I can’t remember the last time I lifted weights with shoes on. For the past year and a half, I’ve been doing all my strength training barefoot, and although I get strange looks from some people at the gym, I never let it stop me. It may sound counterintuitive at first, since shoes are meant to provide support for our body, but experts say there are many benefits to doing strength training sans sneakers.
Austin Lopez, CSCS and owner of Ausome Fit, prefers his clients remove their shoes during training. “The main benefit is ‘increased proprioception,'” Lopez told POPSUGAR. “Shoes take a lot away from your ability to feel the ground.”
Particularly when you’re doing compound movements or any strength training that involves your legs, Lopez says it’s important that you grip the ground with your feet, “like a monkey would with its feet.” It sounds strange, but this makes it easier for you to “open up the hip by externally rotating the legs,” according to Lopez. This is the form you want to achieve when you’re doing movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc.
The first time I ever lifted weights barefoot was at CrossFit. We were working on front squats and I figured I’d give it a try because I’d heard various things about how good it was for your form. I instantly fell in love with it. Since that day, I’ve never done strength movements with my sneakers on, whether I’m working on my lower or upper body. Being barefoot feels more natural and stable to me, since my toes are grabbing the floor beneath me, just like Lopez described. I feel like I can lift heavier weights without worrying about slipping and falling.
Lopez recognizes that working out barefoot isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though. “Some prefer it after they try it and some aren’t comfortable taking off their shoes at a gym,” he told POPSUGAR. His advice is to simply try it. “You will feel why it helps to keep your balance and help you feel the movement better,” he said.
However, when it comes to any kind of circuit or HIIT workouts, where I’m jumping or jump roping, I will leave my shoes on, because my feet and ankles need the support to cover all that ground. Lopez says he also recommends his clients leave their shoes on if they’re doing this kind of activity.
But other than that, if you’re working on strength training, going barefoot might be the way to go! Give it a try and see what you think.