Does Barefoot Running Improve Proprioceptive Feedback?

Proprioceptive feedback – What's that you ask?

Proprioception is “the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement” (Source: Wikipedia).  In other words it is the awareness and sense of where your body parts are as they move. There are both conscious and unconscious components of proprioception. Reflexes are part of unconscious proprioception.

Whenever you learn a new skill such as driving or touch-typing, proprioceptive feedback is what helps you learn how to do it without watching the limbs move.

Proprioceptive feedback has to do with your mind-body connection and you can improve it while you are exercising or moving during the day and paying attention to those movements (ie. “listening” to the body).

In this article Rick Merriam talks about how barefoot running can improve proprioceptive feedback:


Loading To Unloading: Improving Proprioceptive Feedback

“A master of T’ai Chi was so sensitive to the forces around him that if a fly landed on his shoulder, he would sway gently under its impact. Legend has it that a sparrow was unable to jump from his open palm and fly, because as it pushed away, his hand would sink beneath its legs. Such sensitivity reflects our own potential, refined through practice.” – Excerpt from BODY MIND MASTERY by Dan Millman

Just twenty minutes from where I live, the Lovejoy (Lucas, TX) Cross Country Team runs barefoot in the grass everyday before their run.

What do they know about stretching and warming-up that the running magazines that are trying to reach the masses don’t know (or choose to ignore)?


Embracing and connecting to something weird .

Your foot is fully capable of acting as a mobile adaptor to the ground on every single leg landing.

Running in the grass drives the joints throughout your foot into different positions on each and every single leg landing.

Barefoot running in the park is dynamically preparing your feet and the entire chain.

It truly is the ultimate warm-up for running. (emphasis added)

Your foot is molding to the ground on every step. Every joint throughout the chain is driven by your forefoot/midfoot as it meets planet Earth.

The synergistic relationship between the ground, gravity and momentum acting on your forefoot/midfoot as you touch down stimulates the mechanoreceptors throughout the entire chain.


A rear foot strike was never normal. (emphasis added)

Running in the park in your barefeet might look weird to some people, but not to your foot.

For your feet, running barefoot in the park is anything but weird.

Your feet feel alive , and free to do what they do naturally (normally).

“The brain is the violin and the soul is the violinist. They both need to work together in order to make beautiful music.” – Charles Ava

You see, your feet are unlike any other body part (even your hands) in more ways than most people can even imagine.

They are loaded with mechanoreceptors within the unique skin located throughout the soles on the plantar side of your feet.

Each of your feet house four layers of very small postural muscles, e.g., Intrinsic Muscles.

Unlike any other muscles throughout the chain, these muscles are neurologically stimulated by the ground, gravity and momentum when left unsupported.

The initial effort required to spread your toes might be difficult for your brain to grasp if you are not accustomed to exercising the deep postural muscles throughout your feet.

To your brain, actively spreading your toes might feel slightly awkward and hard to coordinate, but it is actually a component of normal function, much like spreading your fingers.

Proprioception - Barefoot Runner

Running (not walking) requires a single leg landing on every step.

Pretend that you never heard this: A learned motor pattern(s) (or muscle memory) can be unlearned within minutes.

The learned motor pattern is simply the human body’s natural (innate) mechanism for protection.

It is the human body’s ability to adapt or compensate over time.

Consciously trying to change the way the foot interacts with the ground only allows for more compensation, not a different motor pattern.

The brain will only allow the foot to go into positions where the joint(s) feel stability.

Here is that lazy word again…COMPENSATION.

Restore the neurological input to the muscles, and you improve the overall mechanics within minutes.

With more overall stability the foot will meet and react to the ground in a very different way.

The joints throughout the foot and the entire chain can now take advantage of more contact surface at a synovial joint(s).


Telling a different story.

Improving muscle function (and stability) at a joint will not change the osteoarthritic changes or joint wear at a synovial joint, but it will allow you to take advantage of more surface area at the joint.

By improving range of motion and stability you automatically utilize more of the joint.

You are now free to move into a position(s) that you have not been able to.

In other words Age is only a number.

SOURCE: Rick Merriam at Engaging Muscles

PHOTOS: HEADER by 802 on Flickr, FEATURED by Raquel Baranow on Flickr

Author: Peter Tiedemann

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