Is it better to exercise barefoot?

Is Proper Footwear Really Required?

Many of you I’m sure belong to some health club or another. Have you ever noticed when filling out your application where it says, “proper attire required…we will not be held liable…”? Even signs by the entrance that tell you that proper athletic footwear is required. Even when there are no signs available, while doing my exercise barefoot, I’ve been approached by some staff member informing me that I cannot be in their facility without “proper athletic footwear.”

Arguments against bare feet in the healthclub stem from the following fears:

lawsuits – hey try to sue someone in a New York court and see how far you get

germs – I wash the bottoms of my sneakers every day – yeah right!

customer complaints – just get a life! Besides if your customers are leaving because of a barefoot member, you need to re-evaluate your facility as a whole!

Arnold Schwartzneggar

Arnold Schwartzneggar is known to do his lifting and exercise barefoot
Since the last two excuses I listed are just completely irrelevant, I’ll focus on the first one – lawsuits from injury.

A weight dropped on the shod foot is just as painful as on a bare one – which in that case, steel toed boots should really be the proper attire.

Health clubs will also make other cases, such as slipping in the steam room – yeah really! I’ve slipped on wet tiles in flip flops or even sneakers! It’s not anymore pleasant than slipping barefoot, but at least with bare feet, since there is nothing around your ankle, there is much less of a chance of twisting it!

The next issue is proper athletic support – a topic that is often discussed among fitness efforts. But is proper foot support necessary or just a myth? Is it better to exercise barefoot?

Do your feet really need the support provided by sneakers?
barefoot treadmillIn 2006, The Wall Street Journal in the health section published an article that addressed this question. In her article, Tara Parker-Pope writes:

“Some experts now believe that most athletic shoes, with their inflexible soles, structured sides and super-cushioned inserts keep feet so restricted that they may actually be making your feet lazy, weak and more prone to injury. As a result, barefoot training is gaining more attention among coaches, personal trainers and runners.”

In other words, the author states that because their feet are forced into a permanent position by all the cushioning in shoes, they become accustomed to being dependent on man-made materials to give them the support. The muscles begin to atrophy, and lose their natural flexibility and endurance, and the skin loses the resilience it would have gained from natural conditioning. This results in your foot being more vulnerable to injury.

In actuality, the human feet and ankles contain more bones and muscles than any other part of the human body. According to a May issue of the Podiatry Channel in healthcommunities.com, the foot and ankle contains

  • 26 bones – one fourth of the bones in the entire human body
  • 33 joints
  • over 100 muscles and ligaments
    a network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue
  • Think about it – all these bones, muscles and tissue balancing and supporting about an average of 162 lbs of the male and 135 lbs of the female human body, providing it with the mobility it needs. That takes a lot of strength doesn’t it!

In addition your ankle contains a shock absorber and propulsion engine needed to sustain the pressure caused by lifting and doing high impact activities like running. That is why when you run barefoot, you have less chance of a foot injury. When your sole makes contact with the ground, it automatically communicates with your ankle on how much shock absorption to give it and where to place your foot. If your sole, however is blocked from making contact, the ankle does not know how to read that message. That is why when you land on an uneven surface with your shoe, you will sometimes cause a sprain in your ankle. On the other hand, when you step on an uneven surface barefoot, your ankle immediately picks up the signals sent by the neurons of your foot and there is less of a chance of spraining it.

By giving the components of your feet the proper exposure and movements that is not accomodated in any kind of shoe, you will be ensuring yourself a stronger and healthier structure and balance. When you get into the habit of doing your exercise barefoot, you will be amazed at the difference!

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