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Leave your shoes at the door

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We take for granted that we leave our shoes at the door for programs such as BODYBALANCE and LES MILLS BARRE. At a guess you might surmise that bare feet is more relaxing and contributes to the essence of the programs. That too. Jacob O’Brien, Physiotherapist at Movehappy Healthcare Centre in Canberra sat down with us to discuss the benefits of no shoes and what we can do to strengthen our feet:

Why don’t we wear shoes in certain disciplines such as yoga, Pilates and barre (ballet)?

One of the main reasons for not wearing shoes during these types of exercises is building strength in smaller stabilizing muscles of the body, and challenge your body’s balance and proprioception.

Proprioception is your body’s ability to use its neuromuscular system to maintain and correct positions of the body during all tasks and knowing where your body is in space. This in turn allows your body to adapt to certain positions easier and be more stable during slow controlled movements.

What are the benefits of not wearing shoes?

Doing exercises such as these with no shoes also allows your feet to have more contact with the ground and can make you more stable when performing different poses that may be limited with rigid/supportive footwear. It also provides an opportunity for you to stretch, mobilise and strengthen the muscles of your feet and arches that would otherwise be missed in other closed shoe activities.

For participants who have issues with their feet – what should they do?

The most important thing to remember when starting exercises that are new to the body, is to scale components back and work on form! Most people spend the majority of their life wearing shoes which gives the feet some extrinsic support, so the body’s intrinsic muscles are likely weak and make you unable to perform the exercises appropriately. If you exercise with incorrect form, it may lead to injury as other structures of the body compensate and may overload.

So it is important to initially take time, work on simpler movements, and make sure that your foot posture, and entire body posture, is correct and maintained.

As well as working on larger muscle groups, strengthening smaller/stabilizing muscle groups is really important especially if you have poor foot posture. Core is also extremely important for any full body exercise and this is even more evident when performing slow and controlled movements. 

People who struggle to maintain good form with some of the exercises could try doing them in a hydrotherapy pool. This would allow you to do the specific movements with most of your body weight taken up by the buoyancy of the water. This would be a good way to progress some standing exercises as you could gradually decrease the depth of water you are in, thus increasing the weight and load on your body and slowly progressing to full weight bearing. 

How can we build strength in our feet?

In terms of foot/arch strengthening, exercises can range from simple acts of toe scrunches, to more challenging exercises like the single-leg Romanian Deadlift with a focus on lower limb control including maintaining the arch of your feet.

Any balancing exercises that challenge the way you hold yourself in space will also recruit the smaller muscles in your feet as your entire body tries to correct and maintain its position. 

So, the science is simple: it’s not just to help us relax, there are physiological reasons behind why exercises should be done with or without footwear!

*The information provided in this article is general in nature. For proper diagnosis, please consult your health care professional for personalised care*