Barefoot and minimalist footwear training used to be one of the most popular trends in the fitness industry. While you'll still periodically see some gym fanatics going full-on barefoot, this trend has largely disappeared. Most lifters and athletes have returned to traditional footwear.
However, I believe we're going to see a large rebirth of barefoot and minimalist training within the next several years.
Good Idea, Bad Preparation
Initially when the trend began everyone was sold on the idea because the research was, and still is, largely conclusive that barefoot mechanics are not only ideal for optimizing performance but also for reducing risk of injury and joint pain.
Unfortunately, a few years into the barefoot trend, injuries began mounting quickly as users tried to jump into training barefoot without any physical adaptation or foot and ankle preparation.
As a result, the minimalist trend faded among buyers and many shoe companies reverted back to traditional footwear. But many strength coaches, trainers, and therapists believe that the barefoot trend wasn't the issue at all but rather the lack of physical preparation.
We're going to see a shift back to the trend, only this time it will be applied in a more strategic fashion as coaches understand that their athletes need to be physically prepared and trained to reap the benefits. They'll likely begin programming exercises to target the muscles around the feet and ankles.
Here's an example of my collegiate and NFL athletes performing a simple single-leg swap exercise that targets every component of proper foot and ankle mechanics.
I'll have my athletes do drills like this for several minutes at the beginning of each workout. Here's exactly how to do it:
This prepares the feet and ankles for the workout and actually teaches the lifter to brace his core and produce full body tension, ultimately allowing greater loads to be handled throughout the workout.
During any ground-based activity or lower body movement, activation starts with the feet and ankles. When these muscles are doing their job it affects all other muscles throughout the kinetic chain. Unfortunately, shoes blunt this response.