Jan 29, 2015
Going Barefoot

As the barefoot running craze continues to pick up steam, athletes, athletic trainers, and strength coaches can’t help but wonder if barefoot training would be advantageous for them, too. Art Horne, MEd, ATC, CSCS, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach for the men’s basketball team and Interim Director of Sports Performance at Northeastern University, will address this topic in a minicourse on Wednesday morning. Horne authored an article for T&C just last year about how he uses barefoot training with the men’s basketball players. Here are a few excerpts from the article to whet your appetite for this minicourse.

The idea behind barefoot training is that developing these muscles improves foot and ankle function, while also providing benefits up the entire kinetic chain. Barefoot proponents point to increased proprioception related to the movement of the feet and ankles in time and space, lower impact forces due to reduced heel strike, higher efficiency in running as measured by lower oxygen consumption, and an increase in bone density throughout the foot and ankle.

Humans’ relationship with shoes is a surprisingly complex one, involving both physical and psychological elements. For example, in a 1997 study, researchers had subjects repeatedly step onto and off of a box, each time landing on a pad made of material commonly found in shoe insoles. The material was the same each time, but the authors used different terms to describe the landing pad, and found that participants landed with greatest impact forces when stepping down onto surfaces described with words like “advanced technology” and “used in the most expensive sneakers.”

The authors noted the natural human tendency “to be less cautious when using new devices of unknown benefit because of overly positive attitudes associated with new technology and novel devices.” If that’s true, it may mean today’s athletes, who wear more and more advanced footwear and often receive custom tape jobs before each practice and competition, pay less attention than ever to the fundamentals of foot movement and function, possibly harming their performance and increasing their risk for injury. Barefoot training can help reverse those practices.

So what does the barefoot portion of a workout actually look like? For us, it begins with cold stretching, including plantar fascia rolls, foam rolling, and standard static pre-workout stretches. We’ll then put the athletes through a series of simple dynamic movements and agility ladder drills such as skips in all directions, butt kickers, spidermans, toe kicks, inchworms, and shuffles in all directions.

Next come mobility drills, such as lunges in various planes, hurdle walks/duck-unders, single-leg reaches in multiple planes, and various balance activities such as one-quarter jump-and-lands on one or two legs, hops, balancing on one leg with eyes closed, single-leg chopping patterns with core balls, and light bounding.

We also use our barefoot training time as an opportunity to develop the core with a number of upright standing exercises, such as partner anti-rotation, cable chops, and resisted lumbar cable extensions. By placing the athletes in positions that imitate live basketball action but without the usual support of their shoes, we enhance the sport-specific foot and ankle sensory system. And by improving the foot’s tactile feedback and gripping strength, we provide benefits not only for the foot and ankle complex but all the way up the kinetic chain to the knee, hip, and lumbar spine.

At the end of a barefoot session, stretching and recovery includes strap stretches and foam rolling. We also use light jogging in the cooldown portion of some workouts, along with locomotion patterns such as walking with toes and feet pointed in, out, and up, walking on toes, shuffling in circular patterns, and backward jogging and running.

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