When we think about prepping for a workout of any kind, appropriate footwear is one of the first things that spring to mind. We take it for granted that our workouts and bodies benefit from the added support of athletic shoes.
When we think about working out barefoot, aside from interpretaive dance, yoga and tai-chi type exercises, we tend to imagine our feet suffering all kinds of injuries. But do they?
It turns out, that depends.
Developing strength in your feet and ankles has been shown to improve both reactivity and dexterity, while enhancing quality of movement, proprioception, and balance. This relates directly to sports and gym performance as well as real-world functional fitness.
History of Barefoot Workouts
Ancient Egyptians are on record as having first made shoes as early as 1550 BC. These rudimentary foot pads were fashioned from woven reeds and bear little resemblance to the footwear humans typically sport today.
For much of history, covering the feet was much more about protecting one’s feet from the elements, whether it be rough, rocky terrain, blistering heat, or frost bite than about supporting the foot during strenuous activities.
Humans had been wearing shoes for thousands of years before the concept of shoes as correcitonal or support devices was ever a thought. In fact, shoes of the woven reed variety were still commonplace across the globe as late as the 19th century.
Humans have been interested in physical fitness and strength since the dawn of humanity. Much of what we have learned about the foot in the last century suggests that, just like any other muscle in the body, we have to use it to strengthen it.
How to Condition Your Feet for a Barefoot Workout
Having lived our entire life believing we need appropriate footwear for almost any physical activity, our feet are likely not properly conditioned for jumping into a strenuous workout sans shoes. Jumping in with both feet, so to speak is basically asking for a foot injury.
The key to moving toward barefoot workouts is transitioning slowly and focusing on conditioning and strengthening the feet.
First, we need to think about stretching the feet to prep them for the coming workout, just as we would any other muscle. There are a few we recommend:
- Seated Arch and Curl. Sitting so you’re off your feet, curl the toes and stretch the foot toward its center for a count of 5. Release and wiggle the toes. Then stretch the foot the opposite way, pointing your toes up and out.
- Point and Flex. These typcial dance prep exercises are done to protect both the foot and ankle. Simply point the foot out and then flex it.
- Standing Arch and Curl. One foot at a time, lift the leg up and press the ball and toes into the floor to arch it. Then pick up your foot and place the top to the floor to curl it.
For an example of a barefoot workout, watch this video:
The benefits to incorporating barefoot workouts in to your fitness regimen include:
- Increase foot strength and flexibility
- Improved propioception, or awareness of your body in space
- Overall increased stability
- Imbalance awareness and correction
- Overall enhanced balance
Varities of Barefoot Exercises
Though any workout can be performed barefoot, here are 6 good barefoot exercises to start training your feet.
- Yoga or Thai Chi
Take Off Those Foot Prisons and Workout a While
Just, please don’t do it at your local gym, unless you find foot fungus appealing.
If you do plan to begin barefoot workouts, remember that moderation is key at first. It is common to feel discomfort when you are first beginning to reawaken the atrophied and stiff muscles in your feet. SImilarly, ankles and calves may cramp and feel sore.
Though some aching and cramping is normal, keep an eye out for joint, bone, or nerve pain, as these can be exascerbated by continuing with the workout and can lead to injury.