How and Why to go Barefoot in Parkour
Recently at a jam many people asked me about being barefoot (since I was most of the day) and training. I didn’t have a chance to give out all the information on it then so hopefully this guide will help some people get into it.
There are a number of reasons to train barefoot at least some of the time. What it is NOT about is saying “I’m so tough look at me with no shoes on.” If you are thinking that way then you may have missed the whole point of parkour in the first place. So why does parkour without shoes make sense?
- To be useful – Do you sleep and shower with athletic shoes on? If not what do you do when there is an emergency? Always be ready even without equipment.
- To stay safe – Shoes let you get away with a lot of not so great landings but if you never learn to land properly then you will not just plateau in your progress but eventually develop injuries.
- To strengthen ankles – Most rolled ankles happen because the stabilizing muscles and connective tissues around the ankle aren’t developed well enough. Relying on highly supportive shoes only increases the gap between the force your muscles can generate and what your feet can really handle.
- Getting back to basics – Once the shoes come off you have to change what you are doing. If you have a 15 foot broad jump then it will be cut down to 5 and even then you have to do it perfectly to not bruise anything. Working on fundamentals, as in any sport, will greatly improve your top end performance.
What to expect
The first minute:
When you first step outside, depending on your experience, it will feel weird. One of the first things to notice is the great deal of information you get from the ground. Temperature, texture, grip, wetness, sand, all of this is immediately known to you now. Your feet have been unable to touch anything before and all that information has been lost. You will know if you are on a sharp edge or one that’s rounded and exactly how thick a pipe or rail is and what kind of paint is on it. You will also be very very slow.
20 minutes in:
It gets better. Even if your first ten steps feel like you are handicapped if you go ahead and keep carefully walking around then after 10 or 20 minutes your feet will do a lot of adjusting. The connective tissues will begin to flex and your coordination centers will have learned to cope with this change of circumstance. You should still just be walking around, maybe a little hop here or there but don’t take off running just yet and don’t go for any drops.
How to start
Light jogging is a good beginning step. Remember that you are asking your body to do something that it’s not ready for. This is like taking on a whole new sport so a 20 minute jog could be all you’re ready for at first.
- Find a clean smooth area. Tourism districts are often well maintained and have minimal debris. Dance studios with hardwood floors are also a good start.
- When you break into a jog DON’T LAND ON YOUR HEEL! The heel is not capable of cushioning you when you land. Our physique is set up so that your calf muscle can absorb landing forces and provide takeoff but the calf can only move the front of the foot not the back.Your forefoot should be the only area touching the ground unless you are standing still. The heel will bruise very easily and the plantar fascia can be sensitive to physical pressure. Bruising either one of those can take you out of training for 2 to 4 weeks easily.
- Look where you are going. Everyone thinks that glass is the major issue with being barefoot. It’s not. Little stones will make you invent new curse words when they press up on just one toe with all of your weight. Always pay attention to whats around you.
- Give it time. You aren’t just building callouses. That can happen over two or three sessions. You are rebuilding your atrophied ankle and foot muscles that have had as much as a decade to degrade. When I say build up slowly over time I mean over several months. Here is one possible timeline:
- Month 1: 10 to 20 minute jog 3 times a week.
- Month 2: Attempt to run a full mile outdoors once a week. Stop running if you have bad pain.
- Month 3: Go barefoot for half of your parkour sessions. Take small jumps and learn what your new limits are now.
- Month 4: Try going all barefoot when you train. You still have to keep it small and careful but now you should be able to last.
If you build up carefully then you should be able to incorporate barefoot whenever you want. You can supplement the total barefoot training by using very minimal shoes day to day such as toms, feiyues or anything thin and unsupportive.
Once you start jumping landing on the front of the foot is more important than ever.
In the above video you can see some proper landings on the toes. To put weight on the heel you should be only taking steps or resting. Once you are comfortable with how to move you will find barefoot sessions really focus you on technique and you top performance in shoes will show that.
Finally don’t forget to have fun 🙂