6 Reasons why you need to deadlift barefoot NOW
Updated March 10th 2020; January 13th 2019
As I stared at my deadlift set earlier today, I wondered about this - Should you deadlift barefoot?
Deadlifting barefoot has a number of health benefits. First, it is a more natural position. Other reasons are that it fixes excess anterior weight shift, helps keep your weight back, engages your posterior chain more effectively, gets you closer to the floor (less range of motion), and you can have more sensory feelings throughout the deadlift.
So, if you want to have reap these barefoot deadlift benefits, give them these shoeless deadlifts a try.
1. A more natural position
Shoes are a man-made invention.
When it comes to lifting weights, shoes can definitely provide comfort.
They can even provide safety too from blunt impacts.
When it comes to the deadlift, however, we tend to retreat into our favorable deadlift position when barefoot.
You can also see it here in the 2020 Strongman Arnold Classic when Hafthor Bjornson deadlifted 1,026 pounds (465 kgs) for 1st place in the event without shoes.
When great athletes rely on natural leverages in order to get into a better pulling position, you should take notes and begin to ask why that is the case.
2. Fixes excess anterior weight shift
When we wear shoes, they tend to always shift our weights forward.
Cushy heels make walking more comfortable.
Even hard heels are made for both genders to appear taller and more polished.
But it is slowly breaking down the body.
As you continue to adapt to your shoes with an elevated heel, your body must fight this resistance.
You tend to want to fall forward since your heels are more elevated than your toes.
As a result, your body adjusts the position of your hips and pelvis, tilting them towards the ground to create a balance.
This anterior pelvic tilt is bad and not healthy to live a fruitful life.
And it is especially not good for deadlifting as the anterior pelvic tilt creates more stress on your lumbar spine.
So, by eliminating shoes and deadlifting barefoot, you can alleviate this issue and start training the deadlifts in a better position.
3. Helps keep your weight back
When you deadlift barefoot, your body is stronger when you have the weight on your heels.
Without any excess forward lean, your body will shift into a position that is most comfortable to execute the movement.
Luckily for us, deadlifting barefoot helps us achieve both efficiency and comfort.
4. Engages your posterior chain more effectively
Your large leg muscles are used actively when you deadlift barefoot.
You are engaging them when you plant your heels into the ground and use them as anchors for your deadlift.
So, one common and effective cue to use is to push into the ground with your heel and try to leave a mark there.
5. Gets your closer to the floor
Shoes add a couple of inches to your deadlift range of motion.
While this may not seem like much to you, it is more distance you need to cover when executing the deadlift.
In addition, you may be forced into a sub-optimal deadlift position if your shoes are not designed for deadlifting.
For example, deadlifting in new squishy running shoes, with big heels, will shift a lot of your weight forward and make your deadlift much harder than it should be.
There is nothing wrong with your new running or basketball shoes, as you will find that they are helpful in your sport to reduce your risk of injury and to play at the highest level.
However, when you try to transition into a different sport, like powerlifting, these shoes are not great to lift with.
6. More sensory feelings
Many lifters appreciate visual and sensory learning.
For example, when you are bodybuilding and you want to activate more triceps during your accessories, have your buddy touch your triceps and you will find that you are able to focus and work that touched area.
You can feel it and you are now focused on it.
The same concept can apply to the deadlift.
By deadlifting barefoot, your feet can actively feel the ground.
You will notice that having excess pressure on your toes will not help you generate any power.
You will, by default, shift your weight to your heels and execute the deadlift there as your starting position.
Your toes can finally flex and grip the ground as well.
You will notice that having your feet participate in the deadlift may make a dramatic difference in your deadlift.
Some lifters call this a “tripod stance,” where you want to actively think about having three points of contact with the ground at all times and think about planting yourself with those three points.
The first point of contact is your heels.
The second point of contact should be right under your pinky toe (the head of your fifth metatarsal) and the third point of contact should be right under your big toe (the head of your first metatarsal).
