Have you ever been to a gym and seen someone squatting without shoes? I have seen a lot of barefoot fitness fanatics in my gym, and it made me curious-Why do people exercise without shoes? Should you do squats without shoes?
YES!… but also NO. There are so many things in this world that are both good AND bad for us, and it usually depends on how we do those things or use such a product. Squatting and shoes are no exception.
Squatting is amazingly beneficial for your body. Wearing shoes has both health and safety benefits. Going barefoot feels great and helps connect the soul back to nature. I know you were looking for a quick and easy answer, but in this case, you must read on to dig deep and make the ultimate decision based on your needs.
So, let’s look at the reasons behind this re-emerging fitness trend.
It turns out barefoot weightlifting is not just a trend. Weightlifters have been squatting shoeless for decades. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his bodybuilding career. It was not uncommon to see Arnold deadlifting hundreds of pounds barefoot. And while it is odd to see, barefoot weightlifting is believed to be beneficial, as it promotes proper muscle engagement.
Our feet have built-in mechano-receptors that sense contact points when they touch the ground. These receptors can feel the ground and communicate with our brain, strengthening the connection between our feet and brain. And shoes interfere with this process because they interfere with the foot-brain connection.
Improves muscle engagement/ proprioception
Squatting barefoot improves proprioception (your brain’s ability to adjust to changes in the ground when you walk.) This helps prevent injuries from falls or stepping on sharp objects. Healthy proprioception is crucial throughout life, especially in old age. And it is the key to maintaining balance and preventing injury during sports.
Barefoot weightlifting improves balance. In fact, when you work out barefoot, you can grip the floor with every single toe, helping you balance better while engaging your muscles more evenly.
Shoes force our feet into all sorts of strange shapes. Think about the popular pointed-toe heel or super narrow chucks. Over time, shoes can make our foot muscles weak and lazy. Squatting barefoot can help correct this. In fact, according to orthosports.in foot and ankle mechanics “improve significantly with barefoot training.”
I can vouch for this one! I tried the barefoot squat, and it felt so good! My toes were more spread out, giving me more control over the squat. If you have ever squatted in shoes, you know it can be very uncomfortable. Shoes are constricting, and they can throw your form off. And when your toes are all scrunched together in your shoes, it can be hard to balance. It feels much better to spread your toes apart and grip the floor with your entire foot.
Better Mobility and Joint Support
Barefoot moves help increase mobility and strengthen ankle joints. When you wear shoes, your joints learn to lean on that added support and do not stay as strong as they could be on their own. Your arch support also gets a workout instead of depending on the soles of your sneakers.
You can’t feel everything your body does when your shoes are between you and the floor. So, shuck the chucks and FEEL where the pressure is on your feet. If your heels are coming up, you might not know to correct the bad form before it becomes a bad habit.
All exercises, whether barefoot or closed-toed, can be risky. So, let’s talk about some of the problems you might have when squatting barefoot.
It’s a good idea to consult your doctor before attempting barefoot squats. While most people’s feet will adapt well to barefoot exercise, others may have issues. If you have a foot issue that causes pain or requires special inserts you should not attempt barefoot weightlifting until your doctor gives you an ok.
You could drop weights on your feet
Of course, there’s always a chance you could drop a heavy weight on your foot. And you’ll want to be extra careful about this when lifting weights barefoot. After all, a broken toe won’t improve your PR.
Be sure to check your gym’s policy before diving feet first into barefoot training. Some gyms prohibit it for safety reasons.
Overall, the benefits of barefoot squatting seem to outweigh the risks. For most people, barefoot lifting will improve balance and strength, while promoting proper body awareness. However, you should always use your best judgement before trying a new exercise.
Why do squats at all? Benefits of doing your Squats
Why are you doing squats at all? If you are doing them because your trainer said so, just trust they know what they are talking about. Exercising in general is great for your overall mental and physical health, and squats are definitely a necessity to your program!
Generally speaking, doing squats gets you stronger leg, glute, and core muscles. Pick up a dumbbell or a bar and now your squat works your back, shoulders, and overall upper body. Now think about how your body moved OUTSIDE the gym or a workout.
You squat to pick stuff up off the floor, squat to sit in a chair or go to the bathroom, and if you have kids to pick up or tote around while doing chores, congratulations, you have added weight (dumbbells)! But what does this really do for you?
Focus on improving these moves improves your mobility and range of motion, flexibility, posture, and load capacity/power. You will suffer LESS injury doing day to day activities and STRENGTHEN your joints at the same time. Not to mention increase blood flow, giving you more energy and confidence in everything you do!
But are you PERFORMING them correctly and safely? Let’s check in on your form really quick.
How to get the Perfect Squat Form Down
Practice! (You knew that was coming, right?) Leave the weights racked to master form and improve balance before adding resistance and possibly hyperextending any muscles.
Consider these tips to prep your positioning and master your squat form.
Set your Stance
Unless you are doing an alternate move, start out with your feet shoulder length apart and square your shoulders so you are facing straight ahead of you. This stance gives you the best balance and weight distribution as you move.
Test the Waters with a Modified Move
Grab a chair, bench, box, or something that is about knee height and place it behind your knees. When you sit down in the chair, your butt should only land on the edge. This gets your body ready for basic movements.
Proper Form Starts at the Top
What I mean is, keep your back straight, chest up, and neck relaxed. As for your core, suck in your belly button like you are trying to pin it to your back. Engaging in your core helps posture and balance as you learn new moves. Clasp your hands together in front of your chest or spread them out at your sides, whichever feels more comfortable for balance.
Knees and Ankles Count too
Now that the top half is ready, push your butt back slightly while bending at the knees. Keep your back straight! This will help keep your knees from moving beyond your feet. At the bottom position, squatting, your heels and hips and head should be aligned, and your knees should not go ahead of your toes.
Up, Up, and Repeat!
Now push up through your heels as you return to the standing position, and repeat. Congratulations! Keep doing this move and remember to engage your core and keep your knees aligned. Check out this video for proper form and mistakes to avoid.
Why should I wear squatting shoes?
- Added Support- There are those who NEED the support, and this is where a good pair of shoes come in handy. If you have flat feet, squatting barefoot may cause pain such as plantar fasciitis.
- Protection and Hygiene- First, your gym might not allow you to work out barefoot for safety and hygiene reasons. Second, once you start adding weights, wearing shoes will provide a little more protection from a felled dumbbell to the toes.
- Grip- Having toes exposed can also provide grip, but a non-slip pair of kicks will keep you planted and help with form by keeping your feet where they need to be.
Check THIS list of shoes to find the best ones for your squatting moves.
So should I squat without shoes?
To answer this with a yes or no would be impossible. Everyone who works out has different priorities. Can you work out in your living room barefoot, absolutely! Should you trek into the gym with naked feet…probably not.
The best advice we can truly give you is, test out the move at home and see what feels the most comfortable and works with your conditions. Be safe, Be Strong, Be Smart!