Over time, reliance on workout shoes weakens the feet. If you’re a long time aerobics student, or runner, you may hesitate to take off your shoes. The myth still exists that you are never supposed to workout unprotected.

However, without shoes, you’ll strengthen your feet and ankles, increase your circulation, flexibility, and dexterity, decrease foot cramping, get rid of calluses, perhaps even heighten your arches.  In the beginning, you may develop blisters, but look at it as a gentle cue from your body that you may be sliding your feet instead of purposefully placing your feet.

Remember, though, that Nia movements themselves are your protection. Unless you have structural foot problems, your bare feet will be a boon to your workout, sending you signals that help support and balance your movement. 

Give Your Feet a Chance to Breathe

Through non-impact aerobics, we’ve gained a great respect for the mechanics and functions of the feet and an appreciation of the possibilities they allow.  Simply turning them either in or out dramatically changes the toning and stretching of the calf, thigh, buttocks, and hips.

Your feet are platforms upon which to spread the stresses of standing and moving. To be steady and reliable, they must be pliable, strong, and resilient. Shoes box them in, constrict their circulation and hinder the mobility of their joints, and impede the full strengthening of their muscles. Working out and dancing barefooted gives your feet a chance to breathe, to stretch and become more flexible. You can flex and become stronger. It allows your whole body to touch and be touched. That, in turn, affects everything else you’re able to do.

When you move, think light. Think of your feet as light, like a feather. Feel the magnetic force drawing you up, all the way from your feet through your legs and torso, lengthening your spine and lifting the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Be easy on your feet. A jump-aerobics class can sound like a herd of stampeding elephants.

Purposefully Placing Your Feet

In Nia we purposefully place our feet with each step instead of throwing weight on them. It’s been documented that jogging and jumping, even with shoes on, still send three times your body weight crunching down through your shins to your feet and can break down your musculoskeletal system.

No padding or special sprung floors are necessary in Nia because we knead and massage the feet instead of pounding them.  Lateral support from shoes is not needed because we don’t throw weight onto the outside edges of the feet and never rotate on a weight-bearing foot.

Basic Foot Tips

Take a look at the soles of your shoes to see what part of your foot you favor. If the edge is worn down on either side, you’re pronating (rolling in) or supinating (rolling out). The imbalance can cause strain and risky muscle compensation that can lead to injury. If you tend to roll in, concentrate on pressing through the outside edges of your feet until you feel your whole foot – and vice versa. Pressing down through the weaker side will help to strengthen and correct the muscle imbalance.

During sinking movements, you might thrust your weight into the front of your foot, pressing your knee past your arch, which puts much too much strain on your knees. To get your weight back where it belongs, lift your toes (not the balls of your feet) and dig your heels into the floor. Throughout, imagine that you have roots growing out of the soles of your feet and reaching deep into the earth.

The Heel

When you step forward or laterally, point your foot in the direction you’re going and lead with your heel, stretching your calf, strengthening the muscles around your shins, and protecting the thin metatarsal bones in your foot. From the heel, roll through to the flat of your foot, feeling for every cell of every inch of your sole.

The Ball

When you step back, always move with soft knees onto the ball of your foot, keeping your heel high. Never step back with locked knees onto the flat of your foot. When you step forward or sideways to rise up onto the ball of your foot, remember to roll first from your heel clear through the whole surface of your sole and then rise up. For now, never step smack on the ball of your foot unless you step back.

Think Balance

It’s all about keeping an equilibrium, or balance. Notice how your body wants to sway, and keep your weight equally distributed. Even when you lead through your heel to roll onto the flat of you foot, even when you rise or sink on the ball of your foot, keep your weight spread across the entire surface of the part that makes contact with the floor. Don’t let your feet roll in or out. You’re going to become intimate with those wonderfully complex and sensitive carriers. The better you get to know them, the steadier and safer your workout will be.

- Debbie Rosas, Founder and CEO