Squatting Barefoot vs. Shoes: Head-to-Head Comparison

Squatting is one of the most popular exercises for targeting the leg, lower back, and core muscles. It’s also highly beneficial for lifters looking to gain strength or burn fat quickly.

But for all its merits, squatting can also lead to injuries if lifters don’t use the appropriate form. But when it comes to learning the proper technique for squatting, one topic is still hotly contested – is squatting barefoot better than squatting with shoes on?

Some people prefer to squat heavy weights with the aid of their trusty lifting shoes; others like to keep it ‘natural’ and train without any footwear. Some just leave a pair of socks on for hygiene purposes. Everyone has their preferences.

But when it boils down to performance, is there any absolute that separates barefoot squatters and squatters who prefer to keep their shoes on? Let’s find out.

Squatting Barefoot Vs. Shoes

Squatting Barefoot vs. Shoes

Squats are difficult. They require immense lower-body mobility and balance while also demanding a lot of strength from the lifters. In such a situation, professionals would take any bit of advice that could help them improve their performance.

The question, therefore, stands: is barefoot squatting better than squatting with different kinds of shoes? We’ve prepared a comparison chart to help you decipher the answer.

Basis of Comparison

Squatting Without Shoes

Squatting With Shoes



Offers better stability in the long run. It might feel a little awkward at first.

Provides consistent balance, but not as much as barefoot squatting.


Offers better ankle mobility, as there is no additional heel lift.

Ankle mobility is restricted as the heel is lifted off the ground.

Risk of Injury

Increased risk of injury as slight inconsistencies in movement can lead to long-term injuries.

Lower risk of injuries as shoes offer better support for maintaining the correct form throughout.


Promotes poor hygiene at the gym. It’s recommended to at least wear socks while training.

Keeps with the proper hygiene standards of the gym.


Regular barefoot squatting can increase the power and strength of the lifter.

Squatting with shoes on will limit the potency of your ankles and balancing muscles in your lower limbs, making squats a little more difficult.

While weighing out the pros and cons of squatting with or without shoes, it’s also necessary to note that people have different squat mechanics. It means that some lifters might squat in an upright posture, while others might go for a wider stance.

Similarly, people also have distinct foot anatomies. Here, finding the right kind of shoes is vital for supporting any limitations in your feet. For example, if you have a flat foot, go for shoes with supportive soles to stabilize your body during squatting movements. Flat-footed lifters won’t be able to exercise properly without shoes.

It’s important to weigh out your personal requirements while evaluating your squat requirements. A barefoot squat might be more powerful in the long run. But if you don’t have the foot anatomy or lower-body mobility to deal with exercising barefoot, you’ll be more prone to injuries.

Is it Good to Squat Barefoot?

Is it Good to Squat Barefoot

Generally, you are bound to perform better if you squat without shoes. There’s a better awareness of the ground underneath, providing better balance, stability, and form.

When you squat barefoot, you’ll notice your toes spreading out evenly, providing a better grip. The change in form will also provide optimum muscle activation while squatting. And because your heels will be engaged more, you’ll experience more power from the bottom up.

Moreover, if you are squatting without shoes, you’ll feel the weight directly on your heels. The slight change makes your squats much deeper and more effective. The resulting movement activates your glutes with greater intensity when compared to squatting with your shoes on.

These are all the good things about squatting barefoot. But it’s not always the right choice for lifters. If they have flat feet, for instance, they need some form of support from their shoes.

Besides, most gyms have a “no barefoot” policy to uphold basic hygiene standards. That essentially makes it difficult to perform any exercise without any shoes. However, some gym trainers might be a little tolerant of lifters performing exercises like deadlifts and squats while barefoot.

Ultimately, a lot of these factors depend on the bodybuilder’s preferences and requirements. It’s up to them to evaluate if working out barefoot is the more feasible option for them.

6 Reasons Why You Should Squat Barefoot

There’s no denying that barefoot squats have both – benefits and shortcomings.

Squatting without shoes offers some performance benefits.

Here’s a list of why barefoot squatting reigns superior for some bodybuilders:

It Strengthens Feet

Most of the cushy sports shoes do not demand a lot of work from your ankle and toes, rendering them weaker. Supporting muscles in your lower limbs are also not activated if you work out with your shoes on regularly.

Weak feet will not only hinder your performance but also make your legs more susceptible to different kinds of injuries, as your knees and hips will be compensating for the weaknesses.

It Promotes Full Ankle Mobility

If you have your shoes on, the range of motion in your ankles will be limited. While barefoot, your feet will be devoid of the additional support from the soles, freeing your ankle mobility.

