Squatting Barefoot vs. Shoes: What’s the Best Way to Squat?

Squatting barefoot or with footwear? Since there’s an ongoing debate about better, I decided to research and put together what I found here.

Foot role in squats and deadlifts

The end of the foot is what allows you to squeeze out that last bit of power in the bottom position of a squat or deadlift or for you to maintain balance when you are in the bottom part of a squat.

We all know this, but some people have lost their foot strength because of an injury or surgery. It is essential to have strong feet so that your leg training will be more effective and efficient.

Should I Squat in Socks or Shoes?

2 squatting kids with heavy balls

Squatting in socks is a little more comfortable, as they provide more padding. But wearing shoes can make it easier to keep your balance, as the soles of the shoes help you keep your balance.

Socks and shoes can be a touchy subject for some people, but we all wear socks and shoes. It’s just that most of us don’t think about them as something we need to covet.

Yes, our feet are gross and smelly, but they’re also good for doing many things besides standing up straight. And if you’re uncomfortable with squatting in socks or shoes, there are plenty of other options.

If you’re not sure what to do here, start with socks before moving on to shoes.

What are Lifting Shoes Used For?

The lifting shoe was created as a training device that enabled the user to practice the correct stance, grip, and movement required for the perfect squat. They are a must-have accessory for anyone who trains or competes in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting.

They keep your feet from going flat during a set. The problem is that there are not too many people out there who make them available to the average gym-goer.

Why do Non-Weightlifters Wear Weightlifting Shoes?

one man with yellow barbell

The average person lifts weights to improve their physical appearance. They lift weights to look better in their clothes, look better in pictures, and look better in general.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in the phenomenon of “gym rats.” These are non-weightlifters who wear weightlifting shoes simply because they are fashionable.

Not only are gym rats mistaken for weightlifters by the elite world of weightlifting, but they are also mistaken for being severe about weightlifting by the general public. When you’re outside of a gym setting, you can’t tell the difference between a lifter and a gym rat based on their shoes.

Do Pro Bodybuilders Wear Weightlifting Shoes?

The answer is yes. Weightlifting shoes are designed to provide traction for the user during the squat, deadlift, bench press, and pull-up movements. Weightlifting shoes are designed with a thick, rigid sole that makes the user feel more stable on the ground during lifts.

In addition, some of them have spikes or rubber under-soles that let you feel more secure when you’re trying to lift heavy weights off the ground.

However, there are some downsides to wearing weightlifting shoes compared to traditional athletic shoes, including:

  • Being uncomfortable or even painful after long periods of use.
  • Permanent damage to your feet if you wear them all day long.
  • Placing an unnecessary strain on your joints forces you to bend your knees too much when lifting weights.

Barefoot Training: Advantages and Disadvantages

one deadlifting woman

Now that we’ve covered the lifting shoe, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of barefoot squatting:

Benefits of Training Barefoot

You can learn a lot about yourself when you lift without shoes. Here are seven reasons why you might want to consider raising barefoot:

  • The ability to feel a better connection with the floor
  • A feedback tool to help self-correct form
  • A way to diagnose movement limitations
  • Strengthen the arch of the foot
  • Total body awareness
  • Increased mobility
  • Strength in bare feet

Drawbacks to Training Barefoot in the Gym

The main drawback to training barefoot is that it will make you sore. Not only are the muscles of your feet less intense than those in your legs and back, but they’re also relatively new and haven’t been trained much.

As a result, when you do exercises that involve your entire weight on your feet (like deadlifts) or that involve quick movements (like sprints), the muscles of the feet will get tired before those of your legs and back.

But if you want to improve your legs and back strength, you should train them properly too. To make sure you don’t overload them, try to keep your squats and deadlifts in the range where you can go for an hour without getting too sore.

Is Barefoot Training in the Gym ever a Good Idea?

Many people think that the only reason to ever go barefoot in a gym is to save money. But there are other reasons, and they make the cost worth it for most people.

You will save money because you will probably get better results than you would by using shoes. Shoes add about 20% to your effort when you exercise, mainly by reducing your strength and speed.

This is much less important in running than in other sports, but the benefit is still there. So it makes sense to take off your shoes and run barefoot on a treadmill if you can, so you can push harder and go faster than you could with shoes.

You will also gain advantages in posture and balance: barefoot running has improved proprioception and balance in adults though not in children.

an empty gym with sport equipment

Barefoot squatting is an intuitive and straightforward exercise, so if it works for everyone, that means safety has been established. It is not as simple as it seems, though, and the evidence of protection is not as strong as it should be.

Barefoot squatting is just what it sounds like: you do nothing but squat down on the ground. Without any other movements, the lower leg and knee muscles stand around doing nothing at all.

This can be a good thing if you were injured and could no longer walk. Of course, you would want to weaken your muscles until they were weak enough to undo the injury. But barefoot squatting also happens to be a good exercise for strengthening those muscles too.

This is because the quantity of muscle you use is determined by how hard you work your leg muscles. More muscle means more strength. You can test this yourself:

  • Pick up a heavy object with one arm, then the other.
  • Do some squats.
  • See which arm can lift more weight.

Is Squatting without Shoes Harder?

As a rule, yes. It takes a lot more strength to hold your back straight while squatting without shoes than with them. The reason is that when you have shoes on, your legs are a lot stronger than the muscles in your back.

