Squatting Barefoot vs Shoes: Which One is Recommended?

Squatting is a great exercise to do in order to strengthen your abdominal muscles and improve overall mobility. But what about the debate of squatting barefoot vs shoes? Is there any benefit in doing so? Let’s find out!

Squatting in shoes or barefoot depends on several factors, including the type of squat and your stance. Squatting barefoot can be advantageous in some aspects as it is a great way to increase your flexibility and strengthen your feet. Regular barefoot squatting has been shown to lead to improved balance and strengthen muscles in the legs. A more technical squat like a low bar with a narrow stance requires weightlifting shoes with a raised heel. Barefoot squats require much greater control over balance due to the lack of support that they get from the weightlifting shoe in case of limited ankle flexibility. Due to poor support, barefoot lifting can cause pain and discomfort in the knees, ankles and hips due to a greater degree of bending in low bar squats. Also, if you’re comfortable with barefoot squat, I’d recommend you to do it with your socks so that your feet remain protected from germs.

What is the Role of Foot in Barefoot Squatting or Lifting?

The squat is intended to strengthen your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core, and upper body. This is all possible when the reaction force of the ground, due to your carrying weight, exerts on your foot. The connection our foot makes with the floor determines the effectiveness of transmission of force from the ground to our entire body’s muscles.

When we lean too forward, we exert extra strain on your ankle joint while trying to stabilize your posture by exerting all weight on the heel. This helps to enhance the flexibility in our muscles naturally.

I asked a person about barefoot squatting vs shoes in a forum. This is what he said:

Honestly, I have squatted in converse, running shoes, and even Olympic weight lifting shoes, but I have never felt better when squatting when I’m just barefooted. I feel more connected to the ground, and the drive is just way better. I also noticed I could lift a bit more weight when barefooted. I say do what feels better and what works for you, man. I have been squatting barefooted for about six months now, and my legs and squats have never looked better. Just watch out for their weights not landing on your feet.

However, there are also some disadvantages of lifting without shoes which you should also consider.

Advantages of Barefoot Squatting

  • Understand the connection between foot and floor: You’re not relied on the advantage of raised heel in Olympic shoes, due to which you work hard on the ankle mobility to achieve a greater depth. The exertion of a force on a targeted area of the foot is a skill in squat. In a barefoot squat, there is a strong connection between our foot and ground at ball of foot heel, and toe joints. In this way, whenever you go out of your balance, you immediately notice this deviation from a mid-foot position and react in a split second to correct this issue.
  • Muscles in knees and hips are strengthened: Through barefoot squatting, Muscles around the knees are strengthened due to full range of motion. It decreases chronic back and knee pain in some people and leads to better posture and mobility in others experiencing difficulty standing up from a seated position.
  • Helps you gain confidence by improving your posture: It gives more control over how much weight is on toes or heels during squatting. This allows for a more comfortable position when holding the pose, making it easier to stay balanced throughout each repetition. So, barefoot squat enhances your foot’s involvement to stabilize the movement and increases its musculature.

Drawbacks of Barefoot Squatting

There are few drawbacks of squatting barefoot that you should consider to save your feet.

  • If you have flat feet, barefoot squatting is not suitable for you as it can worsen plantar fasciitis due to repeated impacts. In flat feet, there is no space between the foot and floor, due to which there is no shock absorption. Resultantly, our hip and knees compensate for this shock absorption and bear additional stress.
  • Some commercial gyms do not support barefoot squatting due to sanitary purposes as your feet can get infected from germs or fungus on the gym floor.

Why Should I Not Use Running Shoes for Squatting?

If you use running shoes for squatting because it can make your feet less sensitive. Our sensory system indeed tells us how hard we are pressing against the ground and whether or not we need to adjust our feet or knees. But wearing running shoes (with squishy and foamy sole) reduces this feedback by dampening what you can feel in barefoot squatting or in your lifting shoes.

Furthermore, one of the most important things in squatting is to keep the weight on your rearfoot part. Running shoes have usually a high heel drop that can push your center of gravity forward and stability without giving them anything back in return. This then leads to me having a harder time controlling foot pressure during squats which can lead to injury in some people who already have poor control over their muscles when they lift weights.

What About Squatting in Flat-Sole Shoe?

Flat-sole shoe is a good alternative to barefoot squatting as it delivers the same benefits if you have flat feet. Furthermore, you don’t need to break the bank to buy flat-sole shoes for squatting. I’d recommend you Converse sneakers as they have a stiff (incompressible) and flat sole. They cost around 50 to 60 dollars.

If you do not have any ankle mobility issues, it’s fine to go for either barefoot squatting (with socks) or flat-soled shoes like Chuck Taylors with excellent grip on the gym floor.

Here’s what a person comments on Reddit regarding the squatting in Chuck Taylors.

I squat and do deadlifts in Converse Chuck Taylors. It keeps me flat on the floor and balanced, sort of like barefoot. I’ve tried cross-training shoes, running shoes and boxing ones too. I still like the Converse the best.

Also, in most gyms, there are rules and regulations of wearing shoes while doing powerlifting or squatting instead of the barefoot squat as there is a risk of dropping weights on your shoeless foot. In addition, you should have flat-sole shoes to wear if you don’t want anybody to smell your sweaty socks.

Why Do Weightlifting Shoes Have a Raised Heel?

