Just train barefoot to reduce injuries? Should I squat barefoot or with ballet slippers? Does running in the grass in Jamaica help me break 10 seconds? Just wear a minimalist shoe and and muscles turn on and we are now getting awesome proprioception? A lot of promises but the truth is that barefoot training is very complicated. If you want to walk around and grow vegetables barefoot training may work, but when we are dealing in the speed and power (including world class endurance) things are different. The forefoot debate is nice, but what about cutting and deceleration? What about jumping? Does anyone really think Eric Mayor was suppose to forefoot strike during his drive to prevent his ACL tear? Do arches get stronger or change from barefoot training? Does coaching Janda style really help the foot? Where is the evidence?
I like minimalist shoes as it allows athletes some protection from rocks and glass and sometimes dirty needles (public city tracks), but besides protection, that’s all they provide. Barefoot training is good to get some motion but some feet and some programs make for injury. Like a car accident, no barefoot runner or trainer ever thinks it’s going to happen to them. What we do know is that even great runners get hurt, even when doing great training. Why is this? Foot architecture. Most coaches think about pronated and supinated feet by looking at the heel, but motion and structure is far more complicated. It’s beyond a high or low arch, it’s beyond pigeon toed. So now what? Is barefoot a good option for me? Does the NB shoe help me protect myself from my feet and body from catching on fire like Mo Greene years ago?
The Truth is simple. One needs to see a PT, DC, DPM, and PHD support to get a good evaluation of the foot. I didn’t say orthotics or corrective exercise, I said evaluation. Hopefully the consultation is with someone who knows the sport, not just works with athletes. Over the last few years I have seen nagging injuries improve with small felt or modifications to the shoes since nobody is playing soccer, football, basketball, or sprinting barefoot successfully. Also running is not sprinting, as acceleration is forefoot dominant and again, we are seeing plenty of issues with metatarsal fractures. You can activate glutes, do balance work barefoot, and foam roll all you want, but when the foot hits the ground no matter how prepared your body is the structure of the foot will determine a lot. What you can do and should do should be based from expert opinion, and that’s why I am not going to give out suggestions.
I will share warnings and observations with barefoot training and minimalist shoes. Start slowly and just walk around for three months. Runners may be able to jog earlier because of their running ability or lower body weight, but walk slow. Remember the 10% rule? Bare foot doesn’t mean bare brained. What about lifting? Deadlifting is fine for a deadlifting program but most coaches want to lunge and clean, and doing so is a different animal with minimalist shoes. Barefoot in a gym, even with socks, smells like infection and never do it. Bad idea. I am not trying to scare people off from getting more natural but just like any modality, art and science must be carefully balanced.