The Barefoot Experience

I have a new client, let’s call him Myke. Like many that come to see me, Myke has been away from his fitness for quite some time, and has put on a few extra pounds. Unlike many that come to me, Myke used to be a professional athlete, and actually has won a championship in his sport. Did I mention that he has knee-injury-sm-300x200.jpgalso had three knee surgeries on one knee, and two on the other? Myke has made a few sacrifices in the pursuit of the trophies he has in his living room, and for him and many other professional athletes, a beatdown on the body is often part of that price they pay.

So now I have an overweight guy with bad knees, who wants to feel better & get more fit, but we have to be careful and aware of what we’re doing, or we can cause more injury. More injury = bad. No new injuries = good.

man-squatting-sm-229x300.jpgI do the first thing that I do with most clients, I set him up to squat. No weight. No barbell, just moving the body up and down. Of course, we start with a more “shallow” depth, since sometimes a deeper squat can, in fact, be hard on already tender knees. I see a couple things that could be fixed, and I decide to have him take his shoes off. He kinda looks at me, saying that he’s never squat barefoot, even back in his pro days. We do a few more squats, and he says, “Wow, that doesn’t hurt at all!” By making this one small change, I’ve changed his movement and additionally, his feedback pattern to allow for a more naturally intelligent movement.

Am I a magician? No. Will everyone that squats without shoes suddenly be able to move like a gymnast? Maybe, but maybe not. But what I have found, over and over, is that allowing the body to have good contact with the ground provides feedback to tap into the body’s natural intelligence. As it turns out, your body is probably smarter than you think.

bare-feet-sm-211x300.jpgThe bottom of your foot has over 100,000 nerve endings. When you put on your socks and shoes with all that sweet padding, you’re dampening that feedback loop. Think of putting on oven mittens, and then going about your day. Just picture that! Without the feedback that all the nerve endings in your hands provide, it would be very challenging to even try to pic up your phone, crack an egg, or make your favorite paleo treat. All that feedback that you get from the stuff around you is important!

The same thing applies to your feet! I’ve found that one of my favorite things to do, especially in the summer months, is to walk barefoot. It’s actually the cue for my brain that summer is actually here! Even better, I find that walking in a little bit of gravel not only slows me down, but really makes me conscious about how I’m placing my feet onto the ground, and how my weight in transferred throughout my body.

There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in those wonderful appendages that attach to your toenails. There is a LOT going on in there. Your feet are actually made to spread and contort and react to the surface your walking on, telling you whether to walk tenderly, or to pick up the pace. There is more and more evidence that walking barefoot on a regular basis allows the foot to do what it naturally does best; support your body. There are a litany of stories of people with problems in joints up and down the body, foot to knee to hip, that are “miraculously” solved by going barefoot. Your feet are your base, and they’ve taken 4 million years of evolution to get where they are. Last years super-cushy-pump-up shoe tech may seem to be helpful, but it turns out, over and over, that sometimes the foot just needs your shoes to get out of the way.

dMarco-300x300.jpgFor the guy I mentioned above, Myke, taking his shoes off allowed him to move better, and squat without pain for the first time in years. It wasn’t long before we got a barbell out and started to get his strength numbers back up. For others, heading out on a walk without shoes may help not only freshen your day, but allow for all those nerve endings to get excited again!

Now, I get that our feet need protection. I’m not going to walk down Times Square in NYC barefoot, but if you can get out to a park or the like and get those toes into the grass or sand, it feels so good! If you can find a way to move, play frisbee, toss a ball, or other outdoor fun with nothing to separate you from this magnificent Earth…your putting a little play in your Paleo!

Max Shippee

Max Shippee is the owner and head coach for CrossFit 1440. Using the CrossFit and Paleo template, he’s helped numerous people reach both their fitness and beach season goals. While his gym focuses on CrossFit, Max loves showing people that fitness can be an anywhere thing, not just in the gym. Recognizing that we never stop learning, he holds several certificates in not only CrossFit but also weightlifting, nutrition, and heart rate training. He’s a husband to one and a father to three, and can also be seen on television from time to time. Find him on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.