Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barefoot Training

You may have heard about training barefoot lately or seen some of those crazy (and quite ugly) 'sneakers' out there that are like being barefoot.

I always workout barefoot at home. Now at the gym, you want sneakers for hygiene reasons alone. But people spend $100 on a pair of sneakers when really you should be working out in bare feet. Sneakers are actually not good for your feet!

Training barefoot may seem odd, but if you think about it, it is not that uncommon:

•Bodybuilders and powerlifters- Take a look at the pictures from the bodybuilders on 60’s and 70’s and they train barefoot
•Martial Arts all  go barefoot

•Yoga, Pilates, Gymnastics, swimming - barefoot!

So what are the benefits of barefoot training anyway? by Jamie Lloyd

Enhanced running efficiency;

Laboratory research has shown that running barefoot results in a 4% increase in performance. It is seen that the arches of the foot are allowed to move more freely without the need for air system shoes!

· More ability to spread your toes- yes you will have the freedom to spread and get some air on your toes!

· Stronger muscles in your feet and legs-When running barefoot on hard surfaces, the runner compensates for the lack of cushioning underfoot by plantar-flexing the foot at contact, thus giving a softer landing (Frederick, 1986). Barefoot runners also land mid-foot, increasing the work of the foot's soft tissue support structures, thereby increasing their strength and possibly reducing the risk of injury (Yessis 2000, p.124).When running barefoot on hard surfaces, the runner compensates for the lack of cushioning underfoot by plantar-flexing the foot at contact, thus giving a softer landing (Frederick, 1986).

· Greater agility and balance- It is claimed that footwear increases the risk of such sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position provided by feedback from plantar cutaneous mechanoreceptors in direct contact with the ground (Robbins et al., 1995), or by increasing the leverage arm and consequently the twisting torque around the sub-talar joint during a stumble (Stacoff et al., 1996). Siff and Verkhoshansky (1999, p.452) reported that running shoes always reduce proprioceptive and tactile sensitivity, and that using bare feet on the high-density chip-foam mats in gyms preserves proprioceptive sensitivity. Robbins et al. (1989) considered that behaviors induced by plantar tactile sensations offer improved balance during movement, which may explain the preference of many gymnasts and dancers for performing barefoot.

· Greater flexibility in your leg muscles- goes without saying really. If your feet aren't strapped up all day in comfy shoes then they are going to be able to move freely whoch will help your feet and legs get better range of motion-thus increasing flexibility.

· Improved posture which may help reduce lower back pain-walking barefoot means, inherently, that the only heel you're walking on is your own. Walking wearing standard shoes means, almost inevitably, you'll have an extra heel. Any change in the orientation of the heel instantly changes the mechanics of the arch of the foot, but importantly also changes the mechanics of the low back - increasing the curve. An increased curve in the low back means that the small facet joints on the back of the spine which are not designed for weight bearing (Bogduk 2003) become loaded and, across time, painful.

· Improved circulation because the motion you get from your unrestricted foot when walking barefoot activates a number of muscles in people's feet and legs, which in turn helps to pump blood back to their hearts. This motion may not be as effective if your foot is confined in a shoe, especially if it's a poor fitting shoe. This muscle action prevents the pooling of blood in your feet and legs, reducing the stress on the entire cardiovascular system and reducing blood pressure. This is why going barefoot is recommended to prevent deep vain thrombosis.

· A better contact to nature because life-force energy called Chi (also called Qi or Prana) can only be absorbed through the soles of the feet. Ground Chi is absorbed automatically and unconsciously when walking barefoot, which may be one of the reasons why it's so relaxing to walk without shoes on and why exercises geared toward strengthening the body and relaxing the mind (yoga, tai chi, martial arts) are also typically practiced barefoot.

-Facilitated venous return

Decreased blood pressure; this is true - particularly if walking on uneven ground (ie cobbled streets or off road). The walking itself, of course, helps to support good cardiovascular function but, in addition, the fact that the foot strikes the ground at a slightly different angle with each step and is allowed to roll over the naturally convex heel (rather than a flat, straight, rubber plate) means that multiple muscle groups are activated resulting in greater pumping of blood back through the valve-based venous system (Vines 2005). People in Germany, Austria and Switzerland can visit "barefoot parks" and walk along "paths of the senses" - with mud, logs, stone and moss underfoot - to receive what's known there as reflexzonmassage. Reflexologists have long advocated walking on textured surfaces to stimulate so-called "acupoints" on the soles of the feet. Practitioners of this complementary therapy believe that pressure applied to particular spots on the foot connects directly to corresponding organs and can enhance their function.

Reduced risk of deep vein thrombosis; for the same reason as above there is less pooling of blood in the lower leg and enhanced venous return.

Lower incidence of varicose veins; because there is improved venous return, blood does not rest in the veins increasing pressure on the vein walls and creating varicosities. Instead it is pumped back to the heart through enhanced muscular use in the lower leg.

-Decreased ankle sprains

it is claimed that increased awareness of foot position from direct contact with the ground (Robbins et al., 1995) may decrease risk of ankle sprain - and/or the reduced leverage and consequently twisting around the ankle (sub-talar) joint from going "barefoot" minimizes the risk of spraining the joint during a stumble (Stacoff et al., 1996).

-Better proprioception The modern running shoe and footwear generally reduce sensory feedback, apparently without diminishing injury-inducing impact-a process Robbins and Gouw (1991) described as the "perceptual illusion" of athletic footwear. A resulting false sense of security may contribute to the risk of injury (Robbins and Gouw, 1991). Yessis (2000, p.122) reasoned that once the natural foot structures are weakened by long-term footwear use, people have to rely on the external support of the footwear, but the support does not match that provided by a well functioning foot.

-Increases biomechanical performance - the arches of the feet are shock absorbers for the foot. They store energy and return energy to the gait cycle. Similarly, the natural arches of the spine are designed to perfectly store energy as the body "derotates" during the gait cycle (Gracovetsky 1988, 1997, 2001). Wearing shoes that have arch supports prevent the arches from functioning properly and heels cause chaos to posture as they compromise energy storage and change the sdhape of the spine which cause back problems and neck problems.

-Reduced risk of bunions the big toe is often pushed towards the middle of the foot and the same is true of the little toe when wearing traditional shoes. Heels on a shoe load the big toe and cause more strain and the hallux longus is strained and here bunions develop.

-Improves balance and prevents falls;

The feet provide significant sensory feedback to the brain and are therefore significant in balance and efficiency when running or walking. But , (Chek 2004) sees the most common cause of death in people above 65 years is falling. 25% of elderly people who fall and fracture a hip, die within 1 year of falling.

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