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Barefoot Squats: Are They For You?


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Napsgear Rep

We all know squats are great for strength and building mass, especially in your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core. But what about the debate of squatting with shoes vs squatting barefoot? Are there any benefits of squatting barefoot? For most, its personal preference, and many lifters have a personal bias over what they prefer, but that doesn’t really help someone who’s trying to decide what’s best for them.

Everyone has a preference on their squat form, just like their preference over footwear choices. Everyone has different squat mechanics, depending on type of squat, stance, anatomy, flexibility, tight hips, and mobility, so experimenting with footwear is a great way to make the most out of your squats.

Why People Squat Barefoot

Well, for most people it comes down to performance and personal preference. For the barefooters, it usually comes down to what feels natural to them. If you were to do a barefoot squat with weight right now, you’d probably notice one of two things, 1) that it feels comfortable and natural, with less mobility limitations or 2) it feels a bit awkward and reaching your ideal squat depth is harder to reach.

Not everyone can comfortably squat to depth without heel elevation, or a higher heel-to-toe drop in their training shoes. This is often because of anatomy like the shape of our hip capsule and femur head and neck.

Wide feet are another reason that affects people’s choices on barefoot squats vs squatting with shoes. Some people with wide feet can sometimes feel that shoes can limit their foot’s ability to grip the floor, spread, or splay, so it feels natural to opt to go barefoot. Grounding and engaging the base of the heel, big toe, and pinky toe is referred to as the “tripod foot position”. Floor/foot connection greatly determines how effective the transmission of force from the ground to our body’s muscles.

Performance wise, a major benefit that some people who opt to squat barefoot is improved stability. During a squat, we exert extra strain on our ankle joint while trying to stabilize our posture by exerting all weight on the heel. This naturally enhances muscle flexibility.

For lifters who need an elevated heel during squats because of form breakdown, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons. You might be more productive to find shoes that help your squat mechanics vs forcing barefoot for stability’s sake.

What Barefoot Squats Do

Lifters who want to experiment with different foot positions when squatting may find that squatting barefoot is a handy tool at times. Since the feet will typically "feel" more engaged when squatting barefoot, barefoot squatting can help highlight mobility restrictions and be a beneficial tool for people rehabbing their feet and ankles.

If you have dorsiflexion or hip mobility issues and you discover that these issues are restricting your squat performance, you can utilize barefoot squats as a method to emphasize where form breakdown usually occurs in the context of mobility constraints. You'll typically find that it's a little simpler to identify where mobility starts to be limited in your squat because we'll be squatting with a flat foot position and bare feet.

For instance, doing barefoot squats can help you determine how much true dorsiflexion you have and where you start to notice your form breaking down if you lack dorsiflexion and find it extremely difficult to track the knees over the toes. In this instance, during your reps and sets, you'll want to pay close attention to your joint angles and what they're doing in relation to your squat form.

You can work through a useful range of motion to gradually improve your mobility while maintaining proper squat form (based on your personality) once you've identified the areas of your barefoot squats where you sense mobility limits.

Squatting barefoot can be an effective rehab exercise for people recovering from ankle and foot ailments. In situations like these, you can discover that your foot or ankle muscles have become weaker from underuse or have lost part of their natural mobility from not being allowed to move through their usual range of motion.

You could notice that squatting barefoot places more stress on your feet and ankles. Squatting barefoot might be a helpful rehab strategy in some situations if you can gradually raise these demands and change your range of motion.

Are Barefoot Squats Bad For You?

Squatting without shoes is not necessarily wrong. On the other hand, we must always consider context because sitting while wearing shoes is not necessarily unhealthy. Lifters may occasionally have an emotional bias toward one particular method of squatting, which may lead others to believe that method is superior to the others or otherwise undesirable.

This is untrue, and I would advise changing the question's emphasis from awful to optimal and sub-optimal. We may determine whether squatting barefoot is worthwhile for our own squat needs, wants, and preferences by focusing on our individuality as lifters. The use of a weightlifting shoe or heel wedge would make it much easier for a taller lifter to achieve proper squat depth.

For this lifter, squatting barefoot isn't necessarily negative, but it might not be the best option given their anatomy and squat mechanics. As demands, such as load, grow, we will start to notice form deviate more if we are training in less-than-ideal conditions and situations. Having said that, squatting barefoot in this situation isn't necessarily terrible; rather, it's less than ideal, particularly if the objective is to become skilled and effective at squats.

Lifters who wear weightlifting shoes can find it tremendously helpful to perform a deep squat with proper form. If a lifter has lack of dorsiflexion, they may pitch farther forward, limiting ability when the load grows. This is because it becomes difficult to maintain balance and squat mechanics at a deeper range of motion.
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