I love revealing the many ways going barefoot outdoors rejuvenate your feet and how cushioned, stiff running shoes could consistently provide worse care to your feet. As evidence increases, we see that the high injury rates among runners is a more convincing reason that potentially less protection on your foot may strengthen your feet. In that spirit, here’s why barefooting matters: more stimulation keeps muscular engagement flowing in the foot, thus you end up with stronger feet from wearing less protection.
I’ve spoke about this before, about how going barefoot strengthens the feet, and I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but it’s really important that people understand how cushioned running shoes may disrupt the orderly function of the key mechanisms that underlie strengthening of the foot.
How Barefooting Stimulates Foot Muscle Strength Better Than Running Shoes
It’s important to realize that the feet aren’t mechanically sensitive, fragile and delicate and aren’t a liability to running. The feet can sufficiently function independent of external support. But how exactly does the feet strengthen when bare?
As a basic principle, muscle activity in the foot generally fuels foot muscle growth, meaning that muscle activation enables the muscle to strengthen. However, its important to note that most muscle activation in the foot is stimulus-driven or sensory-driven whereby going barefoot gives the best collection of raw sensory stimulation that directly causes rapid-firing of nerves in the bottom of the feet, leading to positive changes in foot strength and function.
- The dramatic increase in nerve activity during barefooting is harnessed to do work on the muscles in the foot which is a key intervening variable that produces changes in foot muscle volume and creates a portal for accelerated foot strength.
This explains why when individuals adopt a more barefoot or minimalistic lifestyle, their feet often become fatter, stronger, healthier and less bony and skinny in appearance.
When you are barefoot, the rapid uptick in nerve activity is continuous which means that the nerves that line the bottom of the feet are continually active and talking to other nerves, such as the nerves in the ankle-joint, knee-joint, spinal cord and the brain.
- As a consistent response to the ongoing nerve firing and activity while barefoot, muscle activation dramatically increases and so does foot muscle strength.
These are the key elements that underlie the forces behind how going barefoot helps promote nerve activity propagation, facilitating the spread of muscle activation, producing measurable results in muscle strength, muscle volume and muscle function in the foot.
In contrast, suseptability to foot weakness and discomfort can arise from repressed or limited sensory conditions, such as wearing cushioned running shoes.
- To the greater point, cushioned running shoes may disrupt the orderly flow and conversion of sensory stimulation to muscle strength and proper foot health and function.
This is why many experts and healthcare professionals are warming up to the idea about barefooting because of its ability to shovel in more infusion of muscle stimulation whereas the loss of foot muscle volume and strength potentially caused by stiff, heavily cushioned running shoes may be the result of disintegration of nerve stimulation and muscles activity.
Going Barefoot May Boost Oxygenation in Foot
Cushioned running shoes may disrupt the flow or transfer of oxygen within the foot which may also lead to foot function stagnation and reduced foot muscle strength.
It is led to believe that changes in nerve stimulation and activation may lead to changes in nutrient-rich blood flow and oxygenation levels.
- When the nerves are highly active or stimulated, they consume more oxygen which is pulled out of the blood flowing in nearby capillaries, which welcomes more nourishment to the soft tissues and muscles within the foot.
- That is why you want to maintain high levels of nerve stimulation on the bottom of the bare foot to drive more blood, more oxygen and overall, more nourishment in the foot, so the feet can be more able and functionally adept.
In that regard, barefooting makes perfect sense since the feet are more heavily and intensively stimulated than jammed into narrow, stiff motion control running shoes. Because of the relative differences in blood and oxygen circulation, having more barefoot involvement is what really works for being a basic building block for build stronger, resilient feet.
This is why I feel that barefooting can be a game-changing effort and should be a priority because in most cases, nerve activity and muscle strengthening are strongly linked. This link is one of the reasons many coaches are buzzing about the health and performance benefits of barefooting.
- Barefooting can be a clearinghouse for many foot and ankle injuries and is essentially a recipe for spurring better running performance because when your feet are strong, that holds the promise to potentially avoid foot injuries.
Not to mention, the best distance runners in the world, most of which are from east Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia), most of these runners ran barefoot for a very long and are still clearly ahead of the curve! But to understand how to strengthen the feet is to understand the connection between nerve activity in the feet and how this nerve activity can affect the precise physiological mechanisms responsible for rebuilding foot muscles.
If you are frustrated with slow progress, get out and walk barefoot! It is certainly a worthwhile path as optimal foot function typically runs on plentiful sensory stimulation from the natural ground. You will always benefit from the influx of revitalizing sensory stimulation and energy when you are barefoot!
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.