You might be wondering that weightlifting shoes have a lifted heel like running shoes. Then why do expert squatters wear them? Well, the reason for a raised heel in weightlifting shoes is that they allow you to achieve better depth and a more upright torso without shooting your knees more forward. The higher heel height, the longer your knees will travel in the squat, snatch, and clean.

Weight lifting shoes have a rigid heel cup, which allows for smooth landings in clean and snatches movements compared to normal athletic sneakers. When your heel is raised, you get more stability to squat lower.

Furthermore, if you’ve limited ankle mobility to do a full high bar or front squat, weightlifting shoes with raised heel fix that by decreasing the amount of ankle dorsiflexion and releasing some tension from the hamstrings. If you’ve adequate ankle mobility, 0.25’’ to 0.5’’ heel lift is fine.

You might think that both weightlifting and running shoes have a raised heel, then what is the need of buying expensive weightlifting shoes? Well, you can get answer from a comparison study which was focused on the kinematic changes using weightlifting and running shoes in back squat.

In that study, it was found that weight lifting shoes provide a greater foot angle of 38 degrees, while running shoes provide a segmental angle of 35.5 degrees, as shown in the picture below. The reason for higher foot segmental angle in weight lifting shoes is their rigid and incompressible raised heel. Running shoes also have a raised heel structure. But their soft cushioning would sink the heel and make it closer to the ground when loaded with a back squat.

foot segmental angle changes during squatting

Also, weight lifting shoes help decrease the Trunk Lean, which less shear stress is exerted on your lower back area.

You can check out this video from the 18:31 section in which the fitness expert explains the biomechanics of a raised heel in squatting. This video explains the importance of squatting with weightlifting shoes instead of barefoot.

However, if you are a beginner and are not used to carrying heavyweights, do not wear any elevated heel while performing squats because small lifts can lead to great results over time. So, start with barefoot or flat-soled basic sneakers. Once you become an expert and start lifting large weights, you can wear weightlifting shoes to control your ankle mobility.

Weight Lifting Shoes vs Flat-Sole Chucks for Squatting

Usually, squatting in barefoot or Flat-sole shoes like Chucks is good if you are into low bar squatting with a wider stance. Weight lifting shoes are worth an investment if you switch from low bar to high bar squatting.

The rule that most the weightlifters follow to select shoes for squatting is:

Generally the wider, the flatter. The narrower you get, the higher the heel.

However, it’s still up to you whether you want to do low bar squat in Olympic lifting shoes like Romaleos, Adidas Powerlift, or flat-soled shoes like Chuck Taylors. One thing that Olympic shoes offer for every kind of squat is stability. I’ve seen people doing low bar squat in a moderate-wide or relatively close stance. So, you have to test both flat foot and oly shoes for different squats and see which works for you, as it entirely depends on an individual’s squat mechanics.

The efficient squatting technique is that there should be no moment arm between the balanced midfoot point and where the bar actually is. If there is any moment arm, the lifting will be going a lot harder for you.

In low bar squatting, you need to bend more to minimize the moment arm. So, a wider stance in low bar squat allows you to stay more upright in squatting by decreasing the vertical distance between your knee and moment arm. So, you don’t need to spend a heavy amount to buy weight lifting shoes if you feel stable and comfortable in low bar squatting with a wider stance.

Also, in a wide stance, your ankles may roll outward, due to which you need a flat-sole shoe for less lateral roll. If you wear weight lifting shoes with raised heel in a wider stance squat, there are more chances of rolling your ankles outward as the vertical distance of your ankle pin point from the floor increases in weightlifting shoes.

You can check out this video from 3:00 to 6:26 part to understand more about narrow stance and wider stance in low bar squat.

Should I Wear Orthotic Insoles in Squatting?

In many cases, yes. If you have been diagnosed with a specific foot condition that requires orthotics to improve your balance and stability when walking or standing, then it is likely that wearing them while squatting would also provide similar benefits. You can wear orthotics if your knees won’t be able to track correctly and tend to bend inwards, which is going to cause further imbalances in your squat.

However, if you are new to squatting, you must first learn how to do it correctly before wearing orthotics. Barefoot squatting is mandatory to improve the sensitivity of your foot muscles when it comes in contact with the ground.

Wearing insoles in shoes can help with stability during deep squats if they cause pain, especially if you have naturally flexible and flat feet.

I’d recommend you these orthotics by Powerstep. They are semi-rigid, correct your foot mechanics, and help alleviate any pain and discomfort off your feet.

Squatting Barefoot vs Shoes: Bottom Line

I hope you enjoyed the article about squatting barefoot vs shoes. By the end of the article, I hope you might have a better idea of when to choose each footwear option for squatting. Squatting barefoot is a good starting point to enhance your foot musculature by feeling the contact between your foot and ground. After that, you can start squatting in flat-soled shoes like Chucks which gives a similar benefit to barefoot squatting and protects your feet from germs.

Suppose you’re not a recreational lifter and are genuinely serious about this training. In that case, I recommend you buy Olympic lifting shoes like Adidas Powerlift or Romaleos if you want to squat in-depth with limited ankle mobility. Weightlifting shoes lock your foot through their straps around the midfoot for better stability. By squatting with shoes on, your feet are supported by the shoes, which allows you to use the muscles in your thighs, hips, and back to support your weight.

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