How Modern Footwear Affects Martial Arts Speed, Power, and Agility

The footwork in all stand up striking martial arts is the most critical piece of the entire art. Without it, Muay Thai and all other striking arts would fail to be effective.

Except for capoeira, a Brazilian dance martial art, striking martial arts such as Muay Thai are played standing up, with the two feet Martial Arts - Muay Thai Kickboxing Footworksupporting the weight of the body.  Particularly for Muay Thai, the body is always supported from the balls of the feet. (I’m not versed in all of the striking martial arts out there, but in my experience, ex-Karate and Taekwondo folks who transition over to Muay Thai appear to have  a more flat footed stance. I’m not sure if this is the traditional way of their martial art or if they were just taught incorrectly. )  I’m going to make a huge claim right here…Mastering the footwork of Muay Thai should be the #1 priority of a martial arts practitioner involved in Muay Thai. Without mastery, there is no chance at consistent success.

  • Supports the entire weight of the body at all times
  • Muay Thai strikes are most effective when thrown from a very specific stance. The effectiveness dips exponentially as the stance deviates from this specific stance
  • Because no one is going to just stand there and let you hit them

To sum it up, in order to respond intelligently to your opponent in a Muay Thai / Martial Arts bout, your feet need to respond to the opponent’s movement as quickly as they move otherwise, they will always be a beat ahead. This is not to say that you need to move the feet just fast….they need to move intelligently whether your throwing a strike, evading a strike, or setting the body in place to block

Wearing modern footwear will destroy your ability to move around on your two feet and is probably the biggest bottleneck to your progression in the martial arts and Muay Thai.  

Wearing footwear, particularly dress shoes, high heels,  really destroy the strength and flexibility of the feet.   This results in naturally poor

Martial Arts and Muay Thai - The impact of Modern Footwear

and lazy footwork for martial arts because the feet are just underutilized day to day.  For one, walking around too much in footwear makes for lazy feet, people relying too much on heel walking, walking around landing heavy on the heel of the foot. In the striking martial arts, particularly Muay Thai, practitioners move around on the front of the feet, giving them speed and agility to change direction, pivot, etc.



Most modern footwear, and particularly fashionable footwear, cramp the toes and feet into a tight fit for fashion purposes, taking away the natural flexibility of the foot to adjust to the contours of the floor

  • Modern Footwear results in heel-walking, a lazy form of walking where people plant heavy on the heavily supported feet, resulting in weak feet for martial arts.
  • Martial Arts such as Muay Thai were designed for the bare foot practitioner and relying on daily modern footwork results in not being well-adjusted this sort of movement

For most people, striking martial arts stuck as Muay Thai requires some rehabilitation of the feet, especially if you spend most of your days in fashionable footwear (i.e. – dress shoes, high heels)

I was the average corporate worker who wore dress shoes to work, 8-9 hours everyday. As a result, literally, over the years, when I took my shoes off, my toes would stick together! I would have to literally TRY to spread my toes out. My feet would feel dead after work when I could go to my gym for my martial arts training. I personally felt that there was something genetically preventing me from moving as fast as the other students. It wasn’t until I took the time to rehabilitate my feet and work on my feet strength and flexibility that I started to see massive improvements in my martial arts speed, movement, and power.  How do you know if you need some rehabilitation yourself? These are some telling signs

  • You’ve been training Muay Thai for a couple months now and you still have chicken legs for calves
  • Your toes are completely stuck together even when you take your shoes off
  • You have difficultly spreading out the toes of your feet and some of them just seem to be stuck together (this is a sign that these toes have gone completely asleep from atrophy)Martial Arts - Flexibility in the Feet is Critical

Again, I know all this because this is precisely what I went through and I what I observed in other martial arts practitioners who I’ve taught and were coming straight from their day job in dress shoes. And they all showed the same problems I had gone through – balance problems, slow and poor footwork, inability to strike or pivot correctly on the feet.  So what to do about this issue? Well it’s going to take time but this is what I did to correct my own ‘feet’ issues and propel my martial arts abilities.

  • Change out your old dress shoes that narrow out at the top with ones that are spacey and give the toes space to breath. Probably visually unappealing, but martial arts is a commitment! Effectiveness over superficiality right?
  • Move around on bare feet as much as possible. When I figured this out, I’d spend the entire weekend on bare feet.
  • Do specific feet training exercises – try to spread the toes as much as possible, place a towel on the floor, then try to grip it with your toes and lift it. 20-30 a day over several weeks will start to loosen up the muscles and bring the feet and toes back to life
  • Invest in a pair of Five Fingers shoes and start jogging with these. Go lightly at first as it will take time adjusting to not heel planting every step like most people do in modern sneakers.

Again, I can’ stress enough that rehabilitating your feet is the single most important thing you can do for your martial arts training if you’re constantly in feet restricting footwear all day. Assess your feet today with this guide and get to accelerating your martial arts skills to the next level.


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