Feet First: barefoot training
I have always known that Joseph Pilates was at least 50 years ahead of his time. With hundreds of mat and equipment exercises, the Pilates Method is done without shoes to strengthen and balance the feet for correct posture while walking, sitting or standing. However, over the years in fitness classes, running, training, wearing shoes and even orthotics have been the norm for supporting and protecting the foot.
But, with the recent release of The Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen by Christopher McDougall, barefoot training has increased in popularity. McDougall believes that barefoot running improves foot strength and running mechanics. He has also become more competitive in ultra marathons because of it. Many experts believe that the supportive shoes we have worn over the years actually weaken the foot and create imbalances throughout the body. Barefoot training can overcome these weaknesses and imbalances and be injury protective. Various barefoot sports (such as martial arts, beach volleyball, diving and board sports) are rated as low risk for lower-extremity injuries, unlike running, which has a very high risk.
Lawrence Biscontini, MA, a Mindful Movements Specialist and celebrity trainer states:
“Not jumping on the barefoot training craze is not recognizing that we were born without shoes and need to develop our foot and ankle muscles. What’s more, the fact that the cdc.gov site lists deaths related to trips, spills, and falls are at an all time high, coupled with the fact that the highest fear of seniors is falling, shows that we need as a human race to address barefoot standing and gait balance into our wellness and health.”
I certainly would not put your running/training shoes in the trash, but consider a gradual approach to barefoot training.
Try the following:
*Do not start running barefoot – begin by doing various activities without shoes such as walking around the house or gardening. My favorite is long barefoot walks on the beach
*Increase barefoot movement over a period of time on, even indoor surfaces or grass
*For the first two weeks, keep the total barefoot training time per session to no more than 30 minutes
*Increase the time over a long period
*Gradually progress barefoot training to harder surfaces, but beware of rocks or glass
If barefoot training is not for you but you do want to gain foot, ankle & lower leg strength, as well as balance for injury prevention, you might consider the five finger shoes. Many companies specialize in this type of transition shoe that simulates barefoot training since they are meant to be worn directly against the sole of the foot. The first time I saw these shoes was at a fitness conference this past year. I thought they looked like something aliens would wear. I must say they are not the most attractive shoe but are effective in promoting better foot mechanics.
There are also fitness class options for barefoot training – yoga, Pilates, barre. Many of the dance based classes might also be a good option. REMEMBER – feet first for strength and balance! Until next time – Suzanne
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