While I am a huge advocate of barefoot/minimal living, I am not the biggest fan of individuals switching overnight into the barefoot lifestyle, getting injured and resorting back to their previous lifestyle of crippling their feet. I mean would you go for a 30 km run day one for your marathon training or squat 100 kg in your first ever gym session? Highly unlikely. Now imagine attempting to do either of those while wearing a cast on your foot for most of your life, NO CHANCE!
As the saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, training your feet takes time and patience. Re-establishing a connection between intrinsic muscles and sensations, re-educating appropriate stabilisation, rediscovering flexibility the foot originally had and promoting nourishment of the foot via optimal blood flow are all needed to improve whole body movements, decreasing the likelihood of future injuries or health problems.
My top 10 tips to retrain your feet to be the dominant force they once were:
- Wake up your feet = your feet have been in isolation chambers for the majority of their existence, it’s about time you wake up your little beauties and get them into action. Using a spikey ball, Shakti mats or getting reflexology are ideal for this as often as possible. Not only promoting blood flow and stimulating the intrinsic muscles, they also help to eliminate inflammation and speed up recovery while releasing tension.
- Stretch the calves = there are numerous reasons why these muscles (gastrocnemius/soleus) need to release tension on a frequent basis, here are a few:
- Gastrocnemius (calf) becomes chronically shortened due to wearing shoes with a heel and sitting on chairs.
- The tension in the calf muscles effect the tension in the whole body.
- Vital for standing and keeping you mobile.
- The major pump moving blood to the foot and ankle for nourishment.
- Connects to the Achilles tendon, which you do not want to pull or snap… ouch!
- Mobility of the foot and ankle = would you buy a car if the wheels only turned 355 degrees? No chance. Visualise your ankles and feet being the wheels unable to move correctly and the body being the consequence of this problem. If you don’t use it you lose it, which is 100% true unfortunately, especially when looking at joint mobility of the lower leg. Using resistance bands or performing foot drills will create space between the bones and joints aka traction of the joint. This allows the joint to increase its range of movement allowing blood and synovial fluid to lubricate areas increasing mobility.
- Walking barefoot on natural terrain = the best way to test joint mobility of your feet, ankles, knees, hips, is to walk over natural, varied terrain. Walking like our ancestors did allows the body to adapt through its natural state by stimulating your feet and the rest of the body. 10 to 20 minutes is the perfect amount time to challenge yourself. When used to this slowly increase the duration. Don’t to be a superhero and go for a few hours barefoot and expect sympathy from anyone.
- Decrease the angle of the heels = when switching to barefoot or minimal footwear, give underutilised muscles, bones, tissues, tendons, ligaments and fascia time to readjust. My approach to transitioning to barefoot would be to work in foot exercises alongside wearing minimalist shoes. Decreasing your heel size gradually will also assist.
- Sit on the floor = sitting in a chair is now regarded as the ‘new’ smoking. Not only destroying hips, backs, necks and knees, it also completely messes up your feet and calves! An example of this is the shortening of the calf muscles; knees in a flexed position makes it harder to get sufficient blood supply to the feet, sitting on a chair also crushes arteries, veins and capillaries on the back of the leg which starves the lower body yet again of blood and nourishment. Certain sitting postures can actually improve your foot mobility and stretch out tissues and fascia in dire need of TLC.
- Balance work and strengthen exercises = with the foot being contained in confinement for the bulk of your life, chances are the foot’s ability to maintain a stable arch to enable a strong foundation for the body is unlikely. Balance work not only strengthens the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles it also promotes proprioception, enhancing the neural connecting between the foot and brain.
- Massage the lower leg = going to a masseuse can be a relaxing and pleasurable or a pretty emotional experience depending on your pain threshold. If money is an issue you can get the same benefit from using a foam roller or a massage ball. I would recommend doing release work either first thing in the morning or before bed.
- Improve toe flexibility = since your toes have been glued together from incorrect shoes, it’s extremely important to separate these bad boys. Mobilising your toes releases bone, muscle and connective tissue allows positive foot health by improving circulation, nerve health and intrinsic strength. Use your hands by placing in between your toes or use toe separators ( Yes I have a pair and guys be prepared to get mocked if you use these).
- Mindful walking = have you ever paid attention to the way you walk? Probably not. I always get new clients to walk around, allowing me to assess foot positions during their natural gait cycle and 9/10 people are performing this action incorrectly. A slightly change to how the heel lands, continues to the midfoot and finishes off with the toe, this gets the foot moving the way it should and those muscles pumping blood.