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Training barefoot in Parkour


Barefoot training

Barefoot training has many benefits, beside strengthening your ankles. Photo: Jeff Hirz

I train barefoot a lot, and other Parkour practitioners ask me why I’m not wearing shoes, constantly. When answering, I tend to go through a stock list of reasons, like:

  1. It’s better for your coordination.
  2. It strengthens stabilizing muscles in the lower leg, which are under-used by shoe wearers.
  3. It improves balance and landing
  4. It corrects small mistakes and sloppy techniques covered up by shoe soles
  5. it increases the input of information, about surface, force and increases precision.

Mistakes made when training barefoot will be communicated instantly in the form of discomfort or pain, meaning you stop doing that pretty quick.

Shoes radically change the way humans walk. It encourages longer steps and heel-striking technique, which causes shock to travel up the leg and into the knee and hips. Unlike a forefoot-striking leg, bent to take shock like a spring, heel-striking direct shock inside your core region.

Look at this video. A specialist from the New Jersey Sports Medicine and Performance Center made it. This is the same runner on the same day, with no instruction given in between videos. On the left, the athlete displays a correct forefoot strike — normal running technique. On the right, incorrect, wearing SHOES with heel strike — incorrect and joint-damaging running technique.

Why go running barefoot in Parkour?

Training and running barefoot is always framed as though naked feet are wrong, weird, silly, whatever. Bare-feet shouldn’t be weird, and looking at it globally and across the history of the species, shoe-wearing is the weird activity. And it is true that shoe-wearing leads to atrophy of the muscles in the lower leg. Without shoes you can feel them growing and flexing as you walk. Bare-feet make you stronger.

It’s a real shame more people don’t go barefoot, at least once in a while, because there are things you’ll never know unless you do. The way wet grass tickles your feet on a cold morning. The way certain materials can turn spongy-soft in the hot sun. The way your toes grip around a small rock with surprising intuition. The tiny moment of chaos with each step on wet cement, that miraculously turns into balance and control. Barefoot, you’ll get to know the upper and lower limits of what your body can handle and I promise, it’s more than you think. You’ll figure out how to distribute weight evenly across the soles of your feet, so you can skip across gravel and rocks that you previously wouldn’t even look at and balance better when running. You learn something about the world and about the peculiar material qualities around you, every time you lose the shoes. In a way, bare-feet increase knowledge.

Peyton Jernigan training Parkour barefoot at night. Photo: Defy Parkour

Why people don’t go training barefoot.

One of the reasons is that people think training barefoot is inappropriate and irresponsible. There is a belief that the world is an inherently dangerous place that’s out to get them. It is pretty much the same thing you face when you’re out training and someone yells at you to “get off that rail before you hurt yourself”. People tend to overestimate risk. In this particular case, shoe-wearing persons tend to think that the world is composed almost entirely of dog crap, used syringes and broken glass, and walking barefoot is an almost-suicidal undertaking. There are risks involved in walking barefoot, and there are places where I wouldn’t do it. But the risks are small, the consequences reversible and they are outweighed by the benefits. Broken glass is not really a problem. Pieces large enough to be a real threat will be visible instantly. Smaller shards will get into your feet, I’m not denying that, but they pop out as easily as they go in and rarely get infected. Furthermore, feet toughen up fast. Bare-feet can seem scary at first, just like Parkour training, but sticking with it will give you a much better idea of what actually poses a risk, and what you can take in your stride.

Josh Maciel training Parkour barefoot as post-surgery recovery. Photo: Maple Grove Barfefoot guy

Bare-feet help you connect to yourself.

Shoes project a sense of protection and insulation from the world. And, I know the temptations of shutting everything out. It can feel like sanctuary to walk around oblivious, hoodie over your head and headphones on, as a way to disengage from the world. And true, that’s exactly what it is, but it doesn’t help. This just shuts you up inside your own head, with your problems and fears bouncing about inside there. Going barefoot can help you to feel centered and grounded- every step returns your mind to physical experience of the world, and any mental attempts to shut yourself in get that much more difficult. An integrated part of the world, not an interruption into it. It’s easier to notice the warmth of the summer when you can feel the cool ground under your feet.

It can be hard to start doing it. It was also hard for me; it took a few weeks to get out of my comfortable running shoes and cut my jumping distance by half. But now, I’m progressing naturally towards those same performances. And that’s without any help from a  wedge of foam.

If you want to improve your training and you confidence, just lose the shoes.

8 comments
  1. Jeff

    November 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for the photo credit! Love this post – I’m a huge barefoot running fan and it’s nice to see others speaking knowledgeably about the topic.

    Reply
    • Dan Dinu

      November 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Jeff,

      I stumbled on your post searching for representative images. I was also pleasantly surprised to also read a good article about barefoot running. Keep up the great work!

      Reply
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  4. Thomas Tapp

    January 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Great post! As Jeff mentioned above, awesome to see people spread the knowledge! Btw first time visiting this site and it rocks! Def. gonna share.

    Reply
  5. Lewis

    January 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I like the post, I might have to go bear foot when I train tommorow!

    Reply
    • elgin

      April 4, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      Yeah same

      Reply
  6. elgin

    April 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Hey, anyone live in Lincoln england here?
    We could barefoot parkour together (im a beginner at the age of 14 and im a boy btw)

    Reply

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