If you've ever been to one of our classes or personal training sessions, you'll know that rather than working out in running shoes, we encourage all our clients to exercise either in bare feet, or soft ballet shoes. 'Is this really necessary?!' I hear you ask, as you expose your reluctant pinkies to daylight for the first time in a while... Well, the benefits may reach further than you think....
Working barefoot allows the feet to move, flex, point, and generally feel the floor. Not only is this an essential element of dance movement, a recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that it can benefit the whole body.
The researchers compared the effects of 3 different types of footwear (barefoot, minimal footwear, and standard running shoes) on the forces that travelled through runners' bodies when landing from a single leg jump.
First they looked at dynamic stability, which is a measure of how long it takes the landing leg to absorb the impact of the landing, and transition from a moving state to a stable one. They found that dynamic stability was significantly improved (meaning balance was recovered more quickly) when participants were barefoot vs wearing running shoes. Next they looked at the amount of force traveling down through the foot on landing (peak vertical force) and the speed at which this force travelled (impact load rate). Again, both were significantly reduced in the barefoot and minimal footwear conditions.
These results suggest that working without shoes can improve the body's ability to quickly recover balance and absorb impact following a jump or transfer of weight. While it's possible that this is because the barefoot jumpers were feeling more cautious, and took smaller, more tentative jumps, it is also likely that letting your feet feel the floor increases the amount of feedback travelling to the central nervous system, allowing the brain to perceive, plan, and execute more controlled movements. Either way, the benefits are clear both for dancers seeking fluidity of movement, and for exercisers wanting to improve their overall strength, stability, and control. Stay well everyone!
Beth Jones, PhD x
*Disclaimer! Always proceed with care when starting to work without shoes, particularly if any impact is involved. Seek specialist advice and, most importantly, work on a suitable surface such as a sprung floor.
Source: Bowser, BJ et al. Effect of Footwear on Dynamic Stability during Single-leg Jump Landings. Int J Sports Med 2017; Epub ahead of print. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28388780