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You’ve probably seen a couple of people doing barefoot squats and deadlifts … and you’ve probably written them off as hippie granola guys. However, lifting without shoes has some great advantages.
Here’s how to take off your shoes to add the weight of your major lifts and relieve a common exercise injury.
When doing compound lower body movements like squats and deadlifts, you want all of your strength to go straight to the floor. Ideally, this force should be evenly distributed over three contact points:
- The base of your first metatarsal (big toe)
- The base of your fifth metatarsal (little toe)
- Your heel.
By pressing through the entire “tripod”
When you are lifting a running shoe or other shoe with a soft surface, the force of your movement will be distributed throughout the shoe. This leads to an inefficient power transmission. If the line of force doesn’t go directly into the ground, you are wasting precious energy that should be going in the direction of your elevator.
If your shoes squeeze down while squatting or deadlifting, you’ll need to make adjustments to your body to compensate. Generally, this means shifting on your toes as many shoes have thick, soft heels.
Not only does this put you in a sub-optimal position when squatting, but it also prevents consistency in your repetitions, leaving you unable to master the exercises.
As an exaggerated comparison, try perching on a pair of BOSU balls. You will immediately notice how much more difficult the movement becomes due to the lack of stability when your feet are squeezed into the balls. BOSU ball squats are good for rehab, but if you want to improve your squats you need a stable surface that you can ride on.
Pushing through the entire tripod of your foot is paramount in building a stable squat from scratch. When lifting in a shoe that has too much sag, your feet tend to pronate excessively, causing the valgus to collapse (the knees drop inward).
- Pronation occurs when you roll excessively on the inside of your foot and the arch of your foot falls.
- When this happens, the tibia and femur rotate inward, causing your knee to yield inward.
- When your knee cavity drops in excessively, the medial (inner) part of your knee is put under excessive strain.
- If you do this consistently, it can potentially lead to knee problems.
Mechanical advantage in deadlifting
This mechanical advantage, achieved by deadlifting barefoot, brings a few pounds to your maximum deadlift almost instantly. If you shorten yourself an inch by taking off your shoes, you are putting yourself in a more mechanically advantageous position.
If you regularly lift in a shoe that is not specifically designed for lifting, you are pulling in deficit with every deadlift on an unstable surface!
If you lose an inch or two from your height, you don’t have to pull the bar that far. Combine this with the increased force production in the ground and you’ll be pulling bigger numbers almost immediately.
What about lifting shoes?
In some gyms, you cannot lift without shoes. If your local gym owner doesn’t want your skanky feet to stink on their floor, here are two tips on choosing suitable shoes.
- In general, an Olympic raised heel shoe is good for knee-dominant exercises where the upper body is more upright. If you’re doing lots of squats, front squats, and back squats with a horizontal bar, this is something you should investigate.
- Shoes that are flatter and have a hard sole are a good choice for hip-dominant movements where the torso is more angled. If you regularly do low back squats, good morning hours, and deadlifts, this type of shoe might be your choice.
Related: The Truth About Barefoot Exercise
Related: Deadlifting barefoot. Here’s why.