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Reflections on fitness, wellness, health and more

Barefoot training, yes or no?

In the last twelve months or so we've seen a huge increase in interest in the concept of barefoot training among both personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts. While the idea has been around for some time now, it has only recently exploded onto the scene at local fitness facilities.

The idea behind the concept is that by taking away the ‘support’ a conventional shoe provides for your feet, you increase the level of involvement of the muscles in and around your feet, thus creating a more intense workout. The supporters of barefoot training are also very quick to point out that traditional shoes provide us with an artificial support system that our body simply doesn't need! In a way, it dumbs down our feet muscles – at least according to the shoeless brigade.

Sceptics of the concept say that training barefoot, either within a fitness centre or outdoors, exposes the body to unnecessary risks; modern life has been built for people who wear shoes and the risks of going barefoot definitely outweigh any potential benefits.

Some companies (such as Vibram Five Fingers) have designed a type of glove for your feet that acts in between being barefoot and wearing a shoe. It provides the benefits of not having the support of a conventional shoe, but also protects you from the risks associated with both indoor and outdoor movement.

The verdict? At this stage it's pretty much up in the air, but we would love to hear from any of our members, and the general public, as to their experiences either training barefoot, or using a shoe similar to the Five Fingers concept.

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Posted by: Alisha | 31-Oct-2008 11:22 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

Substantiated studies are few and far between, so i'm definitely hesitant to recommend it. Of the clinical studies that do exist, most actually reported a higher incidence of lower leg injuries in shod populations, but i feel that it's important to point out that most barefoot populations have only ever known bare feet. Their tactile and proprioceptive responses would already be conditioned to accept this style of training. While i've always been a fan of my spunky new trainers, i did take the advice of a fellow PT and try a barefoot run- and it hurt! I believe that going barefoot, like all training, needs to be progressive and appropriate to the profile and needs of your client.

Posted by: Anonymous | 31-Oct-2008 12:03 PM | 3 out of 5 stars

Funnily enough, the Fitness First mag is running an article about this very topic in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue. Soooo ahead of the game, Network! :)

Posted by: Tim | 03-Nov-2008 09:23 PM | 4 out of 5 stars

Nope - I won't do it.

I'd rather train in shoes (which is what we wear all day long) and become accustomed to using shoes, then grow muscle blobs for feet which don't work in shoes.

Posted by: Anon | 05-Nov-2008 10:02 AM | 4 out of 5 stars

Personally I can't believe that some people wear those five fingers things, simply because they are so ugly! I wouldn't be caught dead in them.
Tim you hit the nail on the head, why would we condition our feet for barefoot training when we spend most of our lives in shoes? Silly I say...

Posted by: Anonymous | 14-Nov-2008 08:50 AM | 2 out of 5 stars

This is silly. Bare feet can deposit and pick up all sorts of filth on a well-used gym floor and even feet in socks can be badly damaged by tacks, nails, weights and other people. And after a long day at work, bare feet may not be very nice to exercise next to.

If you want muscular feet go walking on the beach or do a yoga class.

Stay tuned for the next stupid gimmick.


Posted by: Becky | 14-Nov-2008 09:58 AM | 3 out of 5 stars

Yeah, I also tried barefoot training outdoors for a while, I did feel like I worked up gradually to it, but just the sheer biomechanics of my type of strike and foot stability led me to a shocking case of plantar fasciitis and shin splints. If you were to try this type of training I would highly recommend consulting your podiatrist first!

Posted by: Carol | 17-Nov-2008 03:54 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

As a martial artist I have trained barefoot for 17 years. I feel my balance is much better in bare feet as I can spread my toes and get balanced more efficiently. Shoes actually feel cumbersome. Training is done on wooden floors and appears quite safe. However as a personal trainer I do like my clients in a good shoe that provides good support and cushioning. I sometimes threaten to slap a defect notice on some peoples shoes when I have a hold of their leg for stretching their hamstrings and see the tread on their shoes.

Posted by: Caroline Wade-Martens | 04-Dec-2008 02:26 PM | 4 out of 5 stars

This same argument has been playing out for some time in the 'equestrian' arena. Barefoot v. shod, with similar arguments over today's requirements of the athlete (either equine or human) and the environment they operate in.

I decided to trial 'barefoot' on my beach runs, and did find that my running performance/action appeared to improve - but, perhaps changing my biomechanics in this way precipitated my calf muscle tear - or maybe not?

I guess every type of training has merit - and there is certainly merit in the thoughts that the muscles in our feet need to be exercised as well as other muscles in our body - but again, common sense must prevail and short bouts of changes need to be carefully integrated into the whole part of the program.

Posted by: Johnny Pneumatic | 17-Dec-2008 01:30 AM | 3 out of 5 stars

I think it is pretty silly to suggest that barefoot running is some sort of hippy fad that should be dismissed out of hand. Homo sapiens evolved over millions of years and this was, sorry to say, barefoot. Sadly most people wear shoes and so their perspective is that it 'isn't normal', 'crazy', 'dirty' or even 'impossible' . I was able to transition to barefoot running by walking barefoot on rough surfaces whenever I could, and running short distances on grass and later pavement. After a while, my calf muscles adapted to my newfound forefoot strike, and my soles thickened. Soon I was running 10, 20 and over 30 km barefoot and recently competed in a half-marathon. I'm a pretty average 32 year old male athlete and if I can do it, I'm willing to bet most other people could do it too. The key is to be patient...jumping into barefoot running without preparation will definitely lead to problems.

Posted by: G | 11-Mar-2009 03:06 PM | 4 out of 5 stars

Having a few Achilles injuries & ankle sprains over the last 3 years I was getting a bit frustrated of training for 4 months, then sitting out for 3 months.

What to do? What to do?

What has worked for me in more ways then one is bare foot running (Grass athletic track). Combined this with eccentric work on the calves, I am feeling stronger in the ankle region.

So to say I am a fan of it, yes I am. Note that I do this once a week. For normal runs it is always shoes. As Johnny P said the Key is patience.

Posted by: Kylie | 12-May-2009 08:15 AM |

As a dancer and martial artist my feet are my foundation and my tools. While I acknowledge the contribution of footwear to provide protection from the impact of the unnaturally hard surfaces we have created in the modern world, the problem is that we are now relying on footwear to provide a false support for what is already a brilliantly designed and very effective foundation.