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Who doesn’t love taking their shoes off after a long day? But should you take them off to squat? There are pros and cons for everything in life and squatting barefoot definitely has its benefits, but is it right for you?

There are definitely pros and cons when it comes to squatting barefoot. Training barefoot provides increased mobility, power, and strength but lacks hygiene, less ankle support, and protection.

I’ll show you how to transition to squatting barefoot safely and hitting new PRs at the end!

Ultimately, the decision to squat barefoot is up to you but you definitely should give it a go. Besides the increase in mobility, strength, and gains – it is actually better for you long term!

You are less likely to be one of the elderly with a basket full of issues from your feet and your ankles, to your knees and your back. So, let us get into it!

Squatting barefoot vs shoes

Related: How Much Should I Be Able To Squat?

So, what is the difference? When it comes to squatting in shoes vs. barefoot there are a variety of pros and cons that you should consider.

Some of the advantages include increased power, grip, and feel, while the disadvantages can include an increase in injury, less protection, and of course the obvious one, lack of hygiene.

Many people prefer to squat in shoes due to the additional support and comfort.

Though we have all seen Arnold Schwarzenegger training barefoot and there are many other pros who follow suit so they can reap the benefits.

Even Louie Simmons says, “Don’t have $100.00 shoes and a 10 cent squat!” 

You spend your whole life in shoes and over the years it takes a toll. Your feet essentially become lazy because of the additional support your shoes provide.

This prevents your feet from fulfilling their full capacity and to strengthen properly.

All that cushioning in your shoes compress under any weight which can throw your form out the window.

Not only that, but your shoes are extremely restricting which affects the development of your feet.

You can end up with shorter tendons, ligaments and they can even alter the size and shape of your foot! 

Don’t forget about that slight decline that angles your foot making it even harder to have proper form when weight lifting. 

The foundation of your body is your feet, without a strong foundation you are going to crack, and then break. 

Here is a short pros and cons list to get you started: 

Pros of squatting
Cons of squatting
Better balance and stabilityPossible risk increase due to injury
from lack of support or
dropped weights (OUCH!)
Better for you in the long runNo additional support and comfort
Assists in maximizing gainsLack of hygiene

Reasons why you should squat barefoot

Here are 10 reasons why you should squat barefoot in a bit more detail.

1. Mobility 

We wear shoes the majority of the time which can decrease our ankle mobility and range of motion for the foot bones.

Tim Varghese from Movement Solutions says: “Wearing shoes with an elevated heel can create adaptive shortening of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. This can limit the ability to dorsiflex or fold at the ankle”.

Without shoes your feet don’t have that additional support which will free up your ankle’s full range of motion. Providing you have good ankle mobility from the start.

When squatting in shoes or barefoot it’s important to make sure your feet stay flat on the floor.

If you find your heel lifting off the floor at the bottom of your deep squat this is a sign of poor ankle mobility and you will need to increase your ankle dorsiflexion.

You will find that just by squatting barefoot over time can increase your ankle dorsiflexion.

But you can speed up your ankle mobility by following simple drills to improve ankle dorsiflexion.

Ultimately this will improve your flexibility, form, and perform a deeper barefoot squat that will advance your strength and muscle development.

2. Technique 

Your squatting technique is essential to get the most out of your reps. Squatting without shoes makes it a lot easier to push through your heels.

You should be putting the weight onto your heels and then when you are pushing into the ground it should be through your heels. 

Keep your back straight, your chest up, and remember not to lean the weight forward!

3. Grip 

Your grip is actually improved when you are barefoot. When each part of your feet spread out when you squat you are proving your body with a wider and firmer platform.

Therefore, this increases your grip which is vital to prevent injury.

4. Balance 

Barefoot means you have a better sensory to balance. When you are wearing shoes, it numbs your sensors which may say to your brain that you are stable, when in reality you are just a squat away from an injury.

Try standing on a pillow and then completing a squat, it’s a little tricky right?

This is what you are putting your body through by wearing shoes. When you aren’t wearing shoes your toes are free to help with balance. 

5. Power

Your feet and ankles are the foundation of your body and affect much more than you would ever think.

When you exercise without shoes you allow your feet and ankles to strengthen which is actually going to provide you with more power. 

You are also allowing your smaller balancing muscles in your lower limbs to strengthen, which in turn provides you with more lift power. Now, you can really chase those PB’s! 

6. Cheaper

Let’s face it, gym equipment, clothing, and shoes can be expensive. If you are squatting barefoot, you are saving that coin you would be spending on squatting shoes. What might you spend those savings on? 

7. Strength 

Wearing shoes day in and day out allows your feet to slack off and weaken.

When you do barefoot squats you are encouraging your feet and ankles to reach their full potential which in turn allows you to reach yours. It strengthens your joints and muscles which prevents injuries. 

8. Awareness

Being barefoot means you have direct contact with the ground leading to better awareness.

This allows you to properly feel where you are pushing from in your feet, where you are holding the weight, if you are balanced, if you are pushing through one foot more than the other and if something is not quite right.

Your awareness is important to get the proper form to get the most out of your reps. 

9. Neuromuscular Connection

This is all about the loop that sends signals from your muscles to your brain and back again.

