If you’re ready to maximize your training sessions, it’s time to leave your shoes at the door. Barefoot training is one of the most effective ways to enhance muscle activation to improve full-body strength, balance, and coordination.
The thought of lifting without shoes may have never crossed your mind, but if you look around, everyone seems to be doing it—and there are many reasons. Barefoot training isn’t new, but athletes in the lifting community are changing their lifting game to improve balance, mobility, and coordination, which can ultimately improve your weight game.
In this blog, we’re covering the basics of barefoot training and how you can get started with it.
Scroll through your social media feed and you’ll likely see lifters of all kinds training without shoes. It’s become somewhat of a fad, but there’s actual merit behind this one to make it stick.
Letting your bare foot touch the ground provides feedback to your nervous system, helping to enhance muscle activation, especially in the glutes and core, to improve stability, but also the deep muscles that stabilize the foot, leading to stronger and more mobile ankles, knees, hips, and back.
The theory behind barefoot training is that when your feet have direct contact with the ground (as opposed to contact through the sole of a shoe), your entire body will feel more connected, especially through the core. Core stability is essential for lifting, and a stronger and more connected core leads to moving more weight during training.
For more information on the benefits of lifting in socks or training barefoot, you’ll want to check out our blog post.
As a summary, there are many benefits to lifting barefoot, including:
If you’re curious about lifting barefoot but aren’t sure where to start, keep reading—we’ll give you what you need to know to get started without falling trap to barefoot lifting faults.
Don't jump the gun if you’re ready to start training barefoot. If your body isn’t used to being barefoot while lifting, kicking off the shoes and going full force can lead to problems. Instead, it’s better to ease into it—and you can do that with our Barefoot Training Starter Pack. Inside you’ll find our Split Multi Wedge to enhance your range of motion, a pair of Toe Spacers to activate your feet, and Revive Balm to combat and heal the aches and pains that can arise when you change your training strategy.
Below, we discuss some of the most common faults when starting barefoot training, how to avoid them, and some tips to perfect your barefoot form.
If you’re ready to dive head-first into barefoot training, you want to be mindful of the differences between running and lifting barefoot. While countless studies show that humans have been wearing minimalist shoes or going barefoot for ages, you don’t want to cause damage by going too hard too soon.
Generally, running is hard on the body—the feet, ankles, knees, and everything else above it. If not done correctly with proper form, it’s easy to become injured. While running without shoes might seem like a good idea to start your barefoot journey, it’s important to note that running puts higher levels of repeated stress on your body, which can increase the risk of overuse injuries such as tendinopathies or stress fractures.
If you’re going to start running, consider transitioning slowly from conventional running shoes to minimalist footwear. Once your feet have adapted and strengthened, you can work on running barefoot.
Going barefoot while lifting offers many benefits, but it may be counterproductive during things like squats. Most training shoes and sneakers have a lift in the heel to add comfort and cushion. The cushion lifts the heel higher than the forefoot which can give a bit of support when reaching a low squat depth. The lift can be great for squats, but not ideal for everyday walking or running since it can affect how you walk.
Additionally, most people have limited flexibility at the ankles, so squatting barefoot can be uncomfortable. If you have a good range of motion, it’s fine to squat barefoot, but if you struggle with breaking parallel on a squat, try elevating your heels on a wedge (like our Mobility Wedge) until you improve your ankle ROM. The lift helps with ankle mobility which is why powerlifters (and those looking to lift heavy) often wear lifting shoes with elevated heels.
You may want to ease into jumping or plyometric moves without shoes if you’ve never trained barefoot and have weak foot strength or low arches. Training barefoot places a substantial amount of stress on the ligaments and tendons in the foot, so you will want to build strength and resiliency in the feet first.
Incorporating foot-strengthening movements in your training program can help strengthen and prepare the foot muscles for high-intensity activities without risking injury.
Check out our Introduction to Foot Strength and Mobility videos to help strengthen your feet.
If you want to make the most out of your barefoot training, you’ll want to practice the fundamental mechanics. Here are a few ways to maximize foot feel:
If you’re going to lift barefoot, you want to ensure you have a steady base of support. We call this the tripod foot—distribute your weight evenly between the base of your big toe, the base of your little toe, and your heel. Lift your toes slightly, spread them out, and lower them back to the floor. If you have trouble splaying your toes, throw on a pair of Toe Spacers. Bend at the knees slightly and engage the core. Push down through your big toe to feel the connection between your foot and core. Switch sides and repeat. Try to maintain this sensation whenever you’re doing a movement barefoot.
Before you kick off your shoes and hit the weights, you want to perform mobility exercises. Just as you would warm up your legs, glutes, shoulders, and any other muscle for a big lift, you want to warm up your feet to train barefoot, too. A foot warmup doesn’t have to be complex—it can be as simple as taking the EI8HTBALL and rolling out your feet to loosen the muscles and release tension. Or you could incorporate stretches like heel lifts or ankle dorsiflexion.
The arches of your feet support the weight of your entire body when standing, and you’ll want to make sure they’re strong before you start barefoot training. Arch-strengthening exercises like towel curls, heel stretches, ball rolls, and arch lifts are great for strengthening, along with single-leg balance exercises. You can also throw a pair of Toe Spacers to create a wider base for added support.
If you’ve never lifted barefoot, diving right in can be daunting and uncomfortable. Just as you would with any other type of training, you want to take time to integrate barefoot training into your program to maximize your results and minimize injury risk and setbacks.
Here’s how you can do that.
You may not think lifting is stressful on the feet, but the stress can quickly add up if you’re not used to it. So, if you’ve never lifted barefoot, it can be overwhelming on the small muscles of the foot, especially if they’re weak from lack of use, so you’ll want to ease yourself into it. Think about using the practice of progressive overload to help your adjustment. Start with barefoot training on an upper body day to dip your toes in, and then gradually go barefoot on leg day or big lift days. Alternatively, take time to just walk around your house barefoot and let your feet slowly acclimatize.
To help improve your base of support and activate the muscles in the feet, you’ll also want to ease into wearing your Toe Spacers—start with 10-15 minutes wearing them passively, either while you’re sitting or lying down. As you begin to feel comfortable with the timeframe, increase the time or slowly add movement.
Once you’ve dipped your toes into barefoot exercise with upper body movements, you can include barefoot training on lower body days. Since lower-body workouts involve a lot of balance and force production through the feet, you’ll want to be careful and go slowly to avoid injury. For example, start with barefoot leg training once a week to learn how to perform movements with increased reliance on proprioceptive feedback from the feet. Once you’ve nailed that, you can incorporate it more frequently.
Now that you’ve spent weeks gradually exposing your feet to barefoot training, it’s time to get back to your normal training program—without shoes. At this point, you should be able to lift normally without worrying about injury or overuse.
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