Barefoot Training - The Secret to Total Body Strength?

When I first started exploring the benefits of barefoot balance training, my initial draw was to the kinematic changes that this training technique had on lower extremity alignment.  However, the more I began to apply this training technique the more I began to see other benefits.   One of the most fascinating benefits noted was in muscle recruitment and activation patterns.

From a subjective perspective, clients and athletes were associating their barefoot training with increased squat strength, faster run times and decreased low back pain.  

Were these benefits related to improved lower extremity alignment?   Or could it have been that they were recruiting more muscles fibers due to to enhanced muscle activation pathways?

As I began to investigate the concept of neuromuscular activation and muscle recruitment patterns, I came across the work of Dr Benno Nigg.   Nigg is the Co-Director of the Human Performance Laboratory and a biomechanics professor at University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.  Has spent more than 40 years researching human locomotion as it relates to shoes, orthotics and sports surfaces.

Nigg has done numerous research studies on the concept of plantar foot sensation as it relates to muscle activation patterns during gait.   What Nigg found was that the skin on the bottom of the foot acts like a “load sensor”, providing critical information on impact patterns, joint kinematics and motor control.   

Nigg found that as pressure shifted to different parts of the foot, reflex-type activation patterns occur to the muscle of the feet and lower extremity.   One of the most fascinating of these activation patterns occurs when we shift forward onto the ball of the foot and the tibial nerve is stimulated.  This tibial nerve stimulation activated the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle.  What's cool though, is that this tibial nerve stimulation not only activated the calves - but also the extensor activity of the rectus femoris!   

This means that plantar cutaneous feedback does not only influence the muscles that surround the foot, but can activate those of the hip and thigh.  Even more so, this supports that muscle activation pathways of the human body are highly interconnected - and truly do begin from the bottom of the foot! 

So perhaps the benefit of barefoot training is more that just strengthening the muscles that maintain proper foot posture and lower extremity alignment.  Perhaps it has to do more with muscle activation patterns and pathways.  

If fitness professionals and coaches were to integrate barefoot training techniques into their client and athlete programming, would they note an increase in speed, agility and quickness?   Would they note an increase in strength?   And will they note a decrease in injuries?

It was through concepts such as this, that led to the advent of EBFA’s newest course - Bells & Bare Feet:  The Why Behind Barefoot Kettlebell Training.    

Join EBFA Saturday June 2nd from 10am - 12:30pm in NYC as we join force with Kettlebell Concepts to explore the benefits behind two of the hottest training techniques – kettlebells & barefoot training!

Saturday June 2, 2012

10am - 12:30pm 

Bells & Bare Feet:  The Why Behind Barefoot Kettlebell Training

Lucille Roberts - NYC

Registration Fee:  $75 - includes NASM & AFAA cec's


Nurse, M. and Nigg, B.  The effect of changes in foot sensation on plantar pressure and muscle activity.  Clinic Biomech, 2001.  16: 719-727.



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