Aug 21 / Jaspar Vowden

Benefits Of Barefoot Exercise

Barefoot training has changed the way I view exercise and movement as a whole. It has opened my eyes to some of the nuances our bodies possess, and how we can unlock our hidden potential the further we delve into these subtle details. Today I wish to discuss some of the vital functions of our feet and how they play a massive role in our overall physical health, how this dictates our longevity of health, and even improves our athletic abilities. Before we continue, I have linked a YouTube video below that I created in 2022 discussing these benefits if you wish to check that out.

So, let's start with a little story.....
In 2014, I qualified to become a Personal Trainer. This was a fresh start and an exciting time in my life. As I gained more experience, I wanted to become the best trainer I possibly could, so I continued to explore a variety of different training protocols, eventually discovering the importance of barefoot health. But this didn't come in the form of a published study, or stumbling across a YouTube video, it came in the form of a running injury. 

To give some context, we need to go back a few years. As a kid, I was quite a good runner. I come from a family of trampers and runners, so it's kind of in my blood. Now in adulthood, I had lost my ways in a sense. I didn't really run in my early adult years, apart from kicking a football around with my mates from time to time. When I was about 9 years old, I became sick with chronic fatigue for about 6 or 7 years, and when I recovered I basically found the gym as my way of rebuilding some form of health and athleticism. So naturally, coming from a bodybuilding and power-lifting mentality, when I decided to give running another go, I had this 'go hard or go home' mentality. I chucked on some shoes, headed out the door, thought to myself 'I used to be a good runner, this should be easy' and took off without really thinking too far ahead. During my first run, I injured both of my knees. I was stubborn, misinformed, and had the gift/curse of youthful ignorance on my side. So I continued to run through injury after injury until I eventually developed plantar fasciitis. And it came on without any prior warning.

One day I was out for an easy run and 'BANG', out of nowhere it felt as though someone had driven a hot knife right through the centre of my foot. It stopped me in my tracks and I hobbled over to the side of the pavement. I took off my shoe and could feel a largely inflamed area that was protruding from the bottom of my foot. I gave it a bit of self massage and after some time, managed to get back on my feet and limp my way home. And here began the journey of regaining good foot health.


The first time I discovered these weird looking shoes was while reading the book 'born to run'. And one of the guys mentioned in the story was running in these shoes, healing his injuries, and improving his running times. I was immediately intrigued, and started looking more into them. And by a struck of good fortune, my girlfriend at the time (now wife) stumbled across a pair of these shoes known as the Vibram Five Fingers in a 2nd hand store (thrift shop). They were in my size, they were in great condition, and cost about a fifth of the price of a new pair. She surprised me and came home with them one day, and I've been a fan of them ever since.

See, the problem with a lot of modern day footwear is that they do not allow our feet to 'express themselves' correctly. Essentially, they do not allow our feet to be feet. Our feet are naturally very dexterous, mobile, reactive, and springy. A lot of information is passed on from our feet to our brain when we are in motion. Our feet can claw onto objects and splay out wider for balance. They can flatten or shorten depending on the motion we are performing, all while surveying the environment, acting as another brain. However, when we stuff them into restrictive footwear that cuts off thee signals to our bodies and reshapes the anatomy of our feet, eventually we run into problems. Chronic injuries like plantar fasciitis, bunions, and other problems that start to creep their way up our bodies in the form of compensation injuries through our shins, knees, hips, & spine start to show face. If we do not at least preserve some level of functionality in our feet, the rest of our bodies eventually suffer. Fortunately though, we can reverse a lot of damage and begin rebuilding our foot health through focusing on foot specific exercises, using tools like toe spreaders/spacers, and wearing more naturally shaped footwear when possible, to bring a bit of life back to our precious feet.   

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Foot Functions

Our feet have some vital functions that allow them to operate correctly. Remember, if our footwear restricts the anatomy and also the physiology (the way they move), then this will effect our foot health in some way, shape, or form.
Now, If our feet are in good health and alignment, this will have a positive benefit on how we move day to day ranging anywhere from simply walking to other forms of exercise like running, jumping, squatting, or deadlifting for example.
The more functional our feet are, the greater chance we have of landing more efficiently on them every step we take resulting in improved biomechanics and less chance of compensatory patterns occurring that lead to chronic injury. Now obviously fixing the feet will not immediately fix our entire body (that would be wishful thinking) however they do play a major role in our overall movement patterns and how this effects the rest of our body upstream. If we are better balanced and stronger in our foundation, the rest of our body will benefit.

Toe Splay

One major function is the ability our toes have to splay. This means they can spread out to widen our base, enhancing our balance & stability of the rest of our body. Our big toe plays a major role here as it has a greater surface area than the rest of our toes to provide support, and can produce a lot of power when we toe off while running or even walking. The ability of the big toe to splay and flex while running comes into play after our foot and ankle pronate (roll inwards) when we land and then as we push off the foot to continue to propel us forward, the big toe provides the stability and the power to drive through the ground with greater force and continue our forward motion. The splay also comes into effect if we are simply standing still and putting on some pants or drying ourselves after a shower; simple day-to-day activities require this stability especially as we grow older and our overall physical abilities start to decline, making it even more important to keep it functioning as much as possible.

Sensory Receptors

There is 200,000 nerve endings found in our feet. They send information from our feet to our body which we receive whenever we take a step. This information can help our body be more balanced, improve proprioception, and survey our environment. The more information we have, the better we move. Now, this doesn't mean being barefoot everywhere is a good idea, there's a time and a place for everything. But walking around barefoot in a safe environment such as your home, and making better choices towards your footwear can be a great place to start.

Myofascial Release

It's just a fancy word for massage. But it's a very simple & effective way to start releasing tension in the tissue of the feet, bringing back some elasticity & mobility, and also awakening the sensory receptors. Here's a video on how to do this

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So to conclude this discussion, the message is simple. The more we take care of our feet, the better we move. Part of our longevity of health relies on it. And with simple steps, we can gradually improve our foot health without too much effort. If you wish to join the discussion on not just foot health, but holistic health in general, then sign up to Humanised Training for free and you are immediately part of the community where we have a private platform to discuss ideas, share our stories, and support each other. And if you wish to take your health to the next level, we also offer different levels of subscriptions that provide you with all of the training programs and tools to up-level your life and unleash your true potential. Sign up today and join the growing community. All the best and I'll talk to you soon.

Cheers, Jaspar

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Founder of Humanised Training

Jaspar Vowden

Hi there, I'm Jaspar. I've been a qualified Personal Trainer since 2014, immersing myself in 1 on 1 training ever since. I love helping people and seeing them progress not only in the gym, but also in a holistic sense and seeing that carry over into the rest of their lives. I founded Humanised Training to connect more people and help them realise their inner potential. I'm obsessed with training, currently focusing on obstacle racing which is quite the buzz! I hope you find Humanised Training helpful, supportive, and fun! See you in the community, Cheers!

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