photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nike_Shox
Have you ever trained barefoot? Do you lift weights without wearing shoes? These aren’t crazy questions to ask.
Training with a minimalist approach isn’t some new idea that just started being implemented into the strength and conditioning and performance communities. The idea of using a minimalist approach when it comes to footwear has been in the powerlifting community for quite some time.
The infamous “Chucks” sneaker has been using in the powerlifting circuit due to its sturdy bottom as well as a decreased amount of space between the soul of the foot and the ground.
Photo credit: http://www.cheapconverseshoes.org.uk/images/trainers/leather-hitop-converse-black-large.jpg
In most recent years, sneakers such as Nike Shox and other ones with increased heel lifts have been put on the market to consumers. These consumers then use these shoes to exercise and can create a whole host of issues in the kinetic chain.
From plantar fasciitis to anterior knee pain to low back pain, training in footwear that has an increased heel lift can do more harm than good.
1. Decreased Ankle Mobility
Shoes that possess an increased heel lift place the user's foot/ankle in a position of plantarflexion. By placing their foot in plantarflexion and wearing them throughout the day for 8-12 hours, the posterior ankle musculature, specifically gastroc-soleus, posterior tibialis, flexor hallucis longus and flexor digitorum, are placed in a shortened position. This can increase tone throughout those muscles and in turn decrease the available dorsiflexion range of motion necessary to squat, deadlift, run, etc.
Photo credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a0/Sobo_1909_579-580.png
If mobility is limited at one joint, the body will find a way to compensate somewhere else, usually at the knee to pick up the slack.
So what do we do?
First off, ditch the shoes with a big heel lift. Start wearing something with a little less heel lift throughout the day to allow for normal mobility of the ankle and to allow for extensibility of the posterior calf musculature.
Second, do not try to train THROUGH an ankle mobility limitation. To test your ankle mobility, try the "Knee to Wall Test" or the "Closed Chain Dorsiflexion Test."
-Start 4 inches away from the wall.
-Don’t allow for valgus collapse at the knee.
-Keep heel flat on the ground.
In order to run and squat effectively, 4 inches/40 degrees is necessary to avoid compensation/injury elsewhere.
If your ankle mobility is limited, try performing Self-Myofascial Release to the posterior calf musculature.
For more information regarding ankle mobility and possible limitations, you can check out my guest post on Dr. John Rusin.com:
10 Exercises to Instantly Improve Ankle Mobility: drjohnrusin.com/10-exercises-to-instantly-improve-ankle-mobility/
2. Impaired Proprioception
By wearing thick, dense shoes when training, this can decrease the proprioceptive capability of the muscles in the foot and ankle. This can, in turn decrease the foot and ankle’s ability to assist in stabilizing the lower leg.
Basically, by not having adequate proprioception at the foot and ankle, you are leaving strength and/or power on the table by trying to work on an unstable base.
By training with a minimalist shoe such as the New Balance Minimus,
Photo credit: https://roadrunnersports.scene7.com/is/image/roadrunnersports/NBA1608-BKGD001?iv=Ebyrd3&wid=1314&hei=1050&fit=fit,1
Or using Pedestal Footwear socks and going barefoot,
Photo credit: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0705/5743/files/event_shots-184_large.jpg?10038593293534058078
you can provide sufficient proprioception to the foot and ankle because a heavy shoe isn’t impairing the body’s ability to “feel the ground” and provide a stable base.
The process of “rooting” or stabilizing through the foot is imperative when it comes to moving serious weight. Rooting involves developing a tripod foot, or a stable foot consisting of major contact points between the 1st and 5th Metatarsals as well as the heel.
photo credit: http://www.easyvigour.net.nz/casestudy/pfoottripod.gif
By using these 3 points of contact through “rooting” the foot into the ground, this can in turn create major stability at the foot/ankle and also help to activate the glutes to control the knee position during the squat and deadlift. By activating the hip musculature, this can also help to protect the SI joint and lumbar spine by stabilizing it through the hips.
100% anecdotal: I have found that by “rooting my feet into the floor” or trying to “dial out the floor” or whatever cue helps you, my lifts have felt much better than trying to just push my feet into the ground and hope for the best.
Using a minimalist shoe or Pedestal sock, it will be much easier to “root” into the ground because a big, bulky shoe isn’t in your way making it more difficult.
By using a minimalist approach when it comes to footwear, this can help to improve ankle mobility, proprioception, and rooting capabilities.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.