Lose the shoes to improve your fitness training and workout experience

By Casi Rynkowski

“Take off your shoes and go warm up…”

My clients are often surprised by that comment. I am a barefoot trainer and believe there are great benefits to training without shoes.

“What if I drop a weight on my toe?” We should probably address grip strength if this happens; no amount of canvas will shield you from the carnage. In other words, don't let weight dropping be a deterrent. Spraining an ankle in cushioned running shoes is just as likely.

Our bodies are intricate machines and every part is connected. Compensation in your feet and ankles affects you right up to your knees, neck and shoulders. I have my own alignment problems caused by a variety of issues but after switching to barefoot-workouts, zero-drop trail running shoes and a good rehab program, I am now pain-free and back on track.

Training barefoot can help improve balance, stability, and coordination. Photo courtesy of Casi Rynkowski

But how does barefoot training benefit my fitness, you ask?

Proprioception is the number one advantage of a barefoot workout. Just as your eyes tell you what you're seeing, proprioception tells you where your body is in space. Think of it as a sensory input. Wearing shoes masks some of that input, kind of like how sunglasses mask some of the sunlight on a bright day. Good proprioception helps you translate balance, stability, and coordination. Paddleboarding is one the best forms of proprioception training out there and we usually do it without shoes.

Ever try to race or surf on a paddleboard with big clunky shoes? Didn't think so. So why do it in the gym?

We athletes work hard developing power and creating force, all of which are transmitted through our feet. Shove a spongy cushion under your feet and some of this force inevitably gets lost in translation. By losing the unnecessary fluff under our feet, athletes maximize the return of their invested effort.

Tiny muscles and ligaments in your feet and ankles play a crucial role connecting your larger muscles to the ground. Athletes tend to focus on developing the larger muscles and sometimes ignore the development of supporting structures. But without sound support from your feet and ankles, you can't develop your primary movers. Barefoot training allows you to develop the muscles and ligaments in your ankles and feet to create a stronger base for the big guys like your quads, glutes and core.

Sometimes training barefoot just isn't practical. But using a minimalist shoe can give you the same experience. Photo courtesy of Casi Rynkowski

I’m not proposing you toss your workout shoes out the door. Many facilities don't allow barefoot training. Additionally, there are some types of movements that are better done in shoes, such as plyometrics and jump rope, where there is higher stress on ligaments and tendons. Your feet also require protection during outdoor activities but you can choose shoes that give a better barefoot sensation.

Minimalist shoes are designed to mimic barefoot running, allowing you to feel more of the surface under your feet.

If you're buffing and shining your pups right now to get them ready for their workout debut, consider this…Rome was not built in a day and most of us have had years of wearing shoes for every activity. Simply spending more time barefoot is a good place to start before taking the concept to your workouts. Go barefoot doing bodyweight exercises and then slowly add in agility and movements on balance trainers like an air cushion or BOSU ball. If you like what you feel, you then can make the switch to a minimalist shoe for outdoor activity, where you will really feel the rewards from freeing your souls from the cushy shoes beneath them.

About the author: Since 2007, Casi Rynkowski has been living her dream as a personal trainer, training athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and those who want to live a healthier lifestyle. Her passion for outdoor fitness exploded when she launched her business, exposing clients to the idea of fitness beyond four wall. Surfing, stand up paddling, rock climbing, ice climbing, hiking and trail running became her tools for training. Her clients not only found new ways to cross-train outdoors, they found new passions for life. 

Today you will find Casi teaching paddling classes, conducting clinics and guiding paddling camps across the US, as well as crafting all kinds of outdoor adventures for fitness enthusiasts. She loves engaging with people of all levels of experience and providing them with quality instruction and knowledge necessary to build their confidence to step outside their comfort zone.

See also:

SUP Sculpting: Land-To-Water Workout

Five Land Activities to Supplement your SUP