I use to hate so hard on the barefoot movement. Yep it's true I was a hater, but not out of blind ignorance or dogma. I really just honestly didn't see the point of wearing Vibram five fingers while performing bicep curls or running on a treadmill. It seemed like people were again getting caught up in the minutia instead of taking care of the big rocks of their training, nutrition and overall wellness.
But what I should have done a better job of was articulating my feelings and views.
Like I said it wasn't so much that I wanted to completely write off the idea of training or living barefoot. It was more that I wanted people to first focus on getting the basics down before jumping into minimalist foot wear. I know some might argue that being barefoot more is one of those big rocks, but I am just not of that opinion and for a couple different reasons.
First I don't think it's the best topic to broach with people straight from the get go who are trying to get healthier, leaner, or stronger. It will seem foreign and odd to them and for most will run counter intuitive to ways of thinking and beliefs that they have years of their lives invested in. And if you know anything about cognitive dissonance than you know that trying to change such thinking and beliefs is a difficult task.
Second, and most relevant to today's post, I don't think many people are really prepared physically for being barefoot even just walking let alone running or sprinting. After yeas of wearing poorly designed shoes most people's feet are deconditioned, weak, and prone to a number of injuries if placed under minimal stress or load. Going barefoot should be treated just like any other physical ability we train it should be progressed and regressed properly according to where the individual currently is and where they want to go.
I wrote an entire post not to long ago about why I go barefoot and why I think others need to as well so I don't want to waste anymore of your time about the why behind going barefoot. If you interested in that part of the discussion you can just go read that previous post.
What I want to give you today is a few different drills that you can do on a regular basis to help strengthen your foot and prepare you to be able to transition to being barefoot more without sustaining an injury.
1. Foam Roll Plantar Fascia
Chances are if you have spent a lot of years wearing traditional tennis or dress shoes than you probably have a sensitive and weak foot that is probably rather hyper-sensitive to stimulus. I also imagined a few of you may even have been told by a medical professional you have something called plantar fasciitis. This is why the first thing I think most people should do when addressing fixing weak and dysfunctional feet is to apply some self myofascial release techniques. I'd start here and perform 20 to 30 seconds of work on the bottom of each foot.
2. Shorten the foot
This is a classic exercise from Vladimir Janda that will help strengthen the soft tissue structures that support and help form the arch of the foot. The idea of the exercise is to literally draw in the foot and make it appear shortened. This will cause the creation of an arch and will over time develop a stronger and better formed arch all the time. It's very similar to the idea of creating an active vs. passive foot, but I'll address that another time. I recommend performing 10 to 12 reps on each foot for 1 to 2 sets on each foot.
3. Separate the toes
If you read my previous post on why I go barefoot and why you should too than you will remember there is a photo in that post showing what natural and unshod feet look like. One of the noticeable differences is the spacing of the toes. There is much more space between each toe as compared to anyone who has worn shoes for most of their life. Thus we should focus on developing the ability to separate and abduct the toes away from one another. I'd recommend performing 10 to 12 reps for 1 to 2 sets on each foot.
4. Control your big toe
The big toe is super important for walking and running. It's important that we strengthen and hone our control over it. I recommend performing 3 to 4 isometric holds, holding for as long as possible each time.
5. Control your other toes
But controlling your other toes is also important and differentiating between movement of your big toe and all the others is significant. I recommend performing 3 to 4 isometric holds, holding each for as long as possible.
[BONUS] 6. Walk barefoot on uneven terrain and a variety of surfaces (granted safety first)
This may seem like it should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyways. One of the best ways to prepare the foot for being barefoot is to expose the feet to increasing amounts of time spent barefoot moving over a variety of surfaces and terrain that force the feet to deform, reform, and stabilize as you move.
I didn't want to spend to much time talking about why this stuff is important as I feel like I have already addressed it. What I wanted to do was give you a set of exercises you could repeat a couple of times throughout your day to make the transition to being barefoot easier and safer.
One last note before I let you get at it. Don't be surprised if you find performing some of these drills extremely difficult. You are trying to move things that may not have been moved in a while or ever. It will take some time to learn how to innervate the right muscles and develop neural control. Also don't be surprised if you experience some cramping or spasming. Don't freak out just allow the area to relax, foam roll it a bit, and try again.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training