Squats are one of the most fundamental exercises of all time and essential for building lower body strength and endurance; however, squats are also one of the exercises that people struggle to execute properly.
A barefoot squat can be a better option for people aiming to improve their range of motion. On the other hand, people with poor ankle mobility should ideally use weightlifting shoes.
The anatomy of a squat looks different for different people, and there’s no wrong answer in the barefoot vs. shoe debate. Even so, depending on the type of routine you’re following, you might find one more preferable than the other.
Is It Better to Squat Barefoot?
Every personal trainer and coach from here to Timbuktu has their own opinion on whether barefoot squatting or squatting in shoes is better, but when you dive down into why you’ll often find that their opinions aren’t based so much on facts as personal preference.
When you parse through the surface level of this debate, the underlying factor that makes this question so difficult to answer is that every single person has different foot anatomy and squat mechanics.
The science behind ‘squat school’ is probably more complex than you realize, with several correct squat methods designed to accommodate people with different hip structures, foot anatomy, and mobility.
As such, reaching your squat depth goal requires a different threshold of mobility in the ankles and hips that’s just not easily achievable for some people. When you drop down into a barefoot squat, you’ll fall into one of two camps.
If the squat feels natural to you, and you have no issue getting into position, then great! You’re a barefoot squatter.
On the other hand, getting into a squat position barefoot feels almost unnatural for many people—as if you were executing the exercise incorrectly.
The simple reason for this is that, based on several anatomical factors, some people can’t squat properly without some degree of heel elevation.
In contrast, barefoot squatting feels comfortable to some people simply because they have wide feet that can grip the floor well, distributing the weight by engaging the base of the heel, pinky toe, and big toe.
For people who prefer to go barefoot, shoes limit how much the foot can make contact with the ground and maintain a more stable, stronger position.
The takeaway is that you probably should if you can comfortably squat barefoot. After all, the motion of a squat is anatomically natural, and if it’s comfortable enough for you, you shouldn’t add anything to it.
It gives you the appropriate balance awareness having your feet well planted into the ground, and lets you ensure you have the best grip and technique for your reps.
Drawbacks of Barefoot Squatting
“Squatting barefoot offers increased mobility and grip” is only a true statement if you have the hip and foot anatomy to match.
If you find barefoot squats extremely uncomfortable, then it might be worth experimenting with a little heel elevation in your shoes to allow you to execute the move properly.
The only real drawback of barefoot squatting is forcing the movement—if barefoot squatting doesn’t work for you, don’t try to make it work with heavy weights.
Yes, being barefoot allows more mobility and better grip, but you’ll immediately lose out on those benefits if barefoot squatting puts you off balance anyway.
Finding shoes that fit your squat mechanics and allow you to maintain efficient squat form can be more optimal for you as an individual if the need demands it.
Squatting Barefoot Vs. Shoes: What You Need to Know
Whether you like to hit some bodyweight squat reps for endurance or pile on the plates to hit a new PR, you’ll probably run into the barefoot vs. shoe debate at some point.
It’s not really fair to say that there is a right and wrong answer between the two, but there are some advantages and disadvantages.
Barefoot squatting is, as a generalization, better since it provides a complete range of motion, highlights mobility issues, and allows the individual to focus more on balance, technique, and grip during their reps.
However, if you cannot get yourself to squat barefoot, these arguments amount to a moot point if the movement feels unnatural and puts you off balance.
Get yourself a solid pair of weightlifting shoes that allow you to maintain balance while focusing on effective form.
What Type of Shoes Is Best for Squats?
The most important factor to consider when getting a pair of shoes for your squats is that they have absolutely zero compression in the soles.
Your average shoe has comfy soles to cushion your feet and reduce strain on your arches, but that comfort can absolutely kill your squat PRs.
Every time you push down into a soft sole, it absorbs some of that energy, reducing the amount of weight you can effectively squat.
Aim for shoes with a nice, stiff sole so that every pound of force you’re pumping into the floor goes into that lift when you come out of a squat.
Similarly, you want your lifting shoes to have a solid wide base to provide as much grip as possible.
Lastly, shoes with a snug ankle color will reduce the risk of your ankle rolling and help you provide more support as you drive your feet into the floor.
As mentioned before, the heel-to-toe drop amount will vary between athletes, but in general, taller athletes prefer a greater heel elevation, while others may feel more grounded in a flatter shoe.
What about Squatting in Flat-Soled Shoes?
There’s nothing wrong with squatting in flat-soled shoes, but the movement might feel unnatural for some athletes.
In addition, squatting in flat-soled shoes doesn’t really offer many benefits compared to going barefoot, so if flat-soled shoes feel comfortable to you, it might be worth going barefoot to benefit from that grip and mobility improvement.
Weightlifting Shoes vs. Flat-Sole Chucks for Squatting
Weightlifting shoes have a raised heel, which can help some lifters maintain better form and keep their foot in a stable position.
On the other hand, Chucks have a zero-drop heel, which allows for better hip mobility and recruitment of force from the glutes and hamstrings to aid in the movement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Squatting Barefoot Bad for You?
Squatting barefoot isn’t bad for you; it offers some advantages regarding the range of motion and glute/hamstring activation.
Do Socks and Barefoot Squatting Have the Same Effect?
Socks and barefoot squatting have a similar effect when you’re lifting. Both allow you a better range of motion and a more stable grip on the ground as you exercise.
Is It Ok to Squat in Running Shoes?
Bodyweight squats are ok in running shoes, especially if you find barefoot squats uncomfortable, but if you’re looking to improve your PR on the squat rack, then you’ll definitely want to invest in some weightlifting shoes.
Running shoes have soft soles, which eat up some of that energy you’re pumping into the ground.
The question of shoes vs. no shoes isn’t as simple as people think, and while different opinions are certainly appreciated, there’s no denying that people have different foot and hip structures as well as different squat mechanics.
If you can squat barefoot, go for it. If not, don’t be afraid to invest in a good pair of weightlifting shoes to get those reps done.