“When you wear any sort of a shoe, you are about an inch higher than you would be if you were barefoot,” said Anna Swisher, a USA Weightlifting coach. “You’ve got an inch more to move the bar.” This extra inch may not make much of a difference for a single lift but can add up over the course of a training cycle.
Heavy lifts require dedicated lifting shoes.
Lifting a percentage of your body weight won’t place too much of a strain on your foot, but when lifting significantly more than you weigh, proper shoes become essential, as this puts a greater load on the foot than it is capable of handling, said Dr. Emily Splichal, a podiatrist and author of the book “Barefoot Strong: Unlock the Secrets to Movement Longevity.” As Dr. Splichal notes, many lifters will do warm-ups and lighter lifts barefoot, and then, as they push higher, put on weight lifting shoes.
Most dedicated weight lifting shoes have hard, dense, incompressible soles. “It’s easier to balance and it’s much more stable,” said Mark Rippetoe, a weight lifting coach and author of the book “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.”
Lifting shoes also feature wedged heels that tilt the foot forward, and, in Dr. Swisher’s experience, the stability they provide can you help maintain good form, which is especially critical during weighted squats. “Having that extra lift in the heel helps keep your torso more upright, which helps keep the center of mass of the barbell more in line with your center of mass,” Dr. Swisher said. This reduces the amount of pressure placed on your lower back, which can help prevent injury.
Some shoes, however, are really not appropriate for weight lifting. Mr. Rippetoe often sees people lifting in running shoes, rather than dedicated lifting shoes. “Doing squats in running shoes is like doing squats on a mattress,” said Mr. Rippetoe. “Every rep will be different.” This makes it hard to maintain good form, which can also lead to injury.
Even during lighter lifts, there are risks.
Although barefoot weight lifting can offer benefits, all of the experts, including Dr. Haeuptle, warned there are a number of risks, including the potential for injury, if not done properly.
One major problem with barefoot weight lifting is that “some people don’t have the ankle stability to do it well,” Dr. Valenzuela said. If a person with weak ankles starts weight lifting barefoot, this can lead to the ankles wobbling.