Switching to barefoot shoes in adulthood is not a straightforward process. But through careful gradual approach with respect to one's own body and its signals the transition can be gentle and easy. So what to do and what should we avoid so that we do not cause our body harm? How to read the signals of our body, recognize the serious ones and respond to them?
NATURAL, BUT NOT VIVID ANYMORE
We are born with the potential of many abilities that can be developed. However, if we do not use a certain ability, it gradually recedes. The body will not completely forget it, but the less we work on it in our childhood, the less the skill is developed and flexible. I like to use the comparison by Clara Lewitt that having an inactive foot locked in a sturdy shoe for a long time is like having your hands wrapped in mittens for a long time. After we take off our mittens, our hands must gradually get used to the sensations that they could not feel before.
You can see that with other senses too. For example, if we are blindfolded or have earplugs for a longer time. After we uncover the eyes and remove the plugs, the eyes and hearing will be sharper for a while. What would normally seem to be the norm will become much more noticeable . Perception through the skin, touch, works the same way. Even if we remove the feet from conventional shoes with a thick sole. For many people, it will be a shock after such a long time. However, when we take this into account, we can consciously work with our feet so that this phase runs smoothly.
HASTE MAKES WASTE
The basic prerequisite for successful barefoot walking is waking up the “sleeping foot”. Just as it is necessary to warm up the body before a sports performance, so it is necessary to wake up the muscles and receptors in the feet before working on the barefoot walking. To achieve this, we can massage the foot or, for example, roll it over a physio spiky ball. There are many other options. However, the principle always lies in the supply of extra sensations, which the feet do not normally get. If we would go straight barefoot on the sleeping feet, their reactions would be inadequate and the legs could be in danger of injury or overload.
PHOTO - Possibilities of stimulation and awakening of the sleeping foot by a physio spiky ball (1) or massage (2) in preparation for the load and work of the foot during walking. © CZP Camino, L. Kropáčková
It is essential to gradually increase the load according to the feedback from your body. The starting line will vary individually, depending on the level of activity of each of us. In general, however, the initial walking volume in barefoot shoes should be less than the normal walking volume. If the body reacts favourably (it does not hurt the back, knees, heels or feet), then the load can be gradually increased . Whenever we increase the load, it is good to register one to two days later what the body says about it and whether the load is right for it. If we manage to dose the load the right way, we can increase it gradually, if not, we have to go back one step. In all these phases, we alternate barefoot shoes with conventional shoes and only change the ratio of those two types of footwear.
It is also important to consider the conditions in which we practice barefoot walking. If it is walking in mild terrain (eg. on a forest pathway), where the foot receives a rich number of stimuli, it will probably handle a little more load. On the contrary, in the city, a harder surface poorer in sensations, barefoot walking will be more difficult for the foot. The same applies to difficult mountain or other natural terrain, where there are far greater demands on stability . The specific of walking barefoot and in barefoot shoes is the need for concentrated and conscious walking. In barefoot shoes, just like when we are walking barefoot, you can't hurry too much in the beginning. It is true that in the city you will feel this fact much earlier than on a forest pathway. I need to point out that all the time we are talking about walking, ie. a dynamic process. Any static load (standing) is evolutionarily unnatural for the whole body, including the feet. Standing on the spot is a really challenging situation for our feet and barefoot beginners should expose themselves to it as little as possible.
IMPORTANT BODY SIGNALS
Barefoot walking is always a workout for the feet at the start. As with other muscles, it can happen that the feet muscles will get overloaded (often unconsciously). More receptive individuals start to feel slight discomfort very early on. However, many barefoot beginners will notice just the last warning phase – pain, due to limited perception. Pain is a way of our body to communicate with us. While discomfort or tiredness is a slight whisper from the body that something is not optimal, pain is a scream. Yet if the body is already "screaming", there is no cause for concern and panic. It is "only" significant information about the condition of the body, and in this situation, adequate reactions and self-reflection are important so that this does not happen again in the future.
WHEN IT DOESN'T WORK OUT AT THE BEGINNING
If, despite all efforts, the foot is overburdened, the best remedy is to rest and temporarily reduce the load. This does not mean complete bed rest, but limiting walks and other forms of stress. The need for movement will still be accommodated in providing basic living needs. If the reduction of the load does not relieve the foot from the pain, we choose the temporary support of the foot for the necessary time in the form of a high-quality insole or regular shoes, it is necessary to support the foot and let it rest for a while so that it can recover. From the expert point of view, I recommend high-quality custom-made sensorimotor insoles . We return to the original conventional shoes only if they do not add to the problem. Like for example, in the case of an extra wide foot or an extremely unsatisfactory size of conventional footwear.
In the moment of overburden, it is also essential to retrospectively evaluate the adequacy of the load, the suitability of the chosen barefoot footwear with regard to the terrain and activity, and last but not least, the specific physical constitution. The foot is constructed in proportion to the body and the body is designed for a certain optimal weight. Any deviation from the optimum then makes the situation more difficult for the feet. Be careful, for example, during pregnancy, when there is a high degree of caution and a really gradual process of loading the foot needed, if we start with it during this period.
A GOOD ADVICE AT THE END
Get used to your feet in barefoot shoes gradually, with sense and respect for your own body. Listen to the signals coming from the body, do not rush and give everything enough time. The more patience you put into the process, the less complications there are. If you are unsure about anything, consult with a qualified professional. It is true that learning something in adulthood is more difficult, but it is not impossible. I wish you rich experiences and the joy of walking barefoot!
© Bohempia / Mgr. Lucie Kropáčková, physiotherapist and yoga instructor, CZP Camino
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