My feet keep me balanced, centred and they represent everything I stand for – Literally and figuratively”
Georges St Pierre
Barefoot training – an evolutionary perspective
Walking, running, and training barefoot is a little out of fashion in modern society, but back in the day of the tribe everyone was doing it. With the invention of the shoe we began to lose our connection to the earth, our grounding.
Today it is rare for us to pause and consider the importance of our feet. They evolved over tens of thousands of years to be able to give us additional information about our environment and they also play a primary role in our balance and stability. Today however we neglect them.
“My feet are the most powerful, important parts of my body, but for most of my life I ignored them”
Georges St Pierre
Georges St Pierre is arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. In his book “The way of the fight” he details how it wasn’t until his recovery phase following a serious knee injury that he started realising the significance of his feet.
I was also oblivious to the importance of my feet and it wasn’t until a chance encounter with a girl in Budapest that the seed for barefoot training would be planted.
Intelligence in the feet
The girl from Budapest “Emily” walked everywhere barefoot. Obviously prior to this I had seen people barefoot on beaches and what not, but this was the first time I met someone who thought it was a great idea to take things to the extreme. “It’s just so much more natural dude and it’s so much better for you” Emily would try to convince me.
It would take me a while to realize, but Emily was right, even if she didn’t fully understand implications of the statement herself. Don’t get me wrong you won’t catch me frequenting the shopping malls barefoot (or frequenting them at all), but it planted the seed that would later lead me to question the importance of barefoot training.
It turns out our feet are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. There are 7,200 nerve endings in each of your feet which are able to feed your brain information about the ground and your body’s relation to it.
This information can be used to determine how much balance, stability, and power we need in our movements.
Everyone loves that feeling of sand between their toes or grass underneath their feet. This however is an occasional guilty pleasure, not something to be repeated on a regular basis as it would be with barefoot training.
“We are too busy wearing shoes we think are comfortable – shoes we believe support our weight to even think about the meaning of our feet”
Georges St Pierre
Our culture has taught us that shoes are the norm and sold us the idea that they are good for us, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, particularly when it comes to training.
Shoes break our connection with the ground meaning the circuit that is responsible for all that information being sent upwards is not functioning at its full capacity. The sensations in our feet become numb and we are less aware of their presence.
Shoes also prevent us from gaining a true feeling of balance and stability in a given position. Shoes may give us support but they make our feet and ankles weaker. We compensate by under-using certain muscles and over-using others. We never get a true reading. This can lead to various kinds of structural and joint pains over time.
Think about it, we didn’t evolve wearing shoes, our biomechanical patterns were not developed wearing shoes. We evolved barefoot which allows for more sensation and more information about our bodies in relation to our surroundings.
Barefoot Training – Back to Basics
As it once was it can be again. We don’t have to follow the dogma of training in shoes. Barefoot training offers you an additional freedom. It can awaken senses you don’t even realise you have. At least this was the case for me!
“Feet are the genesis of all movements, especially in martial arts. It’s where most of the power comes from”
Georges St Pierre
Any movement starts with a solid base. This solid base is our feet. It is important not to neglect them. Allow your feet to feed you information, about your posture, balance, stability, and the ground underneath you.
Pay attention to what your feet are telling you and it will introduce an additional dimension to your training. Movements will flow smoother. Even basic movements such as Sprinting and Squatting will improve drastically.
Barefoot training even synchronizes us with the Earth’s natural electric charge. It’s sounds like something from a science fiction movie but it’s true. Everyday electronic devices such as smart-phones and laptops give off inflammatory positive ions. The Earth however has a negative ion field which helps to centre us and create and ionic balance.
As with Georges St Pierre training any other way than barefoot no longer makes sense to me. I won’t become the local hippie (not yet anyway) donning feet instead of shoes but going barefoot will definitely remain an important aspect in my training.
If you wish to improve your balance and sharpen your senses take a step in the right direction with barefoot training (pun intended :O )