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Why You Should Go Barefoot

A human foot is composed of 26 bones, 33 joints and a hundred-plus muscles, ligaments and tendons that work in concert to flex, grip, stabilize and respond to whatever comes their way. But for as literally grounding as feet are to a body, they are largely—and surprisingly—overlooked.

“The root of almost all of our movement is the foot,” says Emily Splichal, a podiatrist and specialist in human movement and barefoot training, who is on a mission to get people back in touch with their feet. “It is probably the most complex area of the body when it comes to biomechanics.”

Biomechanical complexity aside, pregnancy can bring on a host of foot discomforts, from temporary swelling to a permanent increase in shoe size. That’s not to mention hormonal changes, including the presence of joint-loosening relaxin and increased body weight, which can contribute to slight alterations in a foot’s normal state resulting in problems: a callus, a neuroma, fallen arches.

But feet don’t act alone. Similar to how pain in one area of the body often signals a problem elsewhere in the corporeal chain, Splichal bases her barefoot training on a “from-the-ground-up” philosophy, reestablishing connections between the feet and the core. “[Many people] don’t realize that a lot of foot issues that they are experiencing are because of a shift or delay in the function of the neuromuscular control of the core,” she explains. And with pregnancy making it more challenging to work the all-important torso region, being aware of the foot-core link becomes even more essential.

Ditch the Shoes…At Least Some of the Time

When it comes to factors that facilitate losing touch with your feet, footwear is one of the main culprits. Splichal contends that even standing on a mat while working out barefoot or wearing socks doesn’t allow a foot to truly operate like it should.

So what can we do—with feet fully bare—to get reconnected? “Stand on one leg,” she recommends, adding that simply walking around barefoot will also strengthen feet over time. (To challenge yourself further, try, for example, a few single-leg squats.)

She also prescribes a move called “short foot,” which strengthens the muscle of the foot that elevates the arch: While standing with your weight on one foot, pick up your toes on that foot, spread them and place them back on the ground, driving your big toe into the floor for several seconds. Your arch will lift. Perform the move on each foot a few times a day, say, while brushing your teeth or watching TV.

Being aware of how you take each step can also re-program things from the bottom up. “It should be a continuous fluidity of motion that rolls all the way through the big toe,” Splichal explains, noting that she routinely sees gaits that strike sharply at the beginning of a step and peter out from there. “In basketball, you throw the ball and you have a follow-through with your hand. It should be the exact same thing [when you walk].”

For more on barefoot training, check out Splichal's new book, Barefoot Strong: Unlock the Secrets to Movement Longevity.
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