Training from the Ground Up

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Getting up close and personal with people’s feet isn’t the most glamorous thing in the world!  It kinda stinks!  Get it, stinky feet- it’s okay to laugh….

In an attempt to stabilize and provide comfort for ourselves we have weakened our feet and ankles to the point that we cannot function properly.  In the day of cushioned shoes, orthotics and any number of other footwear that is supportive and cushions impact we have a hard time simply moving the correct way.

One amazing example was from an awesome client I had in this morning.  She is an avid runner and understands her body well.  However she came to train in her running shoes and we couldn’t perform simple exercises.  I had her remove the shoes for her SL RDL and squats and we saw immediate improvements and functionality in the movement.    

This wasn’t an accident.  The lift of the heel and mold of the shoe threw off her balance and did not allow her to properly feel the ground to adjust her movement.  By directly placing her foot in contact with the ground she was able to feel her movements better and obtain the correct positioning of her body. 

Why in the world does this work?

Let’s take a look at some of the latest shoes on the market:

These shoes have a high heel lift and change the mechanics of our body.  While it might be nice to have this cushion when running it is not great for training.  I would even argue that it isn’t great for much in the terms of running or functionality in general.

When we look at high tops or shoes that provide a lot of support we start to limit the range of motion and mobility of the ankle and foot.  When we do this we place knees in jeopardy. 

Going barefoot?

I don’t think people should jump right into barefoot training however.  The Vibram shoes and other minimalist shoes are very popular right now but not always the best choice to jump right into.   Going completely barefoot or minimalist without progressing and allowing your body to adapt is like trying to squat 500 lbs before you learn to do it with bodyweight.   

There should be steps or progressions to moving towards training or living with minimal support on your feet.

The first step is to start with just the warm up in no shoes.  This is a great way to awaken the muscles in the feet and ankles and improve your strength.  It is very liberating to actually feel the ground and changes in balance as you warm up in bare feet. 









After this I would recommend getting a shoe that has little support, is light and flexible.  Examples are Nike Frees, New Balance Minimalist and Reebok RealFlex.   These shoes are great to walk around in daily and there are different levels of stability and cushion for most of them. 

I have heard amazing things about the New Balance Minimalist that just came out. 

I would recommend wearing your new minimalist shoes for a few hours a day adding time in them each week.  It can take some time to get used to wearing these shoes daily.  

You can start by training in them.  After your warm up put the shoes on and perform your strength training.  During certain moves you may need to remove the shoes to feel the ground and perform the movements well.

The one downside to most of these shoes is the lack of lateral support if you are doing movements that require lateral motion or athletic change of direction.  My favorite shoes to perform these movements in are the Nike Free Trainers or Free TRs.


I would recommend that everyone get a pair of minimalist shoes and start wearing them immediately.   You will notice how much better you feel and move after changing to this type of shoe.

When should I go barefoot?

I don’t know if it is required that you go barefoot at all? 

I think that walking in a minimalist shoe is great and all that most will need.  If you wish to make the transition to barefoot training and living the Vibrams are a great solution and you would use the same progression.   Use them for training and walking for a few hours a day and add time each week until you build the strength to wear them all the time. 
If you do wear them be prepared for lots of questions on your funny shoes, although they are becoming more popular.

I would also recommend that you go barefoot or in socks during certain strength movements.  Most movements that require a hip hinge or posterior chain dominant movements are better suited for barefoot training. 

Things like Single Leg RDL and Deadlifts, Deadlifts of all types, kettlebell swings and much more.  Even squatting can be done barefoot. 

Lunging and splits squats require a bit of caution when going barefoot because it is easy to tear up your back foot and big toe with these movements.  It just isn’t a pleasant feeling. 

You will get the biggest bang for your barefoot buck in single leg and hip dominant movements. 

Give them a try and let me know what you think.  It might open a whole new world of training. 

You might also alleviate some of the nagging knee and hip problems that you have been having for years after wearing the supportive shoes that are so “good” for you.

If you have any questions about shoes or training barefoot let me know! 

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Showing 3 comments
  • Rod

    Awesome blog post, Ryan! I am a huge fan of the New Balance Minimus line. I train in the “trail” model and I’m a huge fan. I have no problem with lateral change of direction movements; there really isn’t an elevation in the sole at all. My lateral “cuts” have actually improved! I can really feel the ground and explode through the ball of y foot. I’m anxious to try out their new cross-training shoe. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.
    I’m right with you man, I encourage everyone to try your warm up barefoot. When you get there, the barefoot dead lift, RDL, or single-leg exercise will likely feel totally different. You are able to use the intrinsic muscles in your feet to make minute adjustments, which makes for improved balance and correct activation/ recruitment patterns (turning the right muscles “on and off” at the right times). Hippies have it right…less is more when it comes to training footwear.

  • Angie

    So would you recommend a New Balance Minimus cross-training model if you are using it for training only?

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