When you are barefoot your feet are able to accurately send information to your brain telling you to adjust your footing, you are not balanced right etc. 

This is essential for proper form and to minimize potential injuries.

10. Arch Support

Your arch is a vital part of your foot health. Wearing shoes allows your arch to slack off and become lazy, this can create a number of issues.

Barefoot squats force your arches to do the job they are meant to do and get stronger, thus increasing stability and support. 

Further Reading:
1. Should You Do Cardio On Leg Day?
2. 11 Top Hack Squat Alternatives (Pictures) for Size and Strength
3. Which Cardio Machines Burn The Most Calories Per Hour?
4. 14 Effective Leg Press Alternative Exercises (With Videos)

5. Do Squats Work Abs?

How to do deep barefoot barbell back squat

Reasons why you may not want to squat barefoot

Just like any argument, there are two sides to every story. Here are the reasons you may not want to squat without shoes on.

1. Hygiene

The most obvious issue when you squat barefoot is hygiene because of this many gyms will not allow you to be barefoot.

Your feet are rather dirty and carry a lot of germs and bacteria/fungus around, so imagine what a gym floor would be like?

2. Support 

This can be a little confusing but if you have been squatting for years in shoes, your feet and ankles are going to be weak.

You are going to be less stable when you begin to squat barefoot because you don’t have your shoes providing you with support. 

So, it is important to be careful and take it easy – there are more tips about how to transition properly down below! 

3. Risk

You do not have shoes to provide additional support to your feet so the littlest thing can cause a serious injury.

If you shift your ankle slightly, your feet placement isn’t quite right, even if your balance is off, you don’t have that support. 

Not only that but you have nothing around your foot protecting it. If you accidentally drop weight you are going to be in a world of hurt and probably a broken bone. 

Lower Back Pain Exercise

4. Lower Back Pain

Although you will be more aware of your foot position and overall sense of control when barefoot, your technique will slightly change.

People tend to lean forward slightly with their chest to maintain balance and this can lead to lower back pain due to the force on the spin when leaning slightly forward. 

If you already have lower back pain it’s probably best you wear squatting shoes.

5. Foot Pain

If you are new to squatting barefoot you may feel a little discomfort, a little ache because your feet aren’t able to slack off anymore. However, the foot pain I’m talking about doesn’t apply to everyone. 

This is usually for those squatting 130kg plus. This pain occurs due to the pressure you are putting on your feet from all that weight. 

If this does happen to you, you should probably invest in some squat shoes to prevent injury. 

You are unlikely to get this pain if you are squatting under 130kg and it is even more unlikely if you are squatting under 80kgs. 

Squatting Barefoot Perspective From Brandon Campbell

Starting at 2.42 minute to save you time. 🙂

How to transition

Transitioning from squatting in shoes to squatting barefoot does take time. Here are some tips on how to transition safely and go barefoot!

  • Take it slow – Your feet are used to that extra support from your shoes, so they are weak and have been slacking off.

    Don’t expect to be squatting 100kgs barefoot just because that’s what you did wearing shoes. It is going to take time for your feet to adjust and send the right messages to your brain. 
  • Take the weight off – When you begin to transition, start by squatting barefoot without any weight. You need to get your feet and ankles accustomed to having no shoes.

    Over time you can slowly add weight and in no time, you’ll be squatting your usual weight barefoot! 
  • Listen to your body – Your muscles aren’t going to be used to this difference so you need to be aware of how your body is coping.

    You don’t want to overburden your muscles and cause injuries due to stress. Take a rest and ease off when you need to. 
  • Give it time – Just like anything it can take time to get used to a change. You may feel unbalanced, unstable the first few times you squat barefoot.

    But, keep up with it and see how things go over a couple of weeks. 

Your feet will strengthen, you will have better form and you’ll be able to reap the benefits of squatting without shoes. 

So there you have it, everything you need to know about squatting barefoot. Now, you can make the right decision for you! Just remember not to bash something until you try it, so give it a crack and see how squatting with bare feet goes for you! 

Related questions

I can not handle squatting barefoot, what should I do?

If you can’t handle the thought of barefoot training, here are a few tips on what shoes you should be wearing.

  • Minimalist shoes – Thin and flat soles are a good option. Shoes like Chucks or Vibrams are what you should be aiming for.

TIP: Buy these a half size too big! This allows your feet room to spread as you squat like they would if you were barefoot. 

  • Squat shoes – These can be expensive but are the ideal choice if you are going to be wearing shoes. If you are squatting 130kg plus you may want to invest in these to avoid foot pain as well.

    You can search the best weightlifting shoes on Rogue Fitness or see recommended weight lifting shoes below from Amazon.

  • Running shoes – These are a big NO. Running shoes are not for squatting. 

Are there other exercises you can consider doing barefoot for added benefits? 

There are many other options you may want to try barefoot. This can include: 

  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Push-Ups
  • Sprints

I can’t train barefoot at my gym? 

If your gym does not allow barefoot training, here are a couple of options you may want to consider: 

  • You could change gyms to one that does allow barefoot training.
  • Train at home – If you have space, money, and willingness to build a gym at home this can be a great solution. Remember it doesn’t have to be at your house either, ask a mate if you could use their set up!