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Barefoot Training

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

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This article is from our friends at Fitness Anywhere. Makers of the TRX Suspension trainer.

This funny looking shoe is called the Vibram FiveFingers and can be spotted all over gyms these days.

If you look at commonalities in current athletic shoe design, the trend is to provide support and stabilization throughout the foot, depending on the demand of the shoe. Additionally, extra padding is popular, and some shoes have been designed to help keep the foot “in place.” While this rationale may seem beneficial and mechanically advantageous, it can prevent the foot from moving in a natural pattern. So how do you address this? Footwear, obviously, cannot be completely omitted from training or competition as it does serve to protect our feet. The solution, according to many researchers including sports performance expert Joel Raether, may be to remove shoes for a portion of training.

But just as proper progression is essential with any good strength and conditioning program, the same applies to barefoot training. Read on as Joel explains the benefits of barefoot training and how to institute it into an existing fitness regime.

Benefits of Barefoot Training
Barefoot training has recently experienced a surge in popularity and has been shown to improve foot mobility, stability and activity. Additionally, it has been linked to increased lower limb muscle firing and greater muscle activation patterns through the kinetic chain. In some cases, there is evidence that barefoot training can even decrease lower extremity, hip and low back pain.

Appropriate Surfaces
There are several ways barefoot training can be added to a traditional strength and conditioning session. First, it is important to assess the type of surface to train on. Ideal surfaces include artificial turf, traditional basketball courts and rubberized gym floors since these surfaces provide athletes a firm yet forgiving surface beneath them.

It’s a good idea to first warm up with low level activities such as walking knee hugs, high knee hugs, shin grabs, Spiderman walks and lateral squat walks. For beginners, running or even light plyometrics should be avoided. Just as a beginner wouldn’t start off a plyometric program doing high level, intense jumping, bounding and loaded maneuvers, the same caution is warranted here.

Presence of Pain
When barefoot training is first introduced, foot and/or calf soreness is common. Be aware, however, of sharp or deep-rooted pain and residual soreness. These types of discomfort should not be present during training, just as in other training modalities. There should also be a distinction between pain and injury. If pain is present, seek professional help to determine the cause and address the problem. Until the cause has been pinpointed and corrected, cease barefoot training altogether.

After you have adapted to barefoot training, mobility drills and low level plyometric drills such as left-to-right shuffles, carioca, high knees, butt kickers, A skips and forward, backward and lateral hops may be introduced. All of these will enable you to achieve optimal benefits from being barefoot, while also adjusting to increased balance and stability. After this portion of the program has been inserted and adapted to, you can now progress to bodyweight exercise on the TRX Suspension Training and continue to challenge mobility and stability by modifying your foot position (wide and narrow stances, staggered and one foot positions), which allow the entire kinetic chain to increase performance.

While barefoot training isn’t the only effective method for foot and ankle training, it can fit into a well-structured program if used properly. Appropriately integrated and progressed into training it can be a beneficial tool to increase performance, reduce injuries and increase overall wellness and safety.

About the Author: Joel Raether is the Education Coordinator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He earned his BA and MAEd from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in Exercise Science Physiology. He is the former Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Denver and also the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Colorado Mammoth. Joel has done dietary and supplemental research and published numerous articles and books in the area of sports performance. He would like to thank Mark Roozen and Brandon Stone for their contributions to this article.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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