Going Barefoot – conditioning
If you would like to try Barefoot running/walking please take it slowly. Expecting to just switch to walking barefoot will result in injuries. Having been used to footwear that dictated your gait, for many years, the adjustment period will take a fair degree of unlearning so please take your time. Listen to your body’s aches and grumbles but remember ultimately no reconditioning should involve pain, unconditioned muscles may feel tired and fatigued but it is important to not push beyond this.
The majority of those that love and have embraced Barefoot running/walking adopted this style slowly; most by simply walking around the home Barefoot. This is a good starting point – around a carpeted home is safe and an excellent way of getting used to your natural walking gait.
Stand up straight keeping a good posture. Distribute your body-weight over your feet evenly. Get a feel for your body’s balance by swaying slightly forwards and backwards taking a mental note of each foot’s point of contact with the floor. When you start walking, notice how your feet strike the ground; how your toes spread slightly as if to grip the ground and the pivot point as you push from the ball of your foot to generate momentum to move forward. It won’t take long until this feels natural and your body adjusts and strengthens accordingly.
Tracing the alphabet with big toe – whilst sitting on a chair, lift up your right leg and using your big toe attempt to write the letter A in the air as if your toe was a piece of chalk and you are writhing on an invisible blackboard. With your leg outstretched, outline the letters, starting with A, as big as you can. This will require a full range of movement from your ankle and connecting muscle groups. Make each letter ‘ bold’ by deliberately emphasizing each letter. Work your way through the alphabet slowly. When done correctly, before you reach the final letters your shin muscles will feel as if they are on fire. When you reach the letter Z swap legs and repeat exercise. This practice is sometimes used to treat and prevent ‘shin splints’ and is useful in strengthening and balancing the muscles of the lower leg and feet.
Another useful exercise is to find a fairly hard ball. Some people find a golf balls works best for this whiles others find a tennis ball fits the bill. It’s best just to experiment and use what feels right for you. Sitting on a chair, place your heel of your foot onto the ball. Apply enough pressure so that the ball acts like your thumb is pressing fairly hard into your heel for a deep massage. Gently and slowly roll the ball under your foot. The idea is you are giving all areas of your foot from the heel to the ball of your foot a deep massage. Be aware of how your foot feels and what areas seem tender. Spend a couple of minutes on each foot, just rolling the ball under foot seeking and applying pressure to the many zones of your feet. This is a most effective exercise that benefits and relaxes the feet greatly. This practice is often used by those who suffer with the tendon inflammation (Plantar Fasciitis) , however, it’s a great exercise for anyone especially those on their feet all day.
Another great exercise is to try and pick up a handkerchief or pencil from the floor by gripping the item using your toes. Place your toes over the hanky or pencil and by using a scrunching action try and pick up the item. Spend a minute or so practicing picking up and letting of the item on each foot. This exercise is great for strengthening the arches in the feet.
Once you feel ready you can take some of your indoor walking practices to the outdoors. Again the key is slow gentle progress. Stay in tune with your body’s ability to inform you of what feels right and comfortable and stop if you experience pain. Keep in mind when our ancestors walked around barefoot there wasn’t nice flat but very impact unfriendly roads and paths for them use. The ground was uneven and soft depending on seasons – this type of surface lent itself much better to barefoot walking!
There are many claims that individuals who have started running “barefoot” or simply chose to wear minimalist footwear for everyday walking or for work have found that they have benefited from less foot fatigue. Claims have also been made that sports related injuries like shin splints have improved and individuals have even improved running times. We are all different so please be aware that some people cannot get away with the whole barefoot concept at all and, they are those who wish they never even attempted to try due to picking up injuries as a result. There are many pros and cons so please do some research before you buy some barefoot/minimalist footwear and checkout what others have to say about it.