By now, you’re probably aware of the tremendous benefits of barefoot training—including increased foot, ankle and calf strength, which result in improved speed and change-of-direction ability. Sprinting or performing drills sole-less allows your feet to function the way they were meant to. But finding an ideal environment for this type of training often poses a problem for athletes. Those lucky enough to be living along a soft, sandy coast enjoy an ideal location for barefoot training. For the rest of us, however, concrete walkways, rubber tracks and most grass fields provide insufficient cushioning.
If you’re in a cold weather climate or have no access to sand, find a vacant wrestling room and ditch the shoes for some leg-strengthening training on the wrestling mat. The mat’s softness forces the small muscles of your feet, ankles and knees to activate and stabilize as your legs produce and absorb force throughout the drills.
Before workouts, perform your dynamic warm-up [Skips, Shuffles, Backpedals, Lunges, High Knees, etc.] barefoot on the mat. Move on to different jump rope drills [Two-Leg Hops, Single-Leg Hops, Side-to-Side, Front-to-Back and Double Jumps], also on the mat. Once you’re loose and accustomed to the feeling of being barefoot, move on to some speed work.
Kurt Hester, national training director for D1 Sports Training, advises athletes to begin barefoot sprinting at about 75 percent of max effort. Increase your speed each week until you’re flying at top speed. Make sure to throttle down gradually at the end of your sprints to prevent excessive pressure on your feet, especially your heels.
Athletes who incorporated Hester’s barefoot training regimen at D1 realized dramatic increases in speed in mere weeks during their NFL Combine training.