Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the popularity of barefoot training or training in a minimalist shoe such as a Vibram Five Fingers, especially with running barefoot. Along with this has come a lot of controversy about whether barefoot training is detrimental or beneficial. No matter which stance you agree with or practice currently, I think anyone would agree that it is important to have functional and strong feet and ankles.
Going barefoot compared to wearing shoes will force your feet and ankle muscles to work harder initially, therefore making them stronger. It will also improve the mobility of the foot and ankle. Wearing a shoe takes a lot of the work away from the foot, which leads to dysfunction, imbalance, and weakness over time. This is all-important because your feet are what connect your body to the ground and ultimately play a contributing factor in your stability, posture, and balance.
For those who have not adopted a barefoot or minimalist shoe lifestyle, it is important to incorporate barefoot exercises into your workout routine to improve foot and ankle function and mobility for these reasons. Here are a few exercises to perform barefoot that you can incorporate into your exercise routine and see quick improvements!
Beginner: Work on single-leg balancing. Press your big toe, small toe, and heel into the ground equally and try to hold your balance on one foot for 20 to 30 seconds.
Intermediate: Once you are comfortable balancing on one foot,try catching and passing a ball to a partner or against a wall in the same position. This will further challenge your balance by adding in the element of movement in the upper body.
Advanced: Incorporate barefoot plyometric exercises. Be sure to reinforce activating the muscles in the foot by landing on the three points of your foot discussed in balancing. One example of a plyometric exercise is to jump over a cone on one foot and land on the same foot on the opposite side.
This blog was written by Stephanie Kaiser, NIFS Fitness Center Manager and Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.