This way, the bar can stay aligned around your midfoot, creating an optimal position for your deadlift.
What if my gym does not let me deadlift barefoot?
There are many gyms that have a closed shoe policy.
For the safety of others, yourself, and the equipment, rules, and regulations are in place to maintain order and comfort for the general public.
Now, it is up to you whether or not you accept these terms and conditions.
You can probably get away with some sets of deadlifts barefoot, but what is the point of trying to sneak in a set?
Should you not worry about hitting your sets properly and effectively, rather than having looked out for employees to break the rules?
Here is what you should do.
Go find a gym that does not have this policy or you need to obey.
There is really no grey area.
So, get yourself a pair of appropriate deadlift shoes or find a new gym.
Can I deadlift in socks?
Deadlifting in socks is probably the 2nd closest thing to deadlifting barefoot.
The only difference is the lack of sensory input; your feet cannot feel for the ground as much.
Other than that, you are pretty much in an optimal position to start your deadlift.
Many gyms will also forbid you to deadlift in your socks, for safety and health reasons.
These are the same reasons that apply to deadlifting barefoot.
Should I use deadlift slippers?
Deadlifting with these special shoes is another alternative.
Ideally, you would want to deadlift as close to the ground and possible and have your feet as flat on the ground as possible.
Deadlift slippers are a good option, but they are deadlift-specific shoes.
They offer no protection to your feet. Unless you are wearing these slippers outside the gym (probably not), these slippers will be something else you need to carry with you to the gym.
It is a bit of a hassle.
What about Converse Chucks?
This is actually one of the cheapest flat shoes you can use to deadlift with.
Though it does have a moderate amount of rubber shoe sole, it is a flat shoe and does the job perfectly for the deadlift.
It has moderate ankle support and does not interfere with your balance.
They have been proven to withstand decades of training and still be perfectly usable.
Many of the greats were using them if they were not breaking PRs barefoot.
For instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger would wear them in training.
So, if you are thinking about getting yourself a pair, you can get them here.
What shoes do I wear to deadlift?
I actually use a Reebok Crossfit shoe.
It is actually a funny story about how I decided on my lifting shoe.
I first got a pair of Converse that was a size bigger than my actual foot.
It was my first time ordering shoes online and I thought that I should get a size bigger.
I usually wear size 9.5 for a more fitter shoe. Size 10 if I want a slightly bigger shoe.
So, here I was ordering a workout shoe and I ordered a size 10.5.
Of course, when it came in and I started wearing them, they were too big.
But I thought it would take some time to get used to them.
No, that does not happen when your shoes are too big.
So, I decided to get a new shoe and saw a promotion for this Reebok Crossfit shoe.
Now, I never really cared about owning many pairs of shoes and the thought of my failed Converse made me want to make sure this is the shoe I wanted.
I looked at the specs and was satisfied:
- Flat shoe with some arch support
- Looks awesome
That was enough to convince me. So, I got myself a pair of the right size and I just loved it.
It has been 5 years since I made that purchase and I never looked at getting another shoe.
These shoes are awesome and have been through the lifting journey almost as long as I have.
If you are intrigued about purchasing a pair, you can get yourself a pair here.
Can you deadlift barefoot in competition?
It depends on which federation you want to compete in. Generally, almost every single federation will try to keep its rules similar to each other.
With that said, here is what some of the federations say about deadlifting barefoot in competition:
- IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) - Shoes or boots must be worn for the deadlift
- APF(American Powerlifting Federation) - Must wear something substantially more than basic socks
- WABDL(World Association of Bench Pressers and Deadlifters) - Shoes and boots must be worn for the deadlift
- WNPF(World Natural Powerlifting Federation) - Shoes must be own at all times
There are hundreds of federations that say the same thing.
You need to wear shoes during the competition.
This is for a safety protocol and is necessary to maintain order, especially in a meet.