The Pros and Cons of Strength Training Barefoot, According to These Experts
You've probably seen the photos from your favorite Instagram fitness influencers, or the few brave souls at your local gym taking off their shoes and hitting the weight room; barefoot training has become increasingly popular. And it's not just workouts that are traditionally done sans shoes, such as yoga or Pilates, but actual strength training and weightlifting.
But as popular as barefoot training has become, there are still some risks that come with taking off your shoes and hitting the squat rack. If you're curious to try barefoot training, we tapped some experts who reveal the biggest pros and cons of strength training without shoes or socks. Read on to find out if this style of training is right for you.
Pro: It Increases Foot Strength
"Going barefoot strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the foot and ankle and makes them stronger," explained certified personal trainer Chris Divecchio, NASM. "Shoes give a lot of stability and support, but can also make the foot and ankle lazy, leading to injury or muscle imbalance. Strengthening the small stabilizing muscles of the feet can improve balance and overall performance."
Since your foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, strengthening your foot is essential for achieving overall balance.
Con: Not Everyone's Foot Is Designed For It
Strength training barefoot may seem like a good idea based on how many people rave bout it, but it's not ideal for everyone.
"Shoes are meant to protect us and barefoot weight training may not be best for everyone. Take for instance someone with a limb length discrepancy where one leg is slightly shorter than the other; being barefoot can exacerbate this," podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, member of Vionic Innovation Lab, told POPSUGAR. "What about people with little to no natural fat padding on the bottom of their feet? This can be painful and cause injury because there is nothing between the foot and floor for cushioning and shock absorbing."
Before you try barefoot training, it may be good to assess your foot health, and possibly visit a podiatrist to see if it's right for your feet.
Pro: It Increases Proprioception
"Going barefoot improves our proprioception, which is defined as our unconscious perception of space and our orientation and movement within the space around us," Divecchio explained. "Training barefoot in the gym helps us to feel and connect us to our environment, and can improve overall muscle activation and isolation from our feet all the way up the chain to our head including your core."
Con: It's Unsanitary
When you decide to barefoot train, you are subjecting your feet and toes to all kinds of mysterious bacteria and potential fungi and warts, explains Dr. Sutera. Just be mindful of how much foot traffic and sweat lingers on your gym floor and mats.
Pro: You Get a Better Grip
"With your feet as the primary point of contact with the ground and no middle padding from a shoe, this is where you can actually literally grip the floor with your toes and feet and support better weightlifting technique," NASM-certified personal trainer Ashley Pitt told POPSUGAR. "If your feet can feel every bit of the floor, you will have better proprioception — a sense of your body in space and balance — which is a major plus."
The best exercises to get the benefit of this grip are leg-focused exercises: squats, lunges, and deadlifts. But you can also get the benefit from an upper-body workout and other compound exercises.
Con: You Could Drop a Weight on Your Foot
Most of the trainers we talked to had this major caveat: you have to be careful not to drop a weight on your foot. Obviously it still hurts when you have shoes on, but the shoes add another layer of protection you don't have when you're barefoot. So just be extra careful!
Pro: It Helps Generate Strength
"Training barefoot is a very good idea when doing big compound lifts, like deadlifts, squats, and lunges. This is because you want to be able to drive from the heel/mid foot hard to generate as much strength as you can," explained personal trainer Chris Cucchiara, NASM. "If you are wearing regular running shoes, you lose a lot of this ability because the soles of the feet are so soft."
He also explained that force transfer is more evenly distributed when you are barefoot, which takes your muscles through the whole range of motion and can help create better core strength.
Con: Your Gym May Not Allow It
It's probably not a good idea to kick off your shoes as soon as you get to your gym and hit the weight room warns NASM-certified trainer Talia Mariani. Instead, you should seek out a gym that specializes in barefoot training, such as Epic Hybrid Training. If you don't have access to such gym, make sure you ask employees at your gym what their policy on barefoot training is.