Our feet don't really get a lot of attention during a workout, unless our trainers are rubbing. Now a new barefoot exercise class claims to not only to boost your fitness, but also improve your posture and foot flexibility into the bargain. Barefoot exercise is big news on the fitness front, as scientific studies have found barefoot exercise, particularly running, can improve your health. Taking off your trainers means you avoid heel-strike – hitting the ground with your heel first – and as a result, suffer fewer injuries and aching joints than those wearing shoes. But does it work in a fitness class?
Willpower & grace® is as big as Zumba in the States, and is about to be launched into 13 Virgin Active clubs in the UK. When I first heard the name –cutesy wordplay on the sitcom Will & Grace – I was expecting a gentle, BodyBalance style workout, but I could not have been more wrong. Our session started off with some toe toning exercises, which course designer and barefoot exercise expert Stacey Lei Krass says will "improve communication" between our brain and our feet. Trying to raise my big toes and then little toes, while keeping the balls of my feet on the floor, is already causing a sweat, so it's obvious my feet are no good at communicating!
We move on to the cardio section of the class, a combination of fast yoga poses, Pilates and some dance moves. There are plenty of squats and lunges in here – perfect for toning your thighs and buttocks. For some of the moves, Stacey encourages us to grip the floor with our toes. Not only does this increase your foot flexibility, it also improves your body awareness; I feel more conscious of the way my feet work, which means I'm doing the poses properly and getting deeper stretches as a result. During the high-energy sections, Stacey tells us off for thumping our feet when we land on the floor, but by tightening our core muscles we manage to land much more softly. 'Even if you do make an impact, don't focus on the landing. That takes grace,' she says. Less of an impact also means less pressure on your joints, which can help correct imbalances in your ankles, knees and hips.
The class also uses some elements of philosophy and visualisation to help motivate you during the tougher moves. During some squats, we imagine picking up a treasure box, opening it and releasing the positive image inside up and over our heads as we stretch out. This helps explain where the willPower part of class comes from. "Visualisation helps you get through the hour, but it also helps you achieve what you want in life," says Stacey. "Willpower is just like a muscle and also needs to be exercised."
By the time the class has finished, I'm sweating buckets and my thighs are positively shaking. This is not some girly relaxation class. Stacey says it should take three to four sessions to see a difference in your foot flexibility but I was almost immediately aware of how strengthening my feet could improve my posture and boost my workout. If it has a similar effect on my willpower, I should be trim, toned and unstoppable in a few months!
See virginactive.com or willPowerMethod.com for more information.