Recommend Barefoot Running?

Vibram FiveFingersBarefoot running has become very popular. Do you have clients that have tried it? Do you recommend barefoot running? While I believe in the importance of strengthening our feet and letting our toes spread out like they were designed to do…we have to be careful when recommending that our clients start running “barefoot.”

The bottom line is that our feet need to be strengthened just like any other part of our body, but running barefoot should be approached carefully and bit by bit.

Here is what I like to tell my clients when they ask me about this topic:

Exercises for your FEET:

Since most of us wear shoes all day long and many women wear shoes that keep their feet in a very tight, constricted position all day long, our feet become very rigid. But our feet are designed with multiple joints and have the ability to articulate like our hands – just look at someone who has lost the use of their hands and they quickly adapt the ability to use their feet to write, eat, and perform various other daily tasks usually done by the hands. So the message is, we need to make an effort to increase the movement and functionality of our feet.

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  • Feet Movement: While you are watching TV or working at your desk, just move your feet. Separate your toes wide, flex and bend and extend your toes, point and extend your feet, rotate your ankles, tap your toes….just move your feet and get some blood flowing to the muscles, tissues and joints. Do it at least a minute at a time whenever you think about it every day.
  • Towel Crunches:  Lay a towel flat on the floor in front of you.  Place your bare feet on the towel edge closest to you and then curl your toes pulling the towel closer and closer to you.  Continue this exercise for a couple minutes. It’s an easy one to do while you’re watching TV or reading.
  • Ball Curls:  Take a small soft ball like a Hacky Sac and squeeze your toes around the ball.  Continue for 1-2 minutes.
  • Barefoot Heel Raises:  Lift your heels quickly pressing up onto your toes.  Continue for 1-2 minutes.
  • Golf Ball Releasing: When you are working at your desk or watching TV, roll your feet over a golf ball with the intent of kneading away any tight tissue. When you finns a tight area, you can hold for a few seconds until it releases and/or gently roll back and forth over the area.

Perform the above exercises at least 2-3x/week.

Here’s some other tips to strengthen your feet.

  • Barefoot Conditioning:  I remember vacationing in Fiji and walking painfully over one beach where the sand was coral based and it was so uncomfortable for my sensitive feet. Meanwhile, the local Fijians were playing soccer and running along the same beach with absolutely no discomfort. Their feet were strong and accustomed to the sharp corral. That doesn’t happen overnight but rather over years of conditioning their feet. Unfortunately, in our culture, a lot of athletes have recognized the importance of barefoot conditioning and have progressed too quickly, doing too much, too soon and have experienced negative ramifications.
  • So yes, one way to condition your feet is to be barefoot as often as you can. So walk around the house barefoot and in the summer look for opportunities to take off your shoes. Participate in activities that are conducive to bare feet like Yoga, Barre or Ballet type movements or Nia dance. I will even perform traditional strength movements like Squats, Step ups or Lunges bare foot when appropriate. Progress into minimalist, flexible shoes if appropriate for your foot anatomy – not everyone does well with a minimalist shoe.  And a very important warning…if you are going to try high impact, barefoot activities like barefoot running, progress very slowly into these activities to make sure your muscles, bones and connective tissue are strong enough for the forces. Many people have developed severe injuries when trying to progress too quickly into high impact barefoot movements
  • Wear athletic shoes that are flexible and have a wide toe box:  You should be able to bend your athletic shoes which would allow your feet to function as they were designed. Your toe box should be wide allowing your toes to spread versus get crunched.  Many professionals suggest going a half size to full size bigger than you think you wear.  I actually now take my insoles out of my shoes giving my feet more room to spread out.
  • Shop at a local specialty footwear store: I strongly suggest purchasing your athletic shoes from a local specialty shop like Fleet Feet or When the Shoe Fits to get fitted correctly and find the correct shoe for your anatomy. We spend a ton of time on our feet so let’s start taking better care of them.
  • Avoid High-heel, rigid shoes:  Try to avoid wearing any shoe that has a very high heel to toe ratio and is very rigid which can negatively affect the anatomy of the foot. Ladies, I know we like to be cute with our high heels and stilettos but it really does negatively affect our feet so try to wear these types of shoes for only special occasions (definitely not daily) and avoid walking in long distances while wearing them.

Yours in health, fitness & business,
Sherri McMillan

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