Shoes are thought to protect our feet from the outside world. With a sport that relies so heavily on the feet, shoes seem like an essential tool. But are they?
These days, many professional traceurs are spending their training time barefoot. The philosophies that encourage them to do this aren't limited to professionals only. They are equally applicable for any experience level.
This article will break down some of the myths about training barefoot, and give you some good reasons why you should join the movement.
Risk of Injury and DiseaseThere are two main fears that prevent people from training barefoot: injury and disease. This article from the Washington Post outlines this debate nicely.
InjuriesMany people believe their children’s feet will suffer gashes if they play/train without shoes. There is no way to know about every object on the ground, and parents tend to believe that the odds of their children encountering a sharp object is high.
However, the chances of this are actually quite small. Most playing surfaces or athletic areas are void of anything that could slice your foot. This is especially true if you are training in a controlled environment like a gym. Feet are tough, humans have been walking barefoot for thousands of years, and our lower limbs are capable of handling diverse terrain.
DiseaseAnother unfounded belief is the risk of disease. The perception here is bare feet are an open doorway for germs and other bacteria to gain access to the body. But this misconstrues the very function of your skin: to keep these microorganisms out. Preventing disease is one of the main reasons we have skin in the first place.
Worse, wearing shoes actually increases the odds of disease because they provide a dark, warm, and tight living environment where bacteria sit close to the skin for long periods of time and work their way inside.
Better Ankle SupportAgain, this is another myth. Shoes rarely help support your ankles. In fact, they often do more harm than good. Kelly Starrett, a world-renowned physical therapy and mobility expert, breaks down how shoes hurt your natural movement in this video:
Additionally, training shoeless helps to strengthen the muscles in the lower leg. It also helps your feet assume a much more natural, widespread position and allows your toes to achieve a natural position (apart from each other).
How Does This Help With Parkour?Professional traceur Rafe Kelley does a good job of explaining why training Parkour barefoot is so essential:
“The human foot has been around for almost two million years in its current configuration,” he says. “Evolution has designed our foot to operate shoeless. When you put a shoe on, one that has a heavy structure, it is basically like putting a cast on your arm. That means, through long exposure, all of the connective tissues in your feet are going to start to atrophy.”
In a nutshell, wearing shoes makes your feet weaker. They break down the sensitivity of your foot and decrease overall mobility over time – especially in high intensity workouts.
The Longer You Use Shoes, The Longer It Takes To Go BackThis is why it is so essential that children train in bare feet from an early age. Using shoes from childhood to adulthood means your ankles and feet become sedentary. The longer they are sedentary the more time it takes for them to recover. It takes a long time to rebuild the bone structures and connective tissues that naturally support your feet once this happens.
Think of it like smoking. The longer you smoke, the longer it takes for your lungs to recover to their natural function.
How Do You Start?The worst idea would be to start training Parkour barefoot with huge drops and flashy moves. If you want to train without shoes, start with exercises like calisthenics and light running. Over time, your feet will warm up to the idea of shoeless training and you can make things a little more complicated. This usually takes six to nine weeks.
Once you are comfortable with that, you can start incorporating barefoot training into the more complicated movements that you do. This includes things like vaults, drops, wall runs, etc.
ConclusionIn short, the human foot is not designed to train with shoes on. It is not even designed to walk with shoes on. The more humans are conditioned to do physical activity with shoes on, the more their biomechanics will change, and the harder that will be to reverse.
Parkour is a sport about natural movement. The goal is not to score points or win championships. The goal is to achieve the most natural and efficient style of movement on planet Earth.
Shoes should be viewed as tools, not essential clothing. They should be used when they are needed (high drops, for example), but not all the time. The more you learn to train with bare feet the better you will be as a traceur.
You will have better balance, control, and dexterity. It’s as simple as that.