• MeggieBATC

Kick Your Shoes Off, Train a While

In today’s society, we’re all used to living in the chronic aches and pains of life. Back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, we’ve all accepted that this is normal. Are we really supposed to spend our life living in a constant state of pain?

Quite simply: No, living in pain is not normal. We should not fall into complacency.

When I transitioned from the 1-2 races a year OCR athlete to a weekend warrior and then to the full-fledged competitive racer, I found my body was beaten and breaking down. Injury management and prevention is my specialty, so why am I having pains and muscular compensations arising every other day? I was visiting a massage therapist weekly and I spent far too much time on foam rollers and on rehab exercises that weren’t working. I knew I needed to make a change.

Along my journey to become the best health and fitness professional I can be, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a seminar on the biomechanics of the foot. At the time, I thought nothing of it, aside from a Saturday continuing education credit opportunity. But then the speaker addressed the audience…

“Core Stability comes from the ground up.”\

This was the quote of the seminar. Not only was the seminar on the mechanics of the foot, but about how our body adapts to training, from the ground up.

Your feet are the only structures in the body designed to maintain contact with the ground throughout the day; your foot’s functionality is what determines your body’s biomechanics.

Now when we begin talking about biomechanics, particularly in terms of the role our feet play, we must first talk about the thing we most frequently wear, our shoes. We own a pair of shoes for every occasion and for every foot type. Over-pronators, heel strikers, steel toe boots, stiletto heels; the variety of shoes we have is overwhelming. But when you get home and kick off your shoes, do you listen to your feet? Most often, you’ll find that your feet are exhausted and aching.

Our feet are not designed to wear shoes 24/7. Yes, a shoe is a protective device, but what the shoe is realistically doing is cutting off the benefits of your feet.

“Core stability comes from the ground up.”

Let’s break this statement down a little more. The bottom of our feet contain nerve endings. When these nerve endings come into contact with a solid ground, your balance receptors can fire more rapidly, improving your balance and initiating the kinetic chain throughout your lower body and up through to our core stability. You feel your arches come alive, you feel your ankles and calves start to fire, you feel your hamstring and your quads activate as your glutes wake up and stabilize the way they are designed to work.

Try this for a second; sit in a chair, feet flat on the ground, shoes on. Press both of your great toes into the floor for a 5 second hold. Release. Now repeat that process again, but this time, try standing up while holding your big toes into the ground. What are you feeling? What you’re most likely feeling is an initiation in your lower leg muscles, through the knees, and into your glutes. Once you attempt to sit while maintaining this contraction, your feet {most likely} begin to wobble slightly in your shoes. The same happens every time you try to exercise with shoes on.

Your shoes are an overpriced foam pad cutting off the nerve receptors from the stable ground. Your feet are fighting all day, every day to stabilize this unstable surface, your shoes, exhausting your feet and ankle muscles.

Now let’s go back and try our big toe holds one more time, but this time with your shoes off. Do you feel a difference in your muscle recruitment and your stability as you stand? This task just became much more simple and your body is now rock solid. This is the beginning to barefoot training.

Not only will barefoot training help you to build better muscle recruitment throughout the lower body, and up to the core stability, it will also present a much greater benefit in your mobility. Whether you have flat feet, tight calves, hip pain, or knee pain, it is all directly related to your foot mobility. Taking your shoes off for training will help work every problem out in your body’s most natural form. Your body is designed to lift in minimal footwear and it is designed to problem solve itself. You’re going to begin seeing an increased range of motion from your toes and your arches, through your calves and your knees, and into the hips. Training in socks, or with a strict barefoot, will give your body the biofeedback it needs to work out the compensations of life that leave you in pain, day in and day out.

Remember, “Core stability comes from the ground up.”


Yes, I did just recommend that every single person should experiment with barefoot training, BUT there is a time and a place for it.

  1. Before implementing barefoot training in your gym setting, check with the staff to find out in what areas, if at all, you are allowed to train.

  2. NEVER walk around a gym barefoot, only kick your shoes off once you have your equipment set up and make sure that your space is safe without the potential of weights falling.

  3. Don’t drop your weights. You don’t want to see {or feel!} the outcome.

  4. Lift barefoot at your own risk. If for any reason you are lifting barefoot and something happens to you/ your body, it is nobody’s fault but your own.

  5. Do not jump straight into barefoot training. Begin in a very safe, stable environment. Start with stability exercises and, in time, progress to higher impact activities such as olympic lifting, plyometrics, running, etc.

  6. If running barefoot, be mindful of your terrain.

Barefoot training is one of the best (and cheapest!) forms of training. It will single-handedly change your posture and your gait. Overuse aches and pains will continue to dissipate and you’ll find yourself stronger and healthier overall. Give it a try (but heed the disclaimer). Kick your shoes off and start training.

Megan is a Certified Athletic Trainer, a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and an Obstacle Specialist. She took her love for obstacle course racing and her extensive knowledge of the human body to develop a new style of OCR training


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