The Advantages of Barefoot Lifting: How and Why
In front of the complex tools, the projectile weapons, the wheels, and the civilization, hominids stood upright and walked – and that made all the difference. Bipedalism freed their hands to carry objects and manipulate the world around them and see miles over the horizon. They did all of this on bare feet very much like ours; Footprints of hominids from East Africa, millions of years old, look almost identical to those you would see on the beach today. Not much has changed down there.
That is the entire basis for the barefoot walking movement. We were born barefoot and spent most of our prehistory barefoot and in our history with the least amount of minimalist footwear. Only in the past hundred years have we started burying our feet in restrictive leather and rubber armor that deform our foot structure and alter our gait and fabric loading. Running with bare feet or in shoes that mimick the barefoot experience can help us move and land the way nature intended, increasing running efficiency and reducing the risk of injury. Science is healthy.
I have spoken at length about the terrible effect all sitting has on our bodies. By taking gravity out of the equation, chairs weaken the glutes, loosen hamstrings, tone the calves, and deactivate our entire lower body. That doesn’t even mention poor posture, decreased cognitive function, and impaired fat-burning capacity. Shoes are worse. They are like chairs for our feet, only we wear them all day.
That’s why I’ve always spoken out in favor of breaking free from the shoe monopoly in order to go barefoot as much as possible.
To run barefoot. Walk barefoot. To run barefoot. Barefoot sprints. Barefoot gardening, garbage collection, dancing, cleaning. All good, all useful.
And now I want you to try lifting barefoot. But first I’ll tell you why.
Are there any advantages to lifting barefoot? Absolutely.
Are there any things to look out for? Yes.
First, let’s examine the potential benefits of lifting weights barefoot.
Better connection to the ground
The sole of a shoe is a barrier between you and the ground. A middleman, an interface. This is not a deal breaker. Obviously, people keep lifting shoes all the time. Most people lift shoes so it is definitely doable and effective enough. However, when you are barefoot you are directly connected to the ground so you have a solid base on which to defy gravity. The soles of your feet adhere better than the soles of your shoes.
This effect is more noticeable on natural, uneven surfaces, on which the bare foot can “form” much better than a shoe. Ultimately, the barefoot lifter is closer to the ground and has a more stable base than the steamed lifter.
And the more solid the foundation, the stronger the house. The same goes for a barefoot person who lifts heavy things. Once you’ve acclimatized, you are more powerful and grounded than ever before. Preliminary research suggests that this is the case:
10 experienced lifters lifted 4 sets of 4 reps in fogged and unshod conditions. Although barefoot lifting made no difference by some performance metrics, lifting barefoot improved the rate of strength development. The difference wasn’t huge, but it was there. Barefoot lifters have been able to develop more strength faster than shoes, suggesting that there is a “separation” between the shod foot and the floor that must be overcome before strength can develop. Barefoot lifter did not have this interruption; They were connected from the start.
Proprioception is body awareness in space and movement. Knowing where your limbs are in relation to the rest of the environment. Good proprioception means that you have an intuitive sense of what your body is doing and where it is moving through the world – where your feet are, where your arms are, where your head is in relation to the branch that is right coming towards you. You can react more effectively to the environment.
Good proprioception is a prerequisite for being a good dancer, dodgeball player, fighter or boxer.
To produce proprioception, your nervous system uses all of the senses. What you see, hear, smell and feel – and think. Shoes cut off your proprioceptive interface with the ground. When you go barefoot, that interface is restored so your nervous system can access any data coming in about the hundreds of nerves on the soles of your feet.
A shod foot is a single piece, just a large blunt platter of meat that you wobble on. You balance on the soles of your shoes. A linear surface.
A bare foot is made up of separate muscles, nerves, bones and fasciae. You can place your weight on different sections of your foot much more easily. You can “choose” to focus on balancing on, for example, the forefoot, metatarsus, heels, sides, toes, or the entire foot. Barefoot lifting balance becomes a symphony of components that all work together – and separate if you so choose.
Barefoot lifting gives your vestibular system a much stronger stimulus.
Better foot health
The foot contains dozens of muscles, most of which rest in a shoe. They go limp, they go weak, they are not engaged. Lifting in one shoe is fine, but you leave a lot of potential on the table. This is not about hypertrophy of the foot muscles. Don’t expect “wins” down there. However, you can expect a stronger, more resilient foot that can handle long walks or even runs with regular barefoot lifts. You can also expect fewer foot problems, like plantar fasciitis, provided you can lift barefoot more easily.
As you can see, barefoot lifting isn’t really about reaching new PRs or draining more raw strength and performance from your body – although it’s a good argument that better balance and a more stable base can improve your numbers. It’s more about the overall feeling of lifting. It’s getting more organic. More real. Original. Lifting heavy things barefoot makes you feel like a civilized wild person doing real work.
Convinced? Well. Let’s make sure we do it safely.
First, read this post on how to prepare for the barefoot transition. There are a number of exercises and exercises you can do to prepare your feet to stay unmistakable. Next, read the following section.
Tips for lifting barefoot
Remember, to be safe and to avoid overuse injuries, especially if you are new to barefoot exercise.
The body is one piece. Every component is important. No muscle or joint is an island. Take the bows. If they collapse, is that all? Your arches are collapsing and everything else continues to work great?
Of course not.
Your arches collapse and your knee loses vital support and collapses inward. You get knee valgus that sheds your hips and puts a lot of strain on your knee joint (in the wrong places, no less). If you move upstream of this folded arch, every joint is at risk. Every joint has to adjust to this initial deficit.
Ideally, your foot muscles form the arch, is the arch. Most people, their shoes, or their insoles provide arch support. If you are inexperienced with barefoot movements and training, your arches may not be strong enough to withstand heavy weights. You shouldn’t take that support away and then expect to be successful with weights. If you’re experienced, your arches can likely handle it. So the mileage varies depending on the condition of your bare feet. Use caution and avoid collapsed arches, especially under load.
Olympic weightlifters wear lifting shoes with pronounced, firm heels. This lifts the heel and reduces the real ankle flexibility you need to get the right depth while squatting. It makes deep squats easier and arguably safer for elite athletes.
Someone like Kelly Starrett with optimal ankle mobility can hit these lows barefoot, but not everyone has their mobility. If you’re used to lifting in lifting shoes, especially during squats, the transition to bare-footed crouching will be staggering. Perhaps even dangerous when using the same weight and trying to hit the same depth with the same knee angle.
Drop the weight
When running, large, bulky running shoes can mask the damage done and artificially inflate the number of miles you travel beyond your “natural” capacity. You can go further, but at what cost?
Weight training isn’