Why You Should Lift Barefoot
You probably don’t think much about your feet when you’re working out—but you should.
“When you perform a standing exercise and your feet are your base of support, what they do affects the rest of your lift,” says Men’s Health Fitness Director BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S. “If they’re not stable, you’re going to have a harder time performing the exercise.”
The effect is called muscle irradiation, where your non-working muscles actually help your working muscles during a lift by holding tension, says Gaddour.
Think of it this way: When you clench your fist as hard as you can, you don’t just contract the muscles in your hand—you feel tension shoot all the way up to your shoulder.
The same applies to your feet during a lift. If you can use them to create tension with the ground, it will travel up your body to assist the muscles you’re targeting.
The best way to create tension and a solid base of support is to “screw” your feet into the floor, Gaddour says.
Here’s how to do it: Press your feet flat on the ground, and use your leg muscles to try and twist your feet away from each other, as if you were trying to stretch or rip the floor between them.
But there’s a catch. “Doing this is easiest and most effective when you have full contact between your feet and the floor,” says Gaddour. “If you’re wearing highly cushioned shoes, there’s a lot more standing between you and the ground that can sabotage the tension you’re trying to create.”
Unfortunately, you can’t always ditch your kicks—blame gym policies, germs, and the weird looks you might get from other patrons. So the next best option is donning a pair of minimalist footwear.
“You’re looking for a shoe that has minimal cushioning and arch support in the sole, and zero drop—the difference between the levels of your heel and toe,” says Gaddour.
But if your feet are used to sitting in a padded shoe, you need to give them time to adapt to less support.
Gaddour recommends transitioning by wearing a shoe with 4 to 5 millimeters of drop, or only wearing your new minimalist shoes for half your workout at first.