Quick Thoughts on Barefoot Training

 I wanted to know your opinion on training without shoes or using the Vibrams or other brands.
Also I have extremely flat feet.  How do you think this will impact me?

 

That's legit right there.

That’s legit right there.

As a blanket statement, I’d like to think and say that I’d like to get everyone doing as much as possible in most general physical preparedness barefoot.
And that statement is vague and non-committal intentionally.  I often wrestle with the list of benefits that make so much sense but then there are some antagonistic thoughts that also make a lot of sense too.

1) My favor for training barefoot does not include running without progression.  I am not well schooled in running form and the effects of different footwear.  Part of this is whenever I seem to read something, even of alleged substance, there is anecdotal success in every option.  Maybe this is why I can’t get into these topics because everybody has something different to say in terms of heel strike, etc.  Some say bad; others say no difference like the research we see coming out of the US Army.  I wasn’t particularly moved by their presentation at SOMA as they had no control for the rest of the body in terms of the default pattern that the subjects were coached to use.
Bottom line is I think running barefoot should be progressed into with great caution, and it may not be for everybody.  This is just not a topic that has a lot of gravity for me in all honesty.

2) What does have gravity for me is training barefoot.  Eliminating the sole of a shoe allowing for uptake of tactile proprioception is a very big victory.  Variables such as improved technical proficiency of fundamental and training patterns and subjective recovery are things that stick out as often remarkable changes from training barefoot.
I also very strongly believe that the value of the Vibrams particularly is the separation of the toes which yields a very powerful sensoriomotor effect in lower body movements.

Totally advocating training like this.

Totally advocating training like this.

On the flip side, from my own training, I would firmly suggest that I can not perform nearly as big on limit lifts barefoot than I can with shoes.  I’ll suggest that the sensorimotor experience is not nearly as efficient for those neurological or proprioceptive training effects, but with the firmness of the midsole allows for a firmer GRF when dialing out the floor.  The harder sole allows a greater GRF in pushing into and reacting with the floor.  It’s not much different than using supportive equipment like powerlifting suits or olympic lifting shoes.  If you are handling more wheels, then there are parts of your body that clearly are being overloaded even if there are supported parts of the lift from the shoes, etc.
You can even be more realistic against training barefoot where if a head coach loses a player because because a weight fell on his foot, all hell would break loose.  Now I think a 150 lb. dumbell that falls on a foot with a shoe is going to be the same injury as a barefoot, but when it comes to risk-reward in high level environments.
I would also never wear a minimalist shoe or barefoot in training high-end ground reaction forces as a part of speed or agility training.  I think we absolutely need something that has some stiffness to allow for eccentric and isometric patterns that also yield the neurological emergency brake to be lifting when we are going hard in multi-directional training.

This is thinking out loud, but maybe we can bucket it like this.
Warmup/Movement = Barefoot
Speed & Agility = Training shoe
Weight Training = Barefoot if technically proficient (if huge variance in power output, evaluate and wear shoes)
Limit Lifts/Technical Training of Competitive Barbell Lifts = Training Shoe
Running = ?????, depends, over my pay grade

Hey, that's not supposed to happen.

Hey, that’s not supposed to happen.

3) In terms of being flat footed, this is usally a bunch of hooey.  I think very few people actually have flat feet, and even less where it’s actually meaningful in terms of function and performance.  I’m here in Venezuela with more than a few individuals that have “flat feet,” yet are pain-free, favorably scoring on the FMS, and able to sky 40″.
That being said, I think people’s feet get flat when loaded, but they aren’t structurally flat.  Functionally flat would mean the foot looks the same (flat) on the floor, but it is still supple.  In the open chain, the foot clearly still has an arch and ideal shape.  Furthermore, if one can walk on their toes with even the slimmest of quality, it’s not biomechanically possible to locomote without an arch.
Big toe and 1st ray mobility should also be exhausted before you give in and say you have a flat foot.
Even in a “flattened” foot, I would not give up and say it’s flat until a bunch of manual therapy and static lower half training in all planes.
I would go so far in this case if the flattened foot really bothers you or returning from injury to to say any static lifting should 100% be done barefoot for these individuals.  I don’t see a downside beyond dropping weights on your foot.  I’ll take that risk reward barring the retarded.
We can progress into barefoot with dynamic stuff if necessary.

How 'bout them apples?

How ’bout them apples?

4) For functionally flat(tened) feet, I’ve recommended Barefoot Science to a few clients.  It’s been mostly for poor ankle mobility and a chronic pattern to fall flat to create room for the angled tibia.  But I like the reactive nature of the traditional orthotic WITH a regressive nature with an end-state goal of retraining movement and behavior, not relying on the stiff and reliant exteroception.

 

Regressive foot orthotics sound like a good idea to me.

Regressive foot orthotics sound like a good idea to me.

  • September 2, 2013

Leave a Reply 3 comments

Adam Kelly, ATC Reply

I’m actually doing a research study for my master’s thesis on the Correct Toes product that is pictured above. I am going to be investigating the acute and short term(4weeks) effects of wearing them on postural stability! I am excited to see the results and I generally agree with your above post on many of its points!

Brad Cole Reply

I appreciate your pragmatism with questions near the limits of current research. Many commentators extrapolate research findings to fit their personal preference. Thanks for drawing clear lines between the known and unknown. Beyond that, it depends on a person’s training goals and preferences.

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