Bare feet are happy feet

Bare feet are happy feet

“Yes, you can leave your shoes on – but we encourage you to take them off.”

“That’s cool – but why?”

People are often skeptical to slip their shoes off – and I get it.  It’s kind of weird if you’ve never not worn shoes.  So many coaches, trainers, athletes harp on ‘the right shoe’ that surely you need to be wearing shoes, right?  If you ask us what shoes you should go out and buy, our most likely response will be, “None.” Let’s talk about it…

The big toe

The missing link to your strength.  Seriously.  The big toe is a joint often ignored.  When you lace up if fixes it in place – so recruiting it is nearly impossible.

When we think about joints, think about whether it should be mobile, stabile, or maybe a combination of both.  I like to think of things from the ground up.  The big toe is the first line of defense- it is absorbing and guiding a huge amount of load throughout your body.  I’d say that makes it pretty important.  The big toe should be mobile – and you should be able to control it on its own.  However, most shoe-wearers cannot isolate their big toe (raise it up, press it down without using the other toes).The big toe helps us balance and distribute our weight throughout the whole foot so we can recruit muscles properly.  Namely – the big toe plays a huge role in recruiting the glutes (particularly glute medius).

The small muscles of the foot, to the ankle

So remember how we should think of joints as being mobile or stable?  The ankle is a complex joint – one that needs mobility and strength.  A vast majority of people are walking around with extremely rigid ankles, and rigid ankles equates to weak ankles.

But it’s not just the ankle, it’s the whole foot.  Your foot is the base for your whole body – it needs to breathe – it needs movement.  This isn’t just ‘feel-goodery’ for your feet, if your feet and ankle are rigid, something else compensates – and it moves up the kinetic chain.  Just like all of the other muscles in your body, the muscles in your feet need to be strong and mobile.

So your squats hurt your knees?  Take a look down, I’d be willing to bet your movement is very limited by your feet and ankles.  You can’t get the range of motion you need, therefore you can’t recruit your glutes and your squat (lunges, walking) just, frankly, looks and feels like shit.

Brain power

What happens when you take your shoes off?  You’re suddenly super aware of your surroundings: how cold the floor is, it’s texture, how your foot strike articulates to the floor.  And for good reason – our feet have a primitive function to relay a ton of information.  When we have shoes on, we have a decreased kinesthetic awareness (what one part of our body is doing in relation to another part) and a decreased sense of proprioception (our sense of position and movement in space). The padding and shock absorption in our shoe eliminate this signaling to the brain.  Our feet become ‘quiet.’

After a while, being barefoot feels as natural as it should feel.  Give it a try, nix the shoes and let us know how you feel about it.


Emily Kulakowski