Updated: Jul 3
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Do you remember running around or just being barefoot in the grass as a child in the summer? Why did that feel so good? And what’s with this craze of wearing shoes and socks that separate out the toes? As it turns out, there are two very good reasons for these which I will outline in this post. They are related to your body’s mechanical and electrical systems.
Reason #1: Barefoot Biomechanics
Back in 2012, I bought a pair of the minimalist “5-finger” shoes after learning about the merits of these shoes. The science behind the way these can favorably alter human movement patterns became lived experience for me. As a lifelong runner, I had started running completely barefoot on a high school track a few weeks prior to my purchase.
Within 6 weeks’ time, I noticed differences in my feet. The toes on my slightly larger right foot had become “crooked” over time, a fate I initially attributed to my age at the time (42) and being a runner.
Somehow within mere weeks of wearing these shoes and/or going barefoot when feasible, my right foot toes literally straightened out. It was as though I had worn braces for my toes as one would orthodontia to straighten misaligned teeth.
In addition, my left foot developed a noticeable arch, when previously, there was only a very low arch. My feet began to look different, too, taking on newfound muscle definition.
Almost instantly, I noticed how I was moving my body differently when standing, walking, or running as the order, sequence, and magnitude of muscle activity brought me into greater balance. Mild aches and pains that I had previously accepted as something I had to tolerate seemed to vanish.
Here are some ways that wearing “barefoot” or no shoes can affect your movement for the better:
- Your toes and forefeet can spread when you are on your feet. This is important for balance, establishing a correct and more complete foundation for the other lower body. Bunions and other foot injuries can be prevented or improved.
- If you run, this encourages a midfoot strike, meaning that your foot strikes the ground directly under your center of gravity. There is actually less impact as your body quickly learns the proper midfoot strike with its associated higher cadence (foot turnover).
- This can support the development of the arch. Good minimalist “zero-drop” shoes actually hug the arch rather than being completely flat.
- It capitalizes on the body’s muscle & connective tissue network, i.e., the body’s “rubber bands” to facilitate efficient movement. The calf muscles are thus able to lengthen appropriately during your stride cycle, preventing tight calves.
- Good posture is supported because your pelvis and spine can stay in a more neutral position in which you can better access your hamstrings, glutes, and core/abdominal muscles. Traditional shoes tend to tilt the pelvis forward, tightening hip flexors and low back muscles in addition to the calves.
Implementing the Barefoot Approach in Your Life
Please use appropriate judgment when implementing the barefoot approach in your life. Barefoot shoes are not for everyone. If you currently have an actively inflamed foot injury, for example, consult a doctor and/or wait until the inflammation subsides to begin going barefoot.
Even if you are not injured, start conservatively by first going barefoot or wearing barefoot/minimalist shoes around the house for casual activities. If you are a walker or runner, build up your barefoot time gradually to allow the muscles and tendons of the body to adapt to this without getting too sore or injured. My first foray with running completely barefoot on a high school track for 1.25 miles resulted in significant calf soreness that lasted for days. (To put this into perspective, I could easily run 10 miles at the time. Even starting with 1.25 barefoot miles was too much!)
Yes, I do run on pavement in these shoes and have safely run half marathons in them. but would like to emphasize this does not necessarily mean that you should. More forgiving surfaces can be found on a high school or college track, dirt trail, or grassy field.
Another option is to purchase "toe socks" to wear under regular or minimalist shoes to better access the small muscles of the toes and feet.
Reason #2: Grounding the Body’s Electrical System
The surface of the Earth has a slight negative charge created by the sun, lightning, and molten lava deep in its core. It can supply an infinite number of electrons to the body when said body is in direct contact with the Earth. Why and how would one do this?
“Illnesses do not come upon us out of the blue. They are developed from small daily sins against Nature. When enough sins have been committed, illnesses will suddenly appear.”
Many if not most of today’s lifestyle-related diseases and premature aging are associated with the body having a net positive charge and inflammation. This is induced by stress, unmitigated exposure to electronics, and being insulated from the Earth’s surface. The shoes we wear have nonconductive rubber or plastic soles, and the floors inside of buildings such as our homes are also nonconductive.
Simply sitting, standing, or walking with our bare feet on the grass, dirt, concrete, gravel, or sand or wading through ground water such as a lake or the ocean, connects us with the Earth, availing us of this great healing power source by transferring electrons into our bodies. As morning sunlight perceived by our eyes regulates and strengthens our circadian rhythms, so grounding does by connecting us with the Earth’s healing rhythms and electrons.
- Rapid reduction of inflammation
- Rapid reduction or elimination of pain
- Improved circulation via reduced blood viscosity that better supplies the tissues and cells of the body with vital oxygen and nutrition
- Reduced stress
- Improved sleep
- Accelerated healing from injuries and surgery
There are also indoor options for grounding through the use of various grounding mats including sleep mats as well as grounding patches, throw blankets, and other products. These are simply plugged into a grounded electrical outlet in your home.
The above thermal images, of a patient with pain in the area of both knees, were taken a mere half-hour apart − before (left) and after Earthing (right). Tissue damage generates heat, represented by the hot colors on the left. The difference shows a clear and rapid resolution of inflammation.
I use this technology by sleeping on a grounded sleep mat and sitting with bare feet/legs on a universal grounding mat while I work as well as taking barefoot walks outside, weather permitting. I have noticed an overall calming effect on my nervous system, improving sleep and soothing anxiety, and have added grounding to my list of wellness practices.
When you ground, your body is instantly set to the Earth’s electrical potential. The effects are dose-dependent; the more hours you are grounded during a 24-hour period and throughout days to years, the greater the effect. However, significant changes have been documented in many cases with as little as 30 minutes of grounding.
The larger the section of your body in contact with the Earth, the greater the benefits. The presence of water increases the benefits as well by improving conductivity. This means walking on a wet surface like grass after a good rain is more beneficial than a drier surface.
One does need to continue grounding regularly in order to maintain and further enhance these improvements.
Here are 2 excellent resources for much more information and science about grounding:
Implementing Grounding into Your Life
There are no negative side effects to this practice. You have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain from trying it out. You may notice a mild tingling sensation when you first make contact with the Earth’s surface, whether you are outside or inside. This is just an indication of the electron transfer from the Earth to your body. Wearing leather-soled shoes with your feet in contact with the Earth will also facilitate grounding.
I hope that you have found this to be at least half as informative and useful as I have learning about barefoot benefits! Once again, we are reminded that, as occupants of our Mother Earth, we are both subject to the laws of nature and resourced by our planet. We would be wise to recognize that we are bioelectrical, biomechanical beings and thus become as aligned with our nature as possible. Happy barefooting!