By: Amanda Vogel, MA human kinetics
Thinking about trying barefoot running or barefoot walking? Start training with these exercises for creating stronger feet, whether you plan to go completely barefoot or wear barefoot running shoes.
If you already enjoy running and walking, you might have heard of (and perhaps even considered) one of today’s newest fitness fads: Barefoot running and walking. Exercisers who run or walk barefoot swear by its benefits, including stronger, healthier feet and improved running or walking performance.
But it is possible to do more harm than good while running barefoot if you don’t properly prepare your body for it first. Training for barefoot running and walking is a smart first step to enjoying long-term success.
Anthony Carey, M.A. is a corrective exercise specialist, author of The Pain Free Program: A Proven Method to Relieve Back, Neck, Shoulder and Joint Pain, and CEO of Function First.
Carey advises “walking barefoot before you ever attempting running.” And make it a short walk at that. It’s the best way to get a feel for how your body will react to barefoot exercise before you up the ante to high-impact running.
Even before you head out for your first barefoot walk, however, consider training your feet to optimally handle going without shoes. “The structures of the foot may not be ready for sudden supported activity in shoes to unsupported, barefoot activity,” says Justin Price, M.A., who specializes in assessing and correcting neuromuscular and structural imbalances at his facility The BioMechanics.
To help you train your feet for safe, effective barefoot running and walking, Price suggests the following three exercises.
All you need is a small towel (to wipe your feet if they get too sweaty) and a BOSU® Balance Trainer, found at most gyms and training studios, or available here. The BOSU ball’s unstable dome allows you to “turn on” muscles in the feet in a controlled way, helping you build up to running barefoot without stress, says Price.
Training for Barefoot Running and Walking
EXERCISE SET UP FOR ALL THREE VARIATIONS:
Holding onto a counter or wall for balance, stand on top of the BOSU® Balance Trainer (dome side up) with feet in a split stance, right foot slightly behind left foot so it’s on the downward slope of the dome. Shift your body weight into your right (back) foot and straighten right leg, rotating it out, with left (front) leg slightly bent and both feet touching the BOSU ball.
|VARIATION 1: Rotate your right (back) leg inward, keeping both feet on the BOSU ball (avoid raising up heels). You should notice your right (back) foot roll inward (toward the midline of your body), so your weight is distributed from the outside of your foot to the inside of that same foot. Do 6-10 reps and switch sides.|
|VARIATION 2: Begin with right (back) leg straight and rotated out. Bend the right (back) leg as you rotate it inward. Do 6-10 reps and switch sides.|
|VARIATION 3: Spread your toes as wide apart as you can on the right (back) foot, straightening your big toe and pushing it down into the BOSU ball. With toes spread and right (back) leg straight, rotate right leg inward as you simultaneously bend it, pushing your right big toe into the BOSU ball. Do 6-10 reps and switch sides.|