Effects of barefoot and footwear conditions on learning of a dynamic balance task: a randomized controlled study



Although barefoot balancing has shown to be more challenging compared to shod balancing, it is still unclear whether this may also influence the balance learning effects. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of barefoot and shod exercising on learning of a dynamic balance task.


Sixty healthy and physically active adults (mean age 25.3 ± 3.4 years) were randomly allocated into one of three groups (barefoot, shod and controls). The barefoot and shod intervention groups exercised once weekly over 7 weeks on a stability platform with an unstable surface. Each training session included 15 trials over 30 s. Before and after the intervention period, all participants completed two balance tests (stability platform and Balance Error Scoring System = BESS) under barefoot and shod conditions. Group effects in stability gains (pre to post-test differences) were analysed using ANOVA. Development of balance learning curves during the intervention period was analysed using a mixed effects model.


Balance times improved in both intervention groups (p < 0.001, 95% CI barefoot 5.82–9.22 s, shod 7.51–10.92 s) compared to controls. The barefoot intervention group showed a significantly less sloped balance learning curve compared to the shod intervention group (p = 0.033). No changes over time or differences between groups were found for the BESS test.


Improvements in the dynamic balance task did not differ between individuals exercising barefoot or with footwear although the progression was slower in the barefoot group. The lack of changes in the BESS supports the task-specificity of balance learning effects.

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Analysis of variance


Balance error scoring system


Central nervous system

ß F,C :

Intercept for the shod group

ß ∆B,C :

Differential intercept for the barefoot group compared to the shod group

ß F,L :

Slope coefficient for the linear learning effect in the shod group

ß ∆B,L :

Differential slope coefficient for the linear learning effect in the barefoot group compared to the shod group

ß F,Q :

Slope coefficient for the quadratic learning effect in the shod group

ß ∆B,Q :

Differential slope coefficient for the quadratic learning effect in the barefoot group compared to the shod group


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We would like to thank Dr. Simon Steib for helping with the Stabilometer pictures. The study was funded by the Ministry for Science and Research in Hamburg, Germany (Grant number LFF-FV13).

Author information




AZ, KaHo and KM conceived and designed research. SM and KaHo conducted experiments. DL performed the statistical analysis. SM, KaHo and KiHo analyzed data. AZ wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Astrid Zech.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest related to the publication of this article.

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Communicated by Håkan Westerblad.

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Zech, A., Meining, S., Hötting, K. et al. Effects of barefoot and footwear conditions on learning of a dynamic balance task: a randomized controlled study. Eur J Appl Physiol 118, 2699–2706 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-018-3997-6

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  • Balance
  • Postural control
  • Barefoot
  • Shod
  • Motor learning