Why you should train barefoot.

Every once in a while someone will catch me in a video without any shoes on. While barefoot training is getting more popular I realize that not everyone has heard of it before. You may not know why I do it and encourage my clients to do so as well. If not, let me explain…

The essence of training is to restore and strengthen proper movement. Just like a car, if your body is out of alignment then power will be lost and extra wear and tear will result. All of your body parts work together to create movement and your foot is particularly important.

Your foot is where it all begins – it is your main contact point with the ground. The foot is amazing display of natural engineering. Here are a few facts about the foot and how they help you move:

– Your foot has is one of the top three most finely wired areas in the body. Your toes are as sensitive with nerve endings as your lips and fingertips.

– Your feet have pressure sensors in them that they use as feedback for firing stabilization muscles.

– 25% of the bones in your entire body are in found in your feet.

– An arch, which is the strongest structure in nature, is part of your foot. It is made to absorb shock and return energy.

The foot has adapted to thousands of years of running and walking without the aid of modern athletic shoes. Studies have shown that despite hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development shoe companies have yet to produce a shoe that allows us to run and train without a ridiculously high injury rate. In fact, one study found that the more expensive your shoes are the higher your risk of injury.

Several cultures still exist today that spend almost all of their time bare foot or close to it (some people wear a sandal for protection). None of these cultures suffer from the same orthopedic issues that plague our society. Their feet, ankles, knees and hips all seem to work together to keep the body in alignment.

Few people realize that the modern running and athletic shoe was not developed out of need but instead through an attempt to improve on nature. It was literally one guy with a waffle iron trying to add rubber to the heel of a running shoe. He thought that if you could lengthen the stride and strike the ground heel first you could cover more distance with fewer steps.

This guy went on to found Nike and the rest is history. All of a sudden we started running and moving differently as a species. Because of all the technology in the shoes we were now able to run further using an unnatural stride.

We over-stabilized the foot, giving shoes anti-pronation soles and arch support. We were basically told that our feet were inherently flawed and only these shoes could fix what Mother Nature screwed up. The harder they tried to fix the problem the worse it got.

When running our feet are made to pronate slightly, strike the ground mid-foot and roll into the arch. The arch then compresses and absorbs the shock and then returns some of that energy into the stride. Big cushy shoes change this whole cycle drastically.

You can not alter how one area moves without affecting the surrounding areas of the body. If you stabilize and immobilize the foot you will throw everything else out of alignment. This will inflict extra wear and tear on the ankles, knees, hips and low back.

This is why I am a proponent of the Barefoot Training mindset – our feet are made to be a part of how we move, not an obstacle that must be overcome. Training as close to barefoot as possible will force the feet to get stronger which will improve your overall movement and reduce your risk of injury.

Basically any shoe that offers minimal arch support and cushioning will do. You will probably find that your feet cramp and fatigue on you at first. This is normal and part of the process of you feet waking up and getting stronger.

Here are some shoes that I have found offer a great option to the typical training shoe:

– Nike Frees

– Vibram Five Fingers

– Converse All Stars (or the Target One Stars)

Working with our body and embracing our true limiting factors is the only way to train in a sustainable way. Sure, you may not be able to go as far or train as hard at first but at least you won’t get hurt. And after all, if you’re hurt it don’t matter how fit you are.

-James Wilson-

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  1. joshHK says:

    Some more great insights James! Back to basics approach that makes a lot of sense…just like all your exercises. Keep it coming: )

    Reply • April 7 at 8:38 am
  2. Julie says:

    So glad to hear that there are progressive strength coaches out there! I am going to be teaching a barefoot training class (it’s called Willpower and Grace) and the philosophy is similar. I also spent years doing Japanese martial arts (barefoot, on an unstable surface, being upside down and thrown around, etc) I think this has helped me with gravity sports!! I’m far from perfect, though- back to square one due to more than my share of traumatic injuries.

    As a trainer and acupuncture student, I’m a big proponent of getting runners and cyclists to use their bodies in a more mindful way. The feet are a good place to start!

    I miss DH!!!!

    Reply • April 7 at 10:50 am
  3. Rodney says:

    Great to read you’re really on top of things in this field as well. A lot of shoes also have too high heels essentially changing your posture. Have a look at minimal shoes like the http://www.terraplana.com/vivobarefoot.php. Bought a pair of these, which does take some adjusting. I also like to use these for lifting, such as the back squat. This helps pushing through the heels.
    I’ve also come to believe that contrary to popular belief it’s probably very good for children to have very minimal shoes so their feet develop properly. Children’s shoes are often way too stiff with arch support high ankles.

    Reply • April 7 at 12:45 pm
  4. Ned says:

    Guess I need to dig out my old Vans slipons for the gym!

    Reply • April 7 at 10:04 pm
  5. Keijo says:


    Here’s also one that’s actually pretty good : http://www.feelmax.com/

    Reply • April 12 at 9:49 am

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James Wilson