But when you take off your shoes, your legs lengthen out, and it becomes easier to keep your back straight. In other words, the conventional advice to go barefoot all the time may be even more critical for people who already have lower back problems than for people who don’t.

Why Do Powerlifters Not Wear Shoes?

one barefoot man with two barbells

Some powerlifters do not wear shoes while training, and I’ve seen photos of some athletes who even compete without shoes.

The reason not to wear shoes is that this will put less pressure on the feet. For example, if your feet get sore when lifting heavy weights, you cannot continue training very effectively. Pain will interfere with your form, so you will not lift the same amount as usual.

Not wearing shoes will also increase your chances of catching a bone contusion or strain in the foot. These injuries can leave lasting scars and affect your training capacity and recovery for weeks and even months after the damage occurs.

Should We All Squat And Deadlift Barefoot?

Maybe. There is a lot of evidence that squatting and deadlifting barefoot can improve your health. But there is also some evidence that the benefits are minor, and the risks may outweigh them.

How to Transition to Barefoot Squatting Training?

Here’s a guide if you want to transition from a traditional barbell squat to a barefoot squat:

  • First, if you haven’t already done so, remove your shoes. If you have time, put on a pair of socks.
  • Then run around the block a couple of times to get used to the new feeling. You’ll be surprised how much more work it takes to push off without shoes.
  • Once that’s done, take off your socks and put your feet on the ground.
  • You’re going to do the first few reps about as fast as possible, which is probably about half as quickly as you could do them with shoes on. You may also want to start with a lighter weight.
  • Once you’ve done the first couple of reps, listen for your knees clicking and stop when they click. That means they’re about where they need to be, and you can go ahead and do another rep or two.

Some Reasons Why You Should Not Squat Barefoot

If you are in the habit of wearing shoes, there is a good chance you have bad arches or flat feet, or an unbalanced gait. And if so, you will likely find yourself in pain when trying to squat barefoot.

The first thing to understand is that squatting barefoot is not a health hazard. It’s not the same as running barefoot on cobblestones, which can lead to wrong feet. And it’s not even the same as squatting with shoes on.

Barefooting probably does not hurt your feet at all. But, unfortunately, many people, including many athletes, do it. And if it does hurt your feet, you can always put something on them.

What about Squatting in Flat Soled Shoes?

one deadlifting men in private gym

The standard advice for squatting with weight is to do it in shoes with a raised heel or use a weight belt. However, I think the direction is wrong. There are three reasons for this:

  • A raised heel makes it easier to push your knees out and virtually impossible to keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • A raised heel means you can’t squat as deep because your knee will come up into your chest.
  • Raised heels to make it harder to balance on one leg, which is essential for pistol squats and single-leg squats.

Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Squats?

Yes. When you squat, the force you apply to the floor is proportional to your weight. BUT, because you can never wholly pin down the ground, there will always be a little bit of movement under your feet.

So if you weigh 200 pounds, you can’t just stand there with no movement at all. The moment your foot leaves the floor, the moment your knees start coming back down, that’s when gravity starts pulling you downward.

You must allow for this movement by moving with it. Otherwise, you lose body position and can fall over. Barefoot shoes make it easier to maintain body position because they reduce this movement.

They also reduce other kinds of activity, let your feet adapt to unevenly worn down surfaces like cobblestones or floating docks, and let you move quickly through the water. In addition, they prevent blisters by allowing the skin to adjust to the surface beneath it.

Which is Better, Squatting and Deadlifting Barefoot or with Running Shoes?

one deadlifting strong man with heavy weights

It is tempting to assume that the answer is obvious. But the answer depends on the nature of the question. Squats and deadlifting are two different things, and there are differences between them.

So if you do both, you won’t know which is better until you’ve tried both. Whether it is better to squat or deadlift with running shoes is not necessarily the same as whether it is better to squat or to deadlift barefoot.

So if you want to be able to do either with shoes, you might as well start with shoes, by which I mean beginning with shoes that are heavy enough, so your feet don’t move much when you squat or deadlift.

But if you want to do either barefoot, then it might be worth doing both barefoot because they teach different things. The lesson of this essay is that there are no easy answers.

Flat-soled Shoes are Great Options for Weightlifting

They help increase the power in your legs because when you lift, your muscles have to work over a larger area. But because the shoes have flat soles, there is no need to grip your feet.

They also provide cushioning that helps keep the whole body in a good position for a long time. For example, if you were barefoot, your feet would tend to slide around on the floor and thicken up the muscles in your legs, and then they would get tired more quickly.

The Dangers of Barefoot-like Shoes or Being Barefoot While Training Squats or Deadlifts

a man with one barbell on blue mat

Doing a lot of squats or a lot of deadlifts might seem dangerous. But if you tend to wipe out while going barefoot, you might be better off wearing shoes while training.

When people go barefoot while training their legs, the reason is apparent because there is no support for the foot. In that case, the skills that use the leg muscles are easier to spot and fix.

For example, being barefoot during squats can help you notice when your technique isn’t perfect.

Conclusion: Squatting Barefoot vs. Lifting Shoes: Is There a Winner?

People often confuse the question of which is better, cutting down to basics or lifting shoes. Of course, both are good things, but they differ in meaningful ways.

In a rapidly becoming more complex world, cutting down to the bare essentials may be the most productive thing you can do. In that world, shoes are still as adequate if you insist on wearing them.

What are your experiences at the gym? Do you train with lifting shoes, regular sports shoes, barefoot shoes, or completely barefoot? Let me know in the comments below.

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