In recent years there has been an increased interest in barefoot training. This has been considered a ‘fad’ by most professionals, however, it is important to be aware of the effects, both positive and negative, of barefoot training. This article will outline some of the common benefits as well as some of the negatives of barefoot weight training. Obviously, barefoot weight training is more important when discussing lower limb exercises so this will be the focus of the article.
Positives of Barefoot Training
There are a number of benefits that come with training barefoot over a period of time. The following have been accepted as the most common and plausible advantages to training barefoot:
- Increased flexibility in foot and leg muscles as they are not constrained to a shoe and are therefore allowed to move freely, in their normal range of motion.
- Improved joint alignment and prevention of early onset of arthritis in the foot and leg joints as the foot is allowed to act in a more natural manner outside of a shoe.
- Increased activation of intrinsic foot muscles and therefore improved strength of these muscles. This occurs because there is no shoe on the foot, thus, the muscles need to work harder to keep the foot balanced.
- Improved strength in squatting exercises as there are no shoes on the feet to attenuate and absorb power. Thus, more power is transferred to moving the bar and is not lost.
- Decreased energy expenditure.
- Improved postural alignment of lower limb and spine.
- Improved balance in the foot as well as globally (i.e. affecting the entire body balance).
- Decreased injury risk over time (due to improved balance, muscle strength etc.)
- Enhanced sensory feedback from the feet as there is a greater stimulation of nerves on the sole of the foot.
Negatives of Barefoot Training
Like everything in life, there are negatives to go along with the positives. Barefoot training, despite its ever increasing popularity, remains highly controversial. Some of the many publicised negatives of barefoot training are listed below:
- Increased risk of traumatic injury when training outdoors as there is no protection in the shape of a shoe.
- Increased risk of traumatic injury from dropping weight plates, dumbbells etc. on the foot and toes.
- Increased risk of overuse injuries, especially if the individual has poor foot and lower limb biomechanics to begin with. This is because more, potentially abnormal, motion is occurring outside of a shoe.
- Ankle sprains due to increased side-to-side motion that is afforded by being barefoot.
- Pain in feet, legs and even the spine from decreased shock attenuation that is normally provided by shoes.
- Increased risk of infection as there is no barrier between the ground and the skin of the foot
- Increased risk of stress fractures in the long bones (metatarsals) of the feet due to decreased shock attenuation.
- Poor balance in the initial stages of barefoot training, which obviously can be disastrous when performing certain exercises with large amounts of weight.
- Increased formation of calluses, corns, blisters etc. which can be very painful and can limit activity.
Is Barefoot Training for Me?
There is very little scientific research investigating barefoot running. However, with its increasing popularity around the world, it is only a matter of time before there is solid evidence as to the effects, both good and bad, of barefoot exercise. For now, in my opinion, it may be best to continue to wear shoes when exercising, especially outdoors. While there may be potential benefits for barefoot training, they do not outweigh the potentially catastrophic negatives that can occur. For those who really want to try the barefoot craze however, I would recommend purchasing a minimalist shoe which will provide most of the benefits of barefoot training without all the risks.