Why Squatting With Your Shoes Off Is The Best Idea
April 18th 2019
This is what you need to know about squatting with your shoes off. Then, why is there a huge debate in the lifting community about whether or not you should squat with your shoes on or not? Do not get me wrong; squatting with shoes may have some benefits but you need to check whether or not those benefits will help you.
Why you need to start squatting with your shoes off
Squatting barefoot is a powerful way to test the depths of your squat competence. Here are several reasons why you need to start squatting with your shoes off:
- Proper muscle alignment
- Spreading your toes
- Better balance
Proper muscle alignment
When you squat barefoot, you will become more aware of your squatting cues. As a result, you will need to activate smaller muscles in order to maintain a certain foot, ankle, knee and hip position. Preventing your foot from collapsing inward will help your squat tremendously. It will not only show you where your weaknesses are but will also train your body to properly activate your lower body in order to support a heavy squat attempt.
If you squat barefoot, you have no choice but to maintain a firm foot position. If you have flat feet or a weak arch, your foot will collapse inward. As your foot collapses inward, your knees will rotate inward. As your knees rotate inward, your hips will want to anteriorly rotate forward. As your hips rotate forward, your abs will want to tense up. As your abs tense up, your upper back will want to round forward. If your upper back rounds forward, your shoulder will follow. With rounded shoulders, it will be easy for you to develop neck pain. As you can see, you can develop improper motor patterns and create pain anywhere in your body but it can be a result of a bad muscular alignment from squatting.
Spreading your toes
There is a cue that many big squatters have shared with the lifting community - spread your toes and really dig them into the ground. If you have been wearing shoes while squatting, you might not “get it.” You only feel your toes digging into your shoes and not really the ground. You feel your toes spreading but it is not really helping much at all.
A popular Youtuber, Brandon Campbell Diamond experienced these same sensations when injuring his heel on vacation. Having to squat barefoot for a while, he was able to finally spread his toes and anchor himself into the ground. From this experience, he stated that he will take that and learn more from it. Finally understanding what the cue “spreading your toes” meant, he can use his new knowledge to hit more PRs.
And this is the main lesson here, you do not have to squat barefoot forever. It can be a tool used in order to help develop a particular movement, such as activating your toes when squatting.
However, there are very, very few competitions, if any, that allow barefoot squats. They all regulated that you need to wear shoes, which dissuades lifters from even wanting to try squatting with their shoes off. However, it can be a useful experience and you will not regret trying it.
When squatting without shoes, you will need to grip the ground with your toes and foot. This will increase your overall sense of balance and aid in a more stable lift. Lifters can now picture themselves “screwing” into the ground and really driving their entire feet into the Earth. The extra surface contact with your middle foot and toes can powerfully activate many more muscles that you would otherwise not have used considerably.
Why do people tell you not to squat with your shoes off
You may have seen a couple of videos or read a few articles that actually told you never to squat with your shoes off. They may say that deadlifts and any pulling movements are accepted. However, when it comes to squats, barefoot squats are off-limits. These are several of their arguments:
Lack of ankle support
If you have not trained the fine muscles of your foot to pivot and navigate the Earth, you may have trouble with balance. Because your foot is unable to handle heavy exercises or has not been trained properly, your foot arch can collapse. This will cause your ankle to collapse as well. If you are squatting, this is a very dangerous position to be in as you cannot develop a big squat if you are hampered by ankle restrictions.
One of the benefits of wearing shoes (flat shoes) is that you can avoid having any ankle collapse by having some ankle and foot stabilization. Heeled shoes also help compensate for a lifter’s lack of dorsiflexion, the ability of your ankle to bend backward.
Why running shores are not recommended for squatting
With a cushioned heel, running shoes tend to bend your forward. If you are unaware of your body’s reaction to wearing running shoes, most of your weight will be placed on your toes. This can potentially limit your dorsiflexion and create an anterior pelvic tilt, where you can develop back and knee problems.
This is a critical reason why many lifters have trouble squatting initially. We often buy running sneakers since they are the most versatile shoe. However, they are not good for squatting since they will pitch you forward. For a strong squat, you need to be able to sit back and drive your heels into the ground as hard as you can. Running shoes will not allow you to do that to the best of your ability.
Safety of your toes
In 99.99% of public gyms, you will need to train with your shoes on. Why? Because it is a hazard for you to walk around barefoot. If any weights drop on your toes, you can suffer from broken toes easily. With shoes, this can mitigate some damage.
Hygiene is another concern for gyms. Wearing shoes will limit the spread of foot bacteria and make it a better overall atmosphere to train in if there are no bad smelling feet in the facility. Plus, exposing your feet in public areas can leave you open to diseases such as Athlete’s foot or MRSA.
By squatting with your shoes off, your feet are allowed to be engaged into the squat motion. Firmly anchoring into the ground while spreading its toes out, your feet can dig into the ground like a tree and reach a new level of stability to activate your entire lower body. This allows your whole body to be more attuned to squats and experience new sensations to create a more power squat.