Kick Your Shoes Off: A Beginner's Guide to Barefoot Training (Plus a 15-Minute Barefoot Workout)
I started barefoot training over half a year ago. Many a shoeless workout later, I have to say I’m loving it.
My experiment with barefoot training started when I rolled my ankle last summer. I dipped my toe in before that—but nothing encourages you to really kick off your shoes like not being able to physically FIT into them. With my ankle the size of a grapefruit, I started finding shoeless ways to move.
Months later, barefoot training transformed from something I started [almost] by accident to something I intentionally weave into my fitness routine. Working out without shoes makes me feel more grounded and mobile in my movements. If you’re curious about it—even in the slightest bit—here’s how I recommend incorporating it into your workouts.
Before You Start, Remember This: Treat Your Gym Like Someone’s Home
If the house rules state you leave your shoes at the door, leave ‘em. If gym rules state to leave your shoes on, sorry guys—you have to abide by that.
Always respect the space you’re in. Be mindful of the space, ask permission, and follow whatever response you’re given (even if it’s not the one you hoped for).
If Your Gym Allows Barefoot Training:
Throw on a pair of socks. While Compass is clean (we run a tight ship), I’m just more comfortable having a physical barrier between me and the floor. I do NOT wear grippy socks, as our gym floor has considerable traction already. If your gym has hardwood or turf, you might want socks with a bit more grip.
If Your Gym Does NOT Allow Barefoot Training:
Alright, so your gym has a strict no-shoes-no-workout policy. Hmmm, if ONLY there was a program that would let you crush KILLER workouts in the comfort of your LIVING ROOM, where YOU are the boss, and therefore YOU could go barefoot as MUCH as your little heart desires.
Wait. What about the TL*cough*Method!?
Seriously though. If your gym doesn’t allow you to train barefoot, consider doing one to two workouts per week in a space where you can. Try barefoot mobility work or a bodyweight circuit at home (which—spoiler alert—is dropped at the bottom of this post).
Why Everyone Should Train Barefoot—And What Shoes Really Do to Our Feet
In fitness, you’ll hear the phrase, “Start from the ground up.” Just as you need strong muscles in your quads and hamstrings to run sprints, you need strong feet to ground yourself in a variety of movements.
Unfortunately, we’ve grown so used to living our lives with our toes smashed into shoes. Just as a desk job (and the computer screen and chair that come with it) constrains our movements in our back, hips, and shoulders; shoes constrain the movement in our feet, toes, and ankles. The goal of barefoot training is to bring mobility and strength back to the feet, rather than rely on cushioned shoes for support.
How to Start Barefoot Training: A Beginner’s Guide
If you’ve never tried barefoot training before, you can’t expect to jump in with the same force and energy as your usual workouts. My first introduction to barefoot “training” started with COACHING, kicking my shoes off to walk in between my athletes. From there, I progressed to bodyweight circuits and finally heavy strength training.
If you’re just starting out, try these tips:
#1: Prepare Your Body
Stacey Lei Krauss, founder of the willPower Method—a bootcamp sculpting class done entirely barefoot—says, “The most important piece of advice I can give is that before you just take off your supportive shoes and go for a run, you need to make sure your feet, ankles, and lower legs are strong, flexible, and prepared.”
Consider Stacey’s advice how you consider warming-up for a heavy leg day: You need to prepare your body to lift heavy shit. In the same way, you need to prepare your feet and legs to do some serious work when no longer supported by cushioned insoles.
#2: Remember that Unfamiliar Movements Do Cause Soreness
[Keeping with our leg day analogy] If you haven’t hit a squat rack in two years plus, you will most certainly be sore the next day, yes? The same goes for barefoot training. Your feet were supported by shoes for the past 30+ years of your life. Do you really think they won’t be a little, er, surprised, to suddenly do work?
“If your feet, ankles or calves are sore the next day—it shouldn’t been seen as a badge of courage,” says Stacey, “But rather, unprepared.” Roll a tennis ball to wake up your feet before you workout. And don’t give up simply because you feel soreness afterwards, particularly in your calves and shins.
#3: Ease into It, and Only Do Moves That Feel Comfortable
You might find that some movements are not comfortably performed barefoot. To this day, I do not perform HIIT workouts or run barefoot because frankly, it makes me nervous (tore the plantar fascia once, that shit sticks with you). You might find that certain moves, like walking lunges or bulgarian split squats, are not comfortable because your foot is in dorsiflexion.
“Think of it this way,” says Stacey, “If you had your arm in a cast for 6 weeks, and the Dr. took it off for you this morning, would you just hit the gym and do pushups this afternoon?” Probably not. Take things slow, and listen to your body.
#4: Don’t Worry About Dropping a Weight on Your Foot
To this common argument, I must say two things: One, when was the last time you dropped a weight on your foot (hopefully never)? And two, do you really think your Nikes will protect your big toe from that 40 lb dumbbell you dropped? I think not.
To Start Incorporating Barefoot Training into Your Workout, Try this 15-Minute Circuit
If you want to experiment with barefoot training, I recommend starting with one to two bodyweight circuits per week. From there, you can progress to two, strictly strength workouts (attention TL Method members: Try these for your upper body and lower body workouts).
Remember: Take things slow, and notice how your body feels. Stacey ran over seven miles barefoot once, while I insist on putting my shoes on when I step foot on a treadmill—it just comes down to personal preference.
15-Minute Barefoot Bodyweight Circuit You Can Do at Home
4 Mountain Climbers to 1 Pushup
Alternating Lateral Lunge to Cross Body Twist
V-Up to Tuck In
Forearm Plank Knee Taps
(3 x :60)