Barefoot Training or Specialized Shoes?

The MOVE facility has a “no-shoes” gym floor, so most think they can guess my ‘stance’ on barefoot training – not so fast…

This tends to be a polarizing topic, especially in the running community.  As with most questions I get asked, the answer is not so simple.  Some will argue that it is more natural and efficient to involve the use of the foot muscles and joints in activity.  Others will argue that the epidemic of flat feet and orthopedic injuries that come from poor foot mechanics make it obvious that orthotics and shoe technology is necessary.  So who is right?  Both.

We know from research that strength training while barefoot helps increase the activity within the nervous system. (Which is one reason for MOVE’s no-shoes gym floor)  Many times this leads to almost instant improvements in coordination, balance, strength, quality of movement and body awareness.

However, despite the benefits to the nervous system, cases where people have little mobility or control over their feet will frequently experience greater difficulty with certain tasks.  They may have less strength, balance or perhaps even pain in their knees or lower back as other parts try to compensate for the feet.

Where does this leave us? 

Efficient, mobile and strong feet are best used barefoot or in a minimalist environment with no outside support- this includes orthotics.  For running longer distance or on rough terrain, some neutral cushioning will be sufficient. 

Individuals with high arches OR “flat” feet will likely need some work in both the mobility AND control of the joints and muscles of the foot before attempting too much minimalist or barefoot training. 

At MOVE, we use manual techniques to restore optimal mechanics at the foot, which leads to more efficient movement through the entire body. This is especially exciting for our athletic population, because it means being stronger and faster with less effort.  In most cases, we can eliminate the need for expensive, uncomfortable orthotics!  Let us help you determine what your feet will need to accomplish your goals.

-Dr. Justin Sullivan, PT, OCS, CSCS, SFB, SFG