Lace ‘Em Up or Toss ‘Em Aside? Which is Better When Strength Training?

Vibram Five FingersI used to always train in my kicks… there was no question about it. Every six months (well more likely every year) I dutifully bought a new pair to better my arch support. I thought I was doing the right thing.

However, quite recently I couldn’t help but wonder why, all those many years ago when I was taking Ju-Jitsu, did I not wear shoes?

And then what about yoga? Again no shoes. And even more recently, pilates which has you wearing… no shoes.

I like not wearing shoes. I like being able to stretch out my toes whenever I want. Who wants to confine their little piggies? (Don’t be duped though, I’m not a nature girl by any means so the whole ‘being barefoot brings me closer to mother nature’ thing does not resonate with me at all. You will not find me taking long walks in the woods and you’ll hardly ever see me swimming in a lake with all those other little fishes and other floaty things.)

Nope, not a chance. Just plop me in the middle of a city and I’m a happy girl.

But this being barefoot thing seems to make perfect sense to me. After all, cavemen didn’t wear Nike’s. Great Yogi Masters aren’t sporting the new Sketchers Shape-Ups. Tai Chi enthusiasts aren’t concerned about “proper” arch support. So why, I thought, do I have to be when it comes to strength training? With the shoes off, I feel much less susceptible to injury and I’m actually strengthening my ankles and feet.

Think about it, shoes are almost like weight belts that strap around your belly area. This allows for a slight relaxation in the core muscles because those muscles are being confined and held into place by the strap. This relaxation results in less contraction and therefore, less strengthening.

Same thing with shoes. The “support” they give you is a false sense of security. Without the shoe, you’re relying solely on the strength and flexibility of your foot, which isn’t getting enough attention if strapped into a false-sense-of-security shoe.

Does this make me an anti-Nike-ite? Perhaps. But it does promote a whole new bodily awareness, may it be spiritual or natural or just a simple awareness with no mind-body affiliation whatsoever, but regardless it just feels good. So I have since ditched the shoes in favor of my bare feet. I feel no pain, I’m more balanced and I have more flexibility in my ankles than my shoe-favoring friends.

Has anyone else taken to ditching the shoes in favor of the bare foot? Or maybe taken to wearing those funky looking Vibram Five Finger shoes? (I haven’t tried those on yet, but curiosity is kicking in and I may have to get a pair soon.)

Anne Marie Costanzo is a nationally certified personal trainer and owner of Little Black Dress Personal Training. She can be reached at or (914) 841-1121.

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About the Author: Anne Marie Constanzo