Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Wearing shoes has been linked to a multitude of issues:
Falls (particularly in the elderly)
Barefooting is natural but takes some time to relearn. Making the switch will be quite a shock for your feet, ankles, calves, pelvis, spine and knees. You’ll need to progress slowly through the adaption phase to adequately prep your body. I cannot stress how important it is to make this transition slowly. Decades of wearing shoes has changed your natural gait, posture, boney structures, soft tissue and biomechanics. The skill of walking and running barefoot will not intuitively come back to you. It is something you’ll need to be taught and gradually integrate back into your life.
In the home and at the office, start walking around barefoot, without socks when possible. This will awaken your dormant foot muscles and nerve endings on the soles of your feet.
Practice foot and toe strengthening exercises daily. Pick up golf balls, pens and other things with your feet; practice single-leg ‘Short Foot’ standing; perform toe dexterity movements like lifting your big toe independent of the others or visa-verse; do a series of ankle rotations; barefoot single-leg calf raises, and walk on your heels while keeping your toes up.
Walk on the treadmill barefoot forwards and backward. (beware many gyms might frown upon this due to a so-called liability issue). Better yet, take a walk on the beach or grass.
Specifically, get your big toe (1st MTP) stronger and more dexterous by practicing push-offs while walking and big toe pressing while lifting the other toes.
Buy a pair of good minimalist shoes and do short runs or hikes (less than 1 mile) with them. Try to walk on uneven surfaces and rough terrain as much as you can to build the foot's musculature.
Purchase a toe separator like yoga toes to increase your toes' flexibility and regain some lost alignment.
Get your gluteals (butt muscles) and deep core musculature firing again. These muscles play an integral role in proper running and odds are yours aren’t working properly. Sitting most of the day shortens your hamstrings, weakens your core, and turns off your gluteal muscles.
Practice third world squats often. This will improve functional joint range of motion specifically adding to your ankle, knee and hip mobility.
If your goal is to run barefoot, I recommend hiring a professional who can videotape your gait and instruct you on the correct form, ensuring a smooth transition while minimizing any chance of injury. Running, walking and hiking barefoot are excellent ways to feel a connection back to nature and your body. The adaptation phase takes time and micro-progressions are key. Just remember, the slower you take it the faster you will get there!
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