the source and you need to fix it correctly.

For most of us mere mortals, it's vital to find the balance between supportive shoes and bare feet. I'm not suggesting we all become barefoot runners tomorrow, most people are not strong enough to handle this and it would lead to immediate injuries. (Pretty sure the barefoot shoe company is dealing with lawsuits for this very reason.) Most of us need those support shoes now due to foot weakness, but in the long run that support makes us weaker. It's a give and take. Injury today vs injury tomorrow.

Wear supportive shoes if you need them, but try and take off your shoes when you get home and walk around barefoot. I also recommend exercising barefoot as much as possible. Connecting your feet to the ground will help correct alignment all the way up the chain. (Try pulling your big toe up during a squat. Then connect your big toe to the ground. Feel a difference in your core?) The most important thing is to not do too much too soon. The muscles in your feet need to progress like any other muscle in your body, overloading incrementally overtime. Make it your goal to build foot strength until you no longer need those expensive supportive shoes anymore!

My favorite time to really focus on bare feet is when I'm at home doing standing task in the kitchen. Try it tonight, make sure to spread your toes out and keep your weight balanced between the ball and heel - inside and out. Imagine your foot is a pyramid between the knuckle of your big toe, pinky toe and heel, now balance the pyramid.

Does your big toe turn in toward your second toe? You can improve this with a little practice! I've seen patients make amazing strength gains in their feet, developing the ability to spread their toes. Don't be afraid to reach down and pull your big toe out, until you build up enough strength to move it out all by itself. It can be an exercise in and of itself to keep your big toe from sliding back in!

My last tip is to wear toe socks with your regular shoes. I often see patients that buy great shoes with wide toe boxes but then squish their toes together with tight socks. Toe socks allow the toes to spread out in your shoes. It will make a difference in the muscle response of your feet. (See socks in picture above.)

For more strength building, try a short foot exercise to build up your arches and prevent injury!

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Content Source: Interview of Patrick McKeon, assistant professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College by Stephen Shoemaker on Going Barefoot: Strong 'Foot Core' Could Prevent Plantar Fasciitis, Shin Splints, and Other Common Injuries. Original Article

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