When was the last time you threw off you shoes and walked around barefoot?
My last time was yesterday at my local park. I did 6 x 100 meters barefoot sprints on the lawn, then ran back home – also barefoot. And I didn't feel weird running on the streets barefoot while early birds were going to work.
Tom Kutcher, natural barefoot walker and hiker, reminds us that we were born barefoot and that's why our bodies have to adjust to wear shoes. He recommends that we should keep our legs free from footwear 12 hours a day!
There are many benefits of going barefoot, physical, physiological and mental. I'll get to the last two in another post, but today let's talk about all the good things that going barefoot has to your physical health.
Why You Should Go Barefoot
1. To Use and Strengthen Your Feet Muscles
Going barefoot uses the muscles in your feet and legs that otherwise stay without much attention. Our feet and legs are functional whole, and we should also use them like that.
When you go barefoot for the first time, you may experience soreness during or after your walk. That's because you are using muscles that usually are ignored. It's like doing a bunch of squats after taking a break from it for several weeks or months.
2. To Improve Your Balance
Try standing up on one foot and then lean forward, extending the other leg back. Do it first in shoes and then barefoot. It's probably way harder barefoot, because you don't have the support from your shoes.
Kids start to walk once they have developed enough strength and balance in their bodies to let them to control it. As we get old, the opposite happens: The elderly tend to lose their balance, which leads to decreased body coordination.
But it doesn't have to be like this.
Balance, just like strength, speed or agility is trainable.
Moving around barefoot is an excellent way of doing it.
Have you noticed how great balance those people have who do yoga regularly? They practice a lot and do it barefoot.
3. To Treat and Prevent Injuries
One of the most annoying foot injuries amongst athletes who run a lot is Plantar Fasciitis, a strong pain in the heel and on the arch of the foot.
The best treatment for Plantar Fasciitis is to give your legs and feet a little rest from running. Stretching and massaging your calves and muscles under your feet helps too.
But there are people who have found barefoot walking and running very beneficial as well and by doing that, have gotten over the injury faster.
If being barefoot helps to recover from Plantar Fasciitis (and possibly also other foot injuries), it probably also helps to prevent it. Go ahead and add some barefoot work into your runs and walks to make sure your legs can candle a lot of pressure from running.
4. To Correct Your Posture
The heel part of most shoes, even running shoes, is a little higher than the rest of the shoe.
Not to mention high heels on ladies' shoes!
High heels are putting our bodies into a mold: To stay straight up, we push our butts back and bend forward from our waists. That puts our hamstrings, back and even shoulders and neck under a pressure.
As you take your shoes off, you no longer need to push your butt back and bend your waist in order to stand up straight. A nice and tall line from feet to head, without a need to flex or bend anything, is the normal standing position.
5. To Improve Your Blood Circulation
Going barefoot might be for someone who's feet are often cold. I'm one of those people and know that it can be really annoying.
What do you do when your fingers get really cold? Massage them, right?
The same happens when you walk barefoot – you are giving your feet a massage.
The surface that we are walking on is rarely even. Every step on an uneven surface stimulates our muscles and increases blood circulation in the feet.
6. Improve Your Immune System
Being barefoot may even help to improve the immune system.
It has been shown that the stimulation of the nerves under the soles of the feet helps to reduce inflammation and pain and even reduce blood pressure.
It sure reduces tension and stress – that's something that you feel the very first time as you take your shoes off.
How to Get Started
If you haven't been barefoot in a long time, start out easy. As mentioned before, you will use muscles that haven't received much attention, so you may get a little sore.
To avoid soreness and injuries, take one step at a time:
1. Find a Pleasant Surface
A lawn at the park, soccer or football field or your own backyard are great places to start out. The beach is a great option too. Soft, moist grass or wet sand are the most pleasant and healthy surfaces for your feet.
There is no need to play a superhuman and walk on sharp rocks or on a very dry grass. It hurts and you may get cuts. Barefoot walking should be enjoyable.
2. Feel the Ground
Take time to notice how the ground feels.
Is the grass chilly and moist? Is the sand wet or dry, cold or warm?
Chilly and wet grass may feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but you will learn to love it. Morning dew feels especially good!
3. Start Out With (But Don't Limit Yourself To) Walking
There's no need to start sprinting or jumping over obstacles right away; just take off your shoes, feel the ground and walk around. After you have gotten a little more used to the surface, you may try jogging.
However, there's no need to limit yourself only to walking or running. Throw in some squats, spurts of high knees (in place or moving forward), get also your hands dirty and do push ups or burpees to make your time more fun.
4. Be Careful
As much as I like walking without shoes, I choose where I do that. Not everywhere is safe, so you want to make sure that you won't step into pieces of glass or toxic weeds.
Also be extra careful when you take your shoes off on wet rocks or if it has been raining.
A Fun Barefoot Beach Workout
A couple of weekends ago I had a rare chance to work out at the beach. It was a foggy and a little dreary morning in San Simeon, but I went out because I can't let go an opportunity to workout at the beach.
I didn't count reps, sets or anything else for this workout, so the following is not an exact workout that I did there. The numbers are approximative and I didn't do anything in a specific order – just threw in things that felt good at the moment.
In 40-45 minutes, I did the following:
- About 2 miles run along the coastline, partly with shoes due to very rough surface. I did barefoot the sandy parts.
- Bodyweight squats, about 20 in one set
- Sprints, around 50 meters
- Push Ups, about 10-12 in one set
- More sprints
- Half Burpees, probably 10 in a set
- More sprints
- Jumping Lunges – until I needed to stop and catch my breath – maybe 20?
- Throwing a ball to a dog (who's owner was extremely curious about my random workingout – in a very positive way though!).
Being barefoot has a lots of great health benefits. If you haven't been barefoot in a long time, do it now. Get the shoes off, wake up the sleeping muscles and let your feet breathe a bit.
When working out, think outside of the box and make moving more fun, also when barefoot. Be spontaneous and do what feels good.
As always, go outside, get creative and do it now.