Going barefoot

This isn’t meant to be an essay. I just hope to touch on the benefits of going barefoot. The topic and it’s nuances have enough material to become a set of textbooks.
I’m not expert enough to do that. I can only speak from my personal experience. It is up to you to decide how you would want to attempt this in a way that suits your life.

Even as a child I was never a fan of footwear, so it wasn’t difficult for me to mentally accept the barefoot lifestyle.
I was anyway quite successful with the Paleo diet in losing weight, so taking the next step was easy.

There’s a reason why walking barefoot in the sand feels good. And there’s a reason why beating people on the soles of their feet is a favoured method of police torture.
The feet are supplied richly with nerve endings that detect touch, pain, temperature, position and vibration.
Imprisoning them in shoes during most of your waking hours is unnatural and deprives the feet, and by extension, your whole body, this, sensory experience.

Wearing shoes protects your feet in rough terrain. But, they also turn the feet lazy and weak. The feet are meant to mould themselves onto the terrain, in an active manner, while stabilising the weight of the body. That dynamic process needs immeasurable adjustments every instant. Those tiny adjustments work the muscles in your feet (intrinsic muscles) and all the way up your kinetic chain, to the top of your head. The nervous system fires in a coordinated manner to achieve that
Like with everything in your body, it’s a matter of “use it, or lose it”

The feet are engineering marvels and looking at just the bare skeleton of a foot can fill you with wonder. Now add layers of muscle, fascia, ligaments, skin and cartilage. Then, add the nervous stem. Finally add natural movement into the mix, and you’ll see why it is impossible to understand feet, fully.

The default setting of feet, just like any part of the human body, is health. You’re not meant to have chronic aches and pains because you walked 5 kilometers, or stood for an hour in a crowded bus.
The default setting works best when the environment of the foot is closest to default. And the activity is closest to default. Which is, barefoot, with plenty of walking on a variety of surfaces, and an occasional sprint.

Now, diving headfirst (or jumping in feet first) into a barefoot lifestyle after years of living in shoes is a great way to get injured. You feet need to be eased in to the process gradually.

Start off with walking barefoot for 10 minutes a day, on a smooth, hard surface. Concrete, tarmac, tiles. Whatever. No you didn’t read wrong. You need to start on an artificial surface. Not go straight to the beach and run 5k barefoot. That’s guaranteed to give you plantar fasciitis and /or shin splints.

Gradually increase the duration to an hour. A suggestion would be to increase the duration every week by 5 minutes. Be patient.

When you can do an hour of slow walking on a hard, smooth surface barefoot, it is time to move to grassy surfaces, that are even. A lawn for example. Or a playground. Split your one hour of barefoot walking between the hard surface and the playground. Half on the artificial surface, and half on the grass.

Gradually increase the time spent on the natural surface, while cutting back on the artificial surface.

After that you move on to uneven surfaces, that are firm. Like an offroad trail. Same procedure as above

You move to beach and loose sand last, because that kind of surface provides the least support to the feet, and the maximum work for the arch structure and intrinsic muscles.

At some point, you’re going to be able to walk on crushed gravel, gingerly at first, and with confidence, later, as your feet learn to redistribute pressure across it’s surface.

Once you’re walking pain free on sand or on uneven surfaces for an hour, you’re probably ready to start jogging for a few minutes out of that hour. Again, gradually, increase the amount of time spent within that hour, to jogging.

Once you’re jogging barefoot for an hour and walking the remainder, you can start with sprints on smooth surfaces.

You’ll find that the sprint speeds barefoot are not as high as the speeds you’re capable of while shod. But that’s ok. You’re not in it for medals. You’re in it for health. Take it easy. Do short sprints lasting 20 secs or less at speeds close to 70-80 per cent of your Max (being chased be rabid dog) walk in between sprints, till your breathing normalises. Sprint again. Do that 5 or 6 times. The whole workout should last 40 minutes. Do that once a week. Take the next day off, go cycling instead of walking /running. That’s it.

The whole process of going barefoot is simple common sense, and probably could be done faster than the way I’ve detailed above, but taking it gradual, significantly cuts down the chances of injuries. It shouldn’t hurt at all, if you take it slow. On the other hand, setting goals like running a half or full marathon barefoot when you’re not used to it, it’s a surefire way to end up at an orthopaedic clinic.

Benefits of barefoot living
– Healthier feet
– better posture
– protection from degenerative arthritis
– less chance of injuries if done right.
– awareness of your environment
– contact with soil, that will improve your personal microbial environment
There’s probably more, but this is what I can vouch for.

Leave a Reply