Barefoot Strength Training

The pandemic has limited my options when working out and I’ve had to change up my routine a bit; I’ve had to get creative and also focus more on mobility rather than lifting heavy weights. A lot of my avid gym-goer friends have complained about not being able to get their usual workout in, and believe me I am just as frustrated, especially coming into almost a year of this pandemic. I always like to look at the bright side. The most positive outcome of the gyms being closed, at least for me, has been getting out of my comfort zone with my workouts and trying lots of new things. Changing your routine is how you constantly challenge your body, force it to adapt, and make real gains.

I’ve tried barefoot strength training here and there, but have only really gotten into it during this pandemic. As a yoga and pilates instructor, and former contemporary dancer, I have felt first-hand the benefits of going barefoot. Wearing shoes all the time can cause your feet to slack off and become weak. Waking up the nerves in your feet by being directly connected to the ground sends important information to your brain and the rest of your body. This information is crucial if we want to be more stable and have better balance.

If you compare balancing on one foot while wearing sneakers vs bare feet, you will notice the difference in difficulty and stability. Each foot has over 100 muscles so if we strengthen these muscles we will undoubtedly become stronger and be better equipped to prevent injury.

When working your lower body, you will be better able to feel the work in your glutes, hams, quads, and calves while doing an exercise barefoot. For example, when I teach stiff legged deadlifts/single leg deadlifts, one of my main cues is to push down with your heel(s) as you come back up to upright. This activates the leg muscles in the posterior chain and allows you to feel that coveted “burn”. It’s easier to bring your attention to your foot work if you are fully connected, without a barrier, to the ground.

Everyone’s body is different; mobility is important when considering whether or not to try barefoot strength training. Weight lifting shoes tend to have a higher heel which allows you to have a greater range of motion when lowering into your squats, lunges, etc. If you are able to lower down without that extra heel lift, then you could safely start to implement some barefoot training into your workout routine. Remember, your feet will not be used to supporting you in the same way as they would when you wear shoes, so take baby steps! Start with mobility, some balances, body weight training, and then later you can start to add your weights. Another way to ease into it is to only perform one of your sets without shoes. You could also try a pair of shoes with less support.

Here is my go to mobility warm up before starting a barefoot strength training session. You can also use this as daily mobility work.

Toes spread and lift

Standing barefoot, lift all of your toes except you big toes and your pinky toes. Press into the floor with these outside toes as the toes in the middle lift and spread apart. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

Toe lift/heel lift

Shift your weight forward and back, lifting your toes/balls of your feet, then your heels. Start small as you build up your confidence, and gradually make the movement bigger. Repeat 12 times.

Wobbly one legged balance

Stand on one foot, keeping the standing leg bent. Set a timer for 30 seconds and just play. Try to move your body and shift your weight in every direction while maintaining your balance.

Wide legged squats

Now that the nerves and muscles in your feet are awake, add some more resistance with 12 wide legged body weight squats.

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