Whether you come for a Thai massage, to learn Qigong or to join one of my fitness classes, you will notice not only that I do everything barefoot but that I encourage people to exercise barefoot.
When our feet are healthy, they have astonishing athletic capability. Our feet are almost as complex as our hands. There are 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot, plus over a hundred ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Think about an athlete like a basketball player running drills, and imagine if they were barefoot. Every time the player changes direction and makes a sudden start or stop, the foot grips the ground, and you can see the bones and joints spread out, absorb the impact, grab the ground, and then push off again, similar to how hands work when doing push-ups.
Cheap shoes, tight shoes, rigid shoes, or simply shoes with a heel that lifts too high will cause the entire foot to freeze up over time. When someone like this tries to walk barefoot, they throw their foot in front of them on each step, like a rock attached to the end of their leg. It hurts after more than a few meters, and they can’t change directions; they have to stop, turn, and then start again. Most people like this will be so used to it that they won’t notice.
Healthy feet can propel the body in almost any direction at a moment’s notice and support your body in various weird postures. The complex structure of the foot allows it to make subtle changes to maintain balance or to change the intensity of an action. It’s how Kung Fu masters look like they have so much balance, standing on one foot and kicking – their feet hold them up.
Most public gyms have dress codes that require you to wear shoes, but exercising barefoot is the norm for Qigong, martial arts, Pilates and yoga. Working out barefoot has a lot of advantages. First, wearing shoes can alter the shape of your foot, especially when shoes are not the correct size. Exercising barefoot gives your feet a chance to spread out and return to their natural form. Typically, this will increase the surface area in contact with the ground, which improves your stability. Plus, you can spread your toes, which creates an even larger contact surface.
Second, when you are barefoot, you will engage muscles in your feet that you do not use while wearing shoes. Training without shoes allows your feet to work naturally and reengages muscles that you probably didn’t know that you had. Since you can move your foot freely, exercises make you use your foot more actively and force the tissues in your feet to work harder. You have better balance, posture, and form because your feet are in a natural state, and over time, this may allow your arch to rise and thereby reduce or remove foot pronation.
Third, training barefoot increases the activation of proprioceptors, which improve your ability to sense the subtle changes in the surface as you move during an activity. Each foot has thousands of nerve endings that sense the floor under you and send signals to the brain to help you understand your movements. These signals enable our brain to better direct our body on how to proceed or how much pressure to exert during an exercise. When your body has a better sense of where you are during your movements, it is easier for you to regulate the amount of force required for an activity. Being more biomechanically efficient leads to healthier joints and less injury.
The last benefit is that exercising barefoot will improve foot mobility. Supportive shoes decrease the work your feet have to do, which not only makes the muscles in your foot weaker but also alters how your foot moves. If your foot muscles cannot function properly, they become weak and lose their ability to do their job correctly. When you are barefoot, your foot is no longer restricted, and the muscles can engage with the tissues and ligaments without any restrictions to try to find balance. Your foot will thereby become more flexible.
With such benefits, the choice to exercise barefoot may seem obvious. But there are a couple of things to consider before you throw away your running shoes. First, if you go to a public gym, they may have a dress code that requires you to wear shoes. If you are in a traditional gym with free weights, be aware that you run the chance of tripping over a sharp object and falling without wearing protective footwear. Depending on the gym’s cleanliness, there is a possibility of fungal infection when exercising barefoot when other people use the same spaces.
Sirius Health does not require you to wear shoes, plus we only do bodyweight training, so we don’t have any free weights or sharp fitness machines that might hurt your feet. We are also a tiny space, so we only have a few people daily, and it is easy to keep the area clean.
To get off on the healthy foot, book yourself a Thai Foot Reflexology session, or ask us to focus more on your feet during a Thai massage. We can help loosen your feet so you can bravely start feeling the world through your feet.