3 Exercises You Should Do Barefoot

3 Exercises You Should Do BarefootA barefoot kettlebell swing protects your back. Just be sure to keep a tight grip. (Peter Muller/cultura/Corbis)

If you want to feel instantly stronger and more stable during squats, deadlifts, and other lower-body exercises, try this simple trick: kick off your shoes. Most sneakers have thick soles and raised heels to absorb shock and cushion your stride as you run. But these protective features can cause problems when you enter the weight room. “They put the body in a completely different range of motion for some exercises, which can add undue stress to the spine, hips, and other areas,” said fitness coach Nathan Trenteseaux, owner of Underground Fitness Revolution in Alachua, Florida. “Raising your heels tilts your hips and pelvis forward…in an unnatural position.”

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Performing these exercises barefoot is also better for bodily awareness, which helps you nail proper form and can improve your balance and stability, Trenteseaux told Yahoo Health. “From the ground up, all of the nerve endings and receptors in the body get feedback from the feet,” he said. Traditional athletic footwear dulls these senses, though. When you’re barefoot, you can feel the texture of the ground beneath you and grab the floor with your toes. This feedback helps the brain and body communicate, Trenteseaux explained.

Here are three exercises where going sans shoes will make a big difference.

1. Kettlebell swings

A raised heel makes you lean forward during kettlebell swings, which can be especially problematic since the momentum of the bell is already pulling your body in that direction. With proper form, you should be standing tall with your hips in line with your body at the top of the kettlebell swing. But when your heels are elevated, your hips are pushed back and your back is rounded. This puts additional strain on the back and can lead to injury. Even worse: “If those heels are elevated, you can actually come up on your toes and fall forward—I’ve seen clients do that,” Trenteseaux said.

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2. Squats

“It is so often that I’ll get a client that comes in and I’ll see them with running shoes on, and as soon as they try to squat they’re falling over,” Trenteseaux said. “As soon as I say go barefoot, it almost immediately solves the issue.” In a proper squat, you push your butt back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Removing your shoes shifts your weight back, which makes this easier. People also tend to have better squat depth without shoes, Trenteseaux said, so you to get the full benefit of the exercise.

3. Deadlifts

In the deadlift, going barefoot or wearing minimal footwear puts your body in the most natural, secure position to pick up a heavy weight. Remember that an elevated heel tilts your body forward. You have to compensate for this during the deadlift by moving backward or taking a more upright posture. Both positions put your body off balance, Trenteseaux explained. 

“Everything begins with the feet,” Trenteseaux says. “Everything starts from the ground up, so when we are barefoot we are doing exactly what our body is made for.”

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Lithuanian power lifter Zydrunas Savickas competing in the 2013 Strongman Champions League World Grand Finals…in socks. (Photo by Lai Seng Sin/AP/Corbis)

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For the record, we’re not suggesting walking around the gym barefoot. Simply take off your shoes immediately before an exercise, and put them on immediately after, keeping your socks on. Also keep in mind that some facilities are more open to this than others. Minimalist footwear is another option.

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