Is it Better to Workout With Shoes Or Barefoot?

Shoes are a necessity for a lot of exercises, but they don’t always fit perfectly and can have negative effects on our feet and bodies. Wearing the wrong shoes can make your workouts less effective and even cause injury.

When it comes to footwear, there are many options available, including inserts, insoles, foam, orthotics, toe spacers, heel liners, arch relief, blister protection, and more. They can relieve pain, improve foot stability, or help prevent arthritis, but they don’t necessarily help you move better or get stronger if you don’t have the proper footwear.

Depending on the type of workout you’re doing, going barefoot can actually be beneficial to your form and foot strength. It can be especially helpful for weightlifting and other higher-impact exercises.

Barefoot training can also improve your proprioception, or the sense of how you move in the world, according to Kasey Phillips, a NASM-Certified personal trainer and MoveMEANT coach in Rocklin, CA. This can improve balance and posture, she says, because it gives your feet a wider contact surface with the ground.

It can also strengthen the small stabilizing muscles in your feet, which can enhance your balance and sports performance. It’s important to note, however, that if you’re not accustomed to barefoot training, it may take time before your feet are ready for it. Start with a low-impact workout, like yoga or Pilates.

Then, slowly ease into going barefoot during strength training and other higher-impact exercises. Ideally, you’ll do one set without shoes before adding another one. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to go barefoot, consult a personal trainer or a fitness professional before making the switch.

Some exercise experts recommend a transition period before barefoot or minimalist shoe training, so that you can build up to the new routine and your body can adapt to the new conditions. This is particularly important for people who have had a history of injuries, or whose feet aren’t strong enough to handle the new stresses or loads, Dr. Langer says.

He suggests starting with lower-impact workouts, such as Pilates and barre. Then, gradually add higher-impact workouts, such as running and deadlifts.

During these higher-impact moves, he suggests doing a few reps of each movement with shoes, then removing them to do the same movement barefoot. You might need to pause and rest after each rep to allow your feet to adjust, but that’s not a big deal if you are only doing it for a few sessions.

For more advanced lifters, it can be best to do a few sets of each exercise with shoes and then a few stretches and other recovery work barefoot. You should also consider adjusting the way you approach each move, to keep your body balanced and in control, says Cavagna.

Some people don’t like the idea of not wearing shoes, but they can be a great alternative to padded, cushioned shoes. They’re a little more flexible and can allow your feet to spread, which makes them feel a bit more natural.