Working out with this extra mobility will enhance your form, performance, and stability, making your squats deeper and more effective.

It Enhances Grip

Without shoes, all the bones in your feet will work during the squatting movements. Your toes will spread out, improving your grip in the long run. But lifters should note that squatting without shoes might feel a little awkward and unstable at first.

It is More Cost-Effective

Let’s face it; spending hundreds of dollars on lifting shoes, sports shoes, and gym shoes seems like a waste of hard-earned money. If you decide to squat without shoes, you’ll end up saving a lot of money while enjoying better results in the long run.

It Provides a Neuromuscular Link

The squatting motion is a repetitive one. For avoiding injuries during the compound movement, consistency is key. People often begin well but forget to adjust with each repetition, making their bodies prone to incorrect forms.

In this case, exercising barefoot offers better neuromuscular connection, where your body can send better messages to the brain between repetitions. So, you’re always aware of issues like bad footing, changing posture, imbalance, etc.

It Keeps Foot Arches Strong

Your foot arch is a good indicator of your feet’s health. Wearing comfy shoes with prominent arch supports can weaken your foot muscles in the long run.

Barefoot squats will activate your foot arches, increasing the stability and support offered by the feet during compound movements.

Why is it Bad to Squat Barefoot?

Despite the many positives, there are some downsides to barefoot squats as well. Let’s talk about some of them.

Increased Injury Risk

Without shoes, your feet won’t have the support required to withstand momentary changes in your form. Any slight displacement of the ankle or a shift in your toes could result in injuries and complications.

Moreover, your feet won’t have any extra layer to protect yourself against all the weights being dropped around at the gym.

Starting Might be Tricky

If you have been squatting with shoes on for years, you’ll have weak ankles and supporting balancing muscles. As such, barefoot squatting might feel a little unstable, uncomfortable, and unnatural at first.

You are bound to make more mistakes, resulting in increased risk of injuries.

Increased Chances of Lower-Back Pain

Squatting without shoes tends to alter the lifting technique of lifters. They will tend to lean forward slightly with their chest out, which can result in lower back pain if the weight is too heavy.

Increased Foot Pain

If you’re a pro bodybuilder lifting heavy weights, you might feel some discomfort and pain in your feet while performing squats.

This is due to increased pressure on your heels and other parts of the feet, and the fact that your foot won’t be able to slack off due to added support from the shoes.

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Is it Good to Squat with Shoes?

Is it Good to Squat with Shoes

With footwear, things get a little more complicated. After all, there are several types of shoes that you can try while training.

There are flat-soled shoes – the handy, cheaper support for people who want to keep their feet protected while working out. On the other hand, lifting shoes provide a more luxurious alternative, with some added benefits like enhanced ankle mobility. Different types of shoes come with different sets of advantages.

Generally, it’s good to perform with shoes on if you’re a professional bodybuilder hitting some heavy weights during your training sessions. In such a scenario, your feet will need all the support they can get.

Lifting with shoes can also come in handy if you have poor ankle mobility. Ideally, you should work on that by performing barefoot squats once in a while. But for getting that intense training session completed, lifting heels can be great for masking that mobility issue.

Flat-soled shoes, on the other hand, provide greater similarity to training barefoot. It’s more convenient for people with good ankle mobility, and who don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on training equipment.

While using these two types of shoes at the gym is innocuous and, to some extent, beneficial, the use of running shoes or other sports shoes should be discarded altogether.

Running shoes, for example, dampen the sensitivity of your feet, disabling that mind-muscle connection that nags your body to adjust your form whenever needed.

Similarly, sports shoes have a high heel drop. Wearing them can cause your center of gravity to push forward, reducing stability. Wearing such shoes will make it difficult for people to deal with foot pressure during squats, increasing chances of injury.

6 Reasons Why You Should Squat With Shoes

Squatting with shoes is safer; it also offers some support. Sure, too much of additional support can be bad for your feet muscles.

But in the end, if your goal is to get that coveted performance hike as a short-term benefit, working out with shoes is definitely the way to go.

Compensates for Poor Ankle Mobility

Poor ankle mobility is often the result of wearing modern footwear too often. Because of the prominent heel drops and sophisticated designs, shoes can limit your ankle’s range of motion.

Once the damage is done, squatting and lifting movements can become complicated. In such a situation lifting shoes can provide the coveted relief. Wearing lifting shoes, bodybuilders can descend deeper while performing squats.

The elevation in the heels reduces the range of motion required by the ankle. Therefore, less dorsiflexion is required to complete the squatting movement.

This slight change in your posture will allow you to overlook your ankle mobility and squat evenly without issue.

That being said, it’s not wise to always find a way around poor ankle mobility. You can work on the weakness by squatting barefoot with lesser weight or performing some accessory exercises like lunges, the achilles stretch, and toe-to-heel walks, and so on.

Provides Firm Base for Lifting

While lifting, you need a firm and steady foundation, especially when dealing with heavy weights. Barefoot training might feel a little unnatural in such a situation.

Lifting shoes (or even flat-soled shoes) are superior in this regard. They come with hard plastic soles that can provide a stable base for lifting movements. Moreover, the hard sole will allow your body to get as much force off the ground during the initial squatting motion.

Offers Better Support

Most lifting or flat-soled shoes have a coat of leather or rubber to provide further support to your foot and ankle. Some shoes, specifically meant for training, also come with a strap to provide more stability.

The inclusion of such features make your foot more secure while performing squats. It also increases the stability and balance of your body, protecting you against injuries.

Enhanced Overall Stability

Squatting is a compound movement that demands all – good ankle mobility, hip mobility, and knee mobility.

With a lifting shoe, the added benefits of elevated heels, firm and secure foundation, and additional support features result in increased mobility while performing squats.

Promotes Safety

An advantage that everyone feels while wearing shoes – safety. Your feet will be safe from the looming threat of a metal plate falling on your ankles.

You’ll also enjoy protection against accidental injuries due to poor form, slight shifting during squats, and misplaced footing.

Promotes Hygiene

Lastly, wearing shoes while training is good because it’s the cleaner alternative. Imagine – a barefoot lifter with dirty feet.

Isn’t that a recipe for disaster (or diseases)?

Besides, most gyms don’t allow barefoot training to uphold their standards of cleanliness.

Why is it Bad to Squat in Shoes?

Squatting with shoes on might be the more common approach. But it’s not always the good one. Let’s look at some of the drawbacks of squatting while wearing footwear.

Certain Footwear Aren’t Good for the Gym

The worst part of people training while wearing their shoes? That they don’t have the right kind of footwear.

Sports shoes and running shoes just aren’t built for the gym. They kill the neuromuscular connection that you need for enhanced stance; they also have high heel drops which can lead to injuries during complicated movements like squats.

In the end, choosing the right footwear isn’t everyone’s priority. And that causes a lot of damage.

Leads to Foot Slacking Off

Shoes offer a lot of support and stability to your feet. But in doing so, they also kill your foot’s ability to handle your bodyweight by themselves.

Training with shoes for extended periods can lead to poor balancing muscles in the lower limbs, poor range of motion in the ankle, and weaker foot.

Makes Training More Expensive

If you’re looking to get a decent pair of lifting shoes, that will cost you at least a couple hundred dollars. Although the features offered by the shoes are worth it, not everyone can afford this price point.

On the other hand, flat-soled shoes offer a cheaper alternative. However, they don’t provide the added benefits of lifting shoes.

They’re simply a more secure way to imitate barefoot squatting. And even they cost around 50 or 60 bucks, which is definitely more expensive than simply training barefoot.

Is It Better to Squat With Shoes or Without?

There is no clear winner between barefoot squatting vs squatting with shoes. Generally, the choice should be made by the individual according to their foot’s anatomical structure and training goals.

If you’re looking to reap the overall benefits of squatting movements, try to perform squat without shoes for a while. Doing so might feel a little awkward at first, especially if you have poor balance and ankle mobility issues.

But if you see improvement, that’s a good sign. It generally indicates that your foot is becoming capable of supporting your body during complicated movements like squats.

But if you don’t feel any improvement, if it’s a little too awkward, go for lifting shoes – they’re the safer alternative. If your feet are not cut out for the job, it’s better to get some aid before you pick up an injury.

That being said, if your sole motive is to boost your squatting performance and improve your posture, lifting shoes can do the trick for you.

If you simply want to imitate the benefits of performing barefoot squats while keeping your feet safe, buy a pair of flat-soled shoes.

In the end, it’s all about preferences and what feels comfortable to your body. The only definite advice is that you should avoid incompatible footwear like running shoes and sports shoes.

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Wrapping Up

While deciding on whether you should squat barefoot or with your shoes on, weight out the different important factors. Ultimately, you know your body and goals better than others. As such, only you are qualified enough to make an informed decision.

As a general rule, squatting barefoot is better if you want to improve the strength of your feet, achieve better neuromuscular connection, and get a stronger, more natural grip during squats.

Wearing shoes, on the other hand, can protect your feet against injuries and provide relief against ankle mobility issues.