If you are a frequent gym goer who loves to lift heavy weights, it won’t be a surprise to know if you have probably avoided other forms of training that doesn’t require heavy weights or those that take you out of the gym. What if there was something different that could help enhance your performance that requires minimal effort, and probably won’t even require you to change your workout routine much?
Barefoot training, created by NYC Based podiatrist Dr. Emily Splichal, boasts many benefits for athletes. This stems from the fact that our human body is interconnected, where imbalances in our foot will impact the lower leg, which then travels up to the hip and pelvis, continuing on to the thoracic spine and shoulder. Our commonly neglected feet are the root to most movements we perform and just by paying a little more attention to it, drastic benefits and improvements to our performance can be observed. Just like how we can lose strength in our quadriceps, biceps or glutes if we stop lifting weights, the same applies to the muscles in our feet with disuse.
Now, you may ask – why barefoot? The soles of our feet actually contains an incredibly extensive amount of mechanoreceptors, sensitive to local pressures and vibrations, hence the soles of our feet, or more scientifically, the plantar surface of the foot, is commonly considered to be a sensitive map. These mechanoreceptors provide information to ascending motor pathways and thereafter to our central nervous system, controlling our body position, posture, movement coordination and largely, stabilization.
As athletes, or just a weekend warrior, the rate of stabilization is important as this dictates the amount of power, force and resistance that we are able to generate or transfer. This is especially useful if you are a power lifter, as there is a need to brace the body quickly to handle the heavy loads and at the same time, generate a large amount of power quickly. Be it local joint stabilization to global body control and coordination, we can actually maximize the power of our nervous system easily just by sensory stimulation of our feet.
The way our brain ‘sees’ or detects movement relies largely on the feedback from our feet, so in summary, optimizing sensory stimulation of the feet can thus improve the perception accuracy of a certain movement. This can then translate to improved dynamic stability, increased joint position sense and the ability to control force production and altering impact forces encountered.
Although called barefoot training, if one is not keen in being barefoot in the gym, textured insoles have been found to provide powerful benefits to athletes. Wear them in your shoe on a daily basis, when you’re at the gym, or just on your recovery days; the increased tactile stimulation your feet get can contribute not only to your form, but also minimizes the risk of injuries. Feedback on our own posture and form especially while lifting heavy weights can allow for better distribution of loads in our body, preventing muscle strains or too much impact on our joints.
If textured insoles aren’t your thing, barefoot training can still be easily incorporated into your workout regime. The word ‘training’ might make you think it will be an intense form of exercise, but it can actually be just as simple as walking around back and forth barefoot. Barefoot walking can strengthen the small muscles in the feet, where previous studies have shown the extent of this, where subjects saw an increase in medial arch height in the feet.
To start, Dr Emily Splichal recommends firstly introducing foot mobilization exercises – myofascial release and stretching just 10 minutes a day or standing on a golf ball, or a Naboso Neuro Ball (as pictured on the left), for at least 5 minutes to begin foot mobilization.
Since the feet muscles are usually under-active and ‘lazy’ in shoes, activation exercises should be done to ‘wake them up’ and get them to work. An example would be short foot and heel raises with a ball between the heels, held isometrically for 8 seconds and repeated 4 times. Afterwards, exercises to gain adequate eccentric control should be done and this includes heel raises, walking backwards on a treadmill or jumping rope. It is important to remember that all these should be performed barefoot.
Besides textured insoles, textured mats are also available where it provides a proprioceptive surface that is ideal for facility use, where you can perform muscle activation movements and movement prep and get even greater and faster results, all thanks to the mechanoreceptors in our feet. Otherwise, as someone who does not love wearing insoles, I personally use this mat while watching television – static standing, heel raises or single leg balances if I’m feeling up for it. If you want to take it further, doing weight training on the mat is also possible, and you’ll really reap the most benefits for your weight training as you can directly feel the feedback the stimulation of your feet provides on your lifts/form, just like wearing textured insoles in your shoes.
* Just a slight disclaimer to take extra caution with weights while barefoot though!
The point is, any kind of sensory stimulation to the soles of your feet can elicit benefits to an already challenging weightlifting regime. Since most of our energy is reserved for the heavy weights in the iron temple, who wouldn’t want to lift better, without requiring so much more extra effort?
All you have to do is take care of your feet and show them some love by stimulating them!
Naboso products including the textured insoles, mats and neuro balls are available across all our studios. Drop by if you are interested to have a look in real life or visit https://bodytreegroup.com/shop – our online store! If you are interested in barefoot training and want to have a solid understanding of foot function and barefoot science, get certified in our barefoot training specialist course we offer in BodyTreeAcademy.