No Shoes, No Problem! Benefits of Working Out Barefoot

Maybe it's because you're on vacation and forgot your trainers at home. Maybe it's because the heels you wore last night have your feet aching and the thought of putting on shoes -- any shoes -- makes you cringe. Maybe it's because you didn't think you'd have time or the drive to squeeze in a noon-hour workout. But here you are, with both, but no training shoes. Whatever your reason for working out sans shoes, the benefits of exercising barefoot extend beyond convenience -- though that's a pretty huge one.

After all, exercising without shoes means you aren't controlled by what footwear you do, or don't, have on you. This means there's less standing in your way between your life and your lifestyle goals, you're more likely to get the results you want.

Here are the other big reasons you should embrace the barefoot movement.

1. Increase Balance, Mobility & Coordination

Because working out barefoot provides more of a sensory experience, it provides more feedback to the nervous system. This enhanced feedback can then be used to facilitate better functioning and response of the smaller, stabilizing muscles that promote optimal balance, mobility and coordination.

2. Decreases Likelihood of Injury

When you workout barefoot, you draw upon your foot's deep stabilizing muscles, and this then has a ripple effect up your leg, providing extra stabilizing and strengthening for the ligaments and muscles that support your ankles, knees, hips and your back. These are the parts of your body that are most susceptible to injury, so you’re going to want to do everything you can to protect and keep them strong.

3. Amp Up Unilateral Leg Gains

“I’m a huge fan of barefoot training for single-leg exercises,” notes Jay Dicharry, P.T., director of the REP performance training center in Bend, OR. “Doing all of your single-leg training barefoot is a great way to improve the muscle coordination inside the foot and improve your ‘feel,’ or proprioception, as you move.”  So, next time you're doing a single leg RDL, kick off the shoes and ditch the socks for best results.

4. Hinge Help

Barefoot training works wonders to improve your gains for hinge movements, like the classic deadlift. Since your foot feel is improved, you can better target and utilize the bigger muscles in the hips like the psoas major and the gluteus maximus.

5. Improve Core Stability, Increase Overall Muscle Mass

Did you know your core activation is greater when you're moving about barefoot? Well, it is! In fact, your core is significantly more stable when you're barefoot, and the more stable your core, the more weight you can train using, and the more weight you can use, the more muscle you can build. The more muscle you build, the more fat you burn. Sweet, right?

Beginning Barefoot

With so many perks of barefoot training, you should jump in, right? Wrong. As with any form of exercise, you can seriously injure yourself trying to do too much, too soon. If you wear shoes most of the time, your metatarsal and foot muscles are likely weak, so ease yourself in slowly to gradually and safely boost bone and muscle strength.

Start with bodyweight training, and then incrementally move up to resistance-based moves. A safe way to add weight is with a weighted vest. Then, when you get stronger and more confident, you can reach for your dumbbells  — just me mindful of your feet. Also, limit plyometrics at first, until you build up those base muscles, and opt to train on softer surfaces like grass, sand or carpet.

1 comment

I have never worn shoes willingly in all my 62 years. This has kept me out of gyms most of my life, as I am miserable in athletic shoes. I hike and I run, and I do yoga all barefoot. I would love to find a gym nearby that allows barefeet, but I never have.

Chuck Morton December 06, 2019

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