Just this morning I had a revelation that was so logical and so obvious, that I am embarrassed that I had not given it more energy earlier. In my training program I speak of the importance of functional strength and the benefits associated with working synergistically and how important it is to avoid exercises that isolate muscles. And here all along, we’ve been training in shoes!
It occurred to me what a ridiculous proposition it was to offer so much gravity to integration and synergy for balance and stability, and not considering the importance of training in the purest of scenarios, in bare feet. For the rest of the day, I was bubbling with ideas and new found enthusiasm while training my clients; first command, take off your shoes and socks! Huh? Do what? Then I proceeded to bust out a whole bag of new and entertaining stimulation for those feet to deliver back to its message center the Central Nervous System or “CNS”.
Really, it was a startling bit of realization on my part. I am not afraid to admit; after having just finished writing an entire training manual on Natural Running, extolling the virtues and importance of the afferent feedback that the feet provide us in determining muscular recruitment patterns etc. All while wearing shoes! Now in my defense, I am not dead asleep; I have on many occasions had my running clients shed their running shoes to perform form drills on the infield of a track and I do wear zero drop, light weight shoes while strength training, but still, I don’t see it as being enough.
The bottom of our feet and especially the mid-to forefoot region are so sensitive to ground force that covering them while you are tuning (I said it right), tuning your body, any covering, no matter how light muddies the signals that our CNS depends on for movement reaction.
It became blaringly obvious to me as we performed some dynamic plyometric drills with and without shoes, how dramatically different the subjects responded to ground force.
I want to be clear; I do not advocate running barefoot on unnatural surfaces, certainly not without the proper development to the bone structures of the feet, which takes quite a while. But now, with the experimentation of today’s training sessions, I have come to realize the importance of training barefoot.
It is almost as if you were to try and use a computer that is asking for a password that you don’t have, you are not getting in! You can pound on the keyboard until you wake up the neighbors, but no information is coming back to you from that computer until you unlock the code.
I wish I could demonstrate the specifics of what I learned in this article but is really something that defies explanation without witnessing it yourself. What I observed was a client that tends to be very rigid by nature, when doing a simple depth jump, instead of absorbing the eccentric energy into the decelerating musculature, she tends to hang on to the impact of landing in a jarring fashion. It traditionally seemed that no amount of instruction, coaching or demonstration from me would cause her to be able to garner the benefits of the exercise and effectively.
Except for today, with this big “cat that ate the canary grin” on my face as I had her take off her shoes. Like magic it all happened, just as the body was designed to perform given the opportunity to read the appropriate signals. As a matter of fact, had I never said a word and placed her in the predicament of having to jump down to the ground in bare feet, her body would have known exactly what to do. Then I was so fired up, I started to produce a host of challenge’s just to see how far we can take this experiment, and it was something to behold.
Here I am just about to turn 60 years old and training athletes for the better part of my life and today, I was given what seemed like the gift of sight! I woke up and everything became very clear to me. The only downside that I see is that I have to go back to my training manual and re-write my chapter on functional strength for runners. I’ll have to take a whole series of new pictures for demonstration purposes but you know what? I am good with it, because I just got smarter and I now can distinguish the Forest from the Trees!