Tired of your same old treadmill routine? Walking barefoot on a treadmill is a great way to add some variety to your workout. It’s also a great way to improve balance and coordination, strengthen the feet and ankles, and improve circulation. But, can you walk barefoot on a treadmill safely?
Most people know that exercise is good for them, but many don’t realize the full extent of the benefits. Walking barefoot on a treadmill is not only possible, but it has some additional benefits in addition to improving mental health, increasing lifespan, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
We’ll look at whether or not you can walk barefoot on a treadmill, what the benefits are, potential disadvantages, and even some of the associated risks. Many types of exercise can be great for one person and not so good for another. It’s always important to analyze your goals, and what you hope to get from the program, before starting any new training regimen.
Benefits of Walking Barefoot on A Treadmill
There are many benefits to walking on a treadmill barefoot. These include improved balance and coordination, stronger foot and ankle muscles, improved blood circulation, reduced stress levels, improved posture, and potential pain relief.
I wrote an article on the benefits of walking barefoot on a treadmill going into more detail on the above benefits.
Barefoot walking allows the foot to have ultimate flexibility without being restricted at all by a shoe. There is also no drop; the heel, midfoot, and forefoot are all on the same plain without wearing a shoe. This can often lead to improved posture and reduced back pain.
Scientific analysis has shown that gait patterns and stride length are greater when wearing shoes as opposed to walking barefoot. This is just one of the differences between barefoot and shod walking. This reduced stride length and flat foot placement reduces pressure on points in the foot which can help reduce some foot-related issues like plantar fasciitis.
Another study found that people who consistently walk barefoot have anatomically wider feet due to forefoot spreading when the foot is placed. Since there is no shoe to encapsulate the foot, the foot can spread out which over time can cause a wider foot. This is part of the reason there is less pressure on certain points of the foot as well.
Risks of Walking Barefoot on A Treadmill
There are also risks associated with walking on a treadmill without shoes. Damage to the sole is a concern due to the friction and heat of the belt. Additionally, increased stress on the Achilles tendon and calf muscle due to repetitive work can be a concern.
These potential risks fall into two main categories: physical issues with the foot-to-belt contact and biomechanical issues. We will look at both in more detail below.
The most common potential issue would be due to the abrasion of the belt on the sole. The treadmill belt is moving underneath, and while there shouldn’t be much sliding of the foot, if walking for an extended period burns can occur from the interaction. Many people report issues with blisters when using a treadmill barefoot.
Additionally, treadmills can get hot which can heat the belt and decking of the treadmill. If this happens, the foot can also be burned or made uncomfortable by the hot belt. Another potential issue is around the sides of the treadmill. It’s fairly common to not stop directly on the belt with a small part of your foot contacting the side of the deck.
With shoes on, this can cause some balance issues, but without shoes, this could damage the foot due to the movement of the belt and the fact that the sides are stationary. This can be avoided by making sure you keep your feet entirely on the belt and is less likely an issue when walking vs running on the treadmill barefoot, but it is a potential concern.
Treadmills are flat, straight, and very consistent from stride to stride. While this can be helpful and make running slightly easier, it is also very repetitive for the body. Outside the twists, turns, and obstacles engage different muscles and allow some muscles to work slightly differently. This can give your muscles a small break, but on a treadmill, each step is ultimately the same. This can cause overexertion of some muscles that are being worked on every step without rest.
Barefoot walking also places a bit more strain on your Achilles tendon and calf muscles because you are coming down straight without an elevated heel. This can have the same effect as above. If you are not used to it, this additional pressure can cause discomfort until those muscles and tendons stretch out a bit.
The fact that the gait is shortened while moving barefoot also contributes to this. Your muscles may be worked slightly differently than walking in shoes, but over time the body will adapt just fine.
5 Tips for Walking Barefoot on a Treadmill Safely and Effectively
Walking on a treadmill without shoes can be a great addition to your training program. As discussed above, there are several advantages and disadvantages to barefoot walking, each of which has merit. Here are a few tips to help you get started safely and in a way that will allow long-term growth.
1/ Start Slow
Due to the repetitive nature and potential physical issues outlined above, start slower. If you can walk for 5 miles outside, don’t start there when walking barefoot on your treadmill. Start with 10-15 minutes of walking and build up from there.
2/ Do a Regular “Check-Up”
One common concern from people who have tried walking barefoot is that the damage to your feet can happen slowly so you don’t realize it until it’s too far gone. Stop every 5 minutes or so and check things out. Is the belt too hot? Are you developing blisters or pain from the belt?
Once everything checks out a few times, you are likely good to continue without concern. This is a way to help catch any potential issues prior to them becoming larger problems.
3/ Warm Up, Stretch, Cool Down
While this is great general advice for walking and running, it’s especially important when walking barefoot due to the increased stress placed on the Achilles and calf muscles. Make sure you are warming up appropriately. Start slower than normal, get into the groove, and increase speeds to a more brisk walk.
Cooling down is also very important. Sometimes people feel weird getting off of a treadmill without the proper cooldown due to the difference in how the world looks moving on the treadmill vs standing still. It’s also important to allow your muscles to slowly cool down to avoid cramping and stiffness.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is also reduced by an active recovery or cool down after a hard bout of exercise.
4/ Listen to Your Feet
As mentioned earlier, do checkups and listen to your body. If your feet are starting to hurt, stop. It’s ok to gradually build up and it isn’t necessary to force it. Pushing too hard and forcing yourself to finish your mileage can cause injury and loss or production in the long run.
5/ Have Fun
Yes, it’s possible. You can challenge yourself and walk on a treadmill without shoes and still have fun. There are many different ways to make the time go by. Find a good book, podcast, or show and get lost in it. If it is enjoyable, keep at it. If not, switch to something else. The key is consistent, long-term progress over time.
Can you walk barefoot on a treadmill? Yes – with some safety considerations. Walking is a great way to improve your overall health, and walking barefoot on a treadmill can offer even more benefits. Just make sure to start slow, listen to your body, and have fun.
With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to reaping the rewards of this great workout.