Is it Better to Squat Barefoot? (4 Factors to Consider)

Ever wondered, “Is it Better to Squat Barefoot?”

It’s almost like a new craze.

Everywhere you look in the gym people seem to be walking around shoeless.

Okay, it’s deemed acceptable for a yoga or Pilates class.

However, many people appear to be going barefoot nowadays even while pumping iron.

And this is especially true when performing squats.

This begs the question whether you should be squatting barefoot, and the potential pros and cons.

So, allow me to explain.

Is it Better to Squat Barefoot?

Squatting barefoot actually has a huge number of benefits. It can increase muscle and strength, while at the same time improving mobility in your lower-body joints. Plus, if you choose to squat barefoot this will also strengthen your feet, which can help you to avoid various ankle and knee injuries. However, many gyms don’t allow you to squat without shoes due to hygiene and health and safety reasons. That being said, some gyms don’t mind you squatting without shoes, but prefer it if you keep your socks on.

1. Barefoot Squatting Can Lead to Muscle & Strength Gains

A Man Squatting a Heavy Barbell in a Squat Rack While Being Spotted By Two Other Men

Let me get straight to the point and say that squatting barefoot has a huge number of advantages.

In fact, there is definitely far more good than bad when it comes to going shoeless.

And one of the main advantages, which I’m sure will be of huge interest to you, is that you can pack on more muscle and strength by going barefoot.

Let’s face it, that’s what most of us want.

Initially, that may seem like a bold statement.

I mean, how the hell can removing your shoes make you bigger and stronger?

Well, pure and simple, it leads to better form.

And I am a stickler for proper form.

You will definitely get stronger and more muscular with a lighter bar performing an exercise correctly than you would with a heavy bar while executing terrible technique.

One of the main teaching points when it comes to squats is that you should push through your heels as you rise out of the squat.

There are those of us who have a tendency to sway forwards when we squat and push through the toes.

This is just asking for a knee injury to happen.

Then again, there are some who tend to push through the toes because they’re scared of falling backwards when they squat.

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However, you should always be pushing through your heels when you squat.

And this is typically quite hard to do when you’re wearing a pair of training shoes with chunky heels.

As soon as you remove those “chunky heels” your weight will naturally shift to your heels.

This allows you to squat deeper, so in effect you’re activating more muscles.

You’ll find you have more power to push yourself up from the bottom of the squat.

Once again, this will activate more muscles.

Glutes and Grip

Squatting through your heels also brings the glutes far more into play.

And as the glutes are the biggest muscle in the body, the fact that they’re more involved in your squats can only be a good thing.

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Something else to consider when it comes to squatting barefoot is that your toes will spread across the floor, thus providing more grip.

It possibly sounds a little weird to be talking about requiring “grip” on the floor when it comes to squats, but you’ll be surprised by just how much this improves the movement.

There’s almost a sense of greater balance and stability, which actually helps a great deal with the mental side of lifting.

It typically won’t be too long before you’re adding more weight to the bar because lifting feels “safer” than it ever has done before.

2. Squatting Barefoot Can Improve Mobility

Something I’ve spoken of many times before when it comes to squatting is ankle mobility.

I mentioned it when talking about squatting hurting your shins or getting foot cramps during Bulgarian split squats.

Basically, ankle mobility (or a lack of it) has a lot to answer for when it comes to squatting.

It will definitely place limits on your technique, which will impact on muscle and strength gains.

Plus, poor ankle mobility will also restrict how much weight you can squat, so yet again not great for gains.

Your ankles and shins should be angled forward when you hit the bottom of the squat.

And this is typically plain to see when you squat deep.

However, if you generally only ever squat to parallel you’ll notice that shins and ankles remain more vertical.

And this of course means that you’re leaving a lot of potential muscle and strength gains on the table.

You would think that the reason some people can’t squat past parallel is due to the weight on the bar.

But, in reality it has more to do with a lack of ankle mobility.

If you wear shoes while you squat your ankle flexion and mobility can often be limited by the type of shoes that you’re wearing.

This is especially true if you wear shoes more akin to running or everyday wear.

However, once you remove your shoes, your ankles literally have more room to move and breathe.

With that being said, the first few times that you squat barefoot you may notice you still have ankle mobility issues.

This is simply because the ankle joints haven’t yet become accustomed to the freedom you’ve granted them.

But, if you continue to squat barefoot and work on ankle mobility drills, eventually this won’t be an issue.

How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion For Better Squats

3. Foot Strength is More Important Than You Think

Another benefit to squatting without shoes is increased foot strength.

Stronger feet can actually improve a wide variety of lifts, plus it can help to prevent certain injuries.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should immediately start training your feet (somehow) with dumbbells, cables, or some other weighted-implement.

Basically, most shoes, especially trainers (sneakers), provide comfort and cushioning for the feet.

So, in reality your feet and your toes don’t do a lot of work.

Eventually, over time they will simply become weaker.

You can view the feet in exactly the same way as any other body part.

If they aren’t receiving some form of stimulation they will get weak.

Furthermore, all this mollycoddling of the feet by shoes can cause ankle instability.

So, your knee and hip joints, and the lower back typically take up the slack.

In effect, having weak feet places additional stress on the body.

Firstly, all this extra pressure on the knees, hips, and lower back can lead to certain mobility issues.

It could even have an impact on your spinal discs.

Plus, your weak feet, toes, and ankles make it far easier to succumb to shin splints, ankle sprains and strains.

4. Most Gyms Won’t Allow You to Squat Barefoot

The downside to squatting barefoot is that most gyms simply won’t allow for it.

Many gyms will cite healthy and safety reasons, mainly that if you drop a weight on your feet you’re likely to break bones.

I actually call BS on that.

If you drop a weight on your feet, whether with shoes or shoeless, you’re likely to cause an injury.

With that being said, I certainly can’t argue with the hygiene reasons, either aimed at you or your fellow patrons.

Firstly, let’s remember that hundreds of people trundle around on the gym floor on a daily basis.

Lord only knows what type of germs you may pick up.

And additionally, not everyone practices good hygienic foot care, so you don’t really want to be exposed to everyone’s manky feet.

With that being said, various gyms have no issues with you squatting with socks on.

And this does seem like a fair compromise to me.

The Benefits of Going Barefoot

Final Thoughts

Squatting barefoot can help to increase muscle, strength, and ankle mobility. This is due to the fact that you will have better balance and stability, as well as the ability to squat deeper. Plus, you will automatically push through the heels on the way back up from the squat when barefoot. However, many gyms don’t allow for barefoot lifting, although some may compromise and allow you to wear socks.

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