This article refers to squatting as in weightlifting, leg day squats, not settling on some land and raising a few sheep, although there was no doubt a number of barefoot squatters back in the day. Now, if you have an interest in weightlifting, then no doubt you have seen photographs of Arnold Schwarzenegger training barefoot. There is more and more research being done looking into the benefits of barefoot walking and minimal shoes. Arnold seemed way ahead of the curve here, as with most things he ended up excelling at, and saw great benefit in squatting without shoes.
Most people in western society spend their lifetime wearing shoes. Over the years, our feet gradually lose their tactile capacity and fail to develop to their proper size, width and shape, due to narrow, restricting shoes. The tendons and ligaments in our feet shorten and the muscles weaken, and so the risk of foot or ankle injuries increase – especially for those people who are heavily active with a lot of sporting commitments.
Squatting In Runners
If you’re used to squatting in running shoes or cross trainers, you will notice quite a difference. Running shoes have substantial wedges at the heel of the shoe, angling your feet slightly. But even the smallest angles and imbalances can have significant effects on our bodies. Just try keeping your wallet in your back pocket for a long drive.
That thin wallet will end up playing havoc on your back alignment and you could even end up with a strain. Now think of the thickness of your running shoes souls, and what sort of damage that could be doing if your loading up a barbell on your back and squatting repeatedly up and down.
The term proprioception stems from the Latin proprius, meaning ‘one’s own’ – property - and the word perception. So, proprioception is all about one’s own sense of where they are in space at any given moment. Our feet are incredible sensors for our feeling of proprioception, and because they are the only part of your body in contact with the floor during squats, they are your body’s best bet on ‘finding your footing’.
The more precisely your feet can feel and grip the floor, the better they can then instruct the rest of your body on which muscles to activate and stabilise. The human body is a marvel, and it is designed to work together as a unit, with thousands of sensors and feelers all assisting you to be your best. So, use them, use this incredible gift to its full potential. Step up to the squat rack and give it a go.
If you are new to barefoot lifting, then it is important to work your way into it slowly to avoid overburdening your muscles and causing stress injuries. Take it slow and start light, don’t load up the bumper plates to your usual max. It will feel different, you might feel unstable and be reaching for your shoes, but give it a chance, your feet will strengthen and your lifts will end up better.
Alternatives to Barefoot
If it feels to weird and you need a bridging shoe on your way to barefoot – try minimalist shoes like Nike Free or Converse Chuck Taylors. Buy these shoes half a size too big to give your feet the room to spread out as you squat. Their thin, flat soles will give you a much stronger foundation from which to lift from and will help strengthen your feet.
A lot of gyms do have covered shoes rules, mainly to protect against lawsuits or people dropping dumbbells on each other’s toes, but if you feel comfortable enough squatting with your shoes off, then give it a go and feel the benefits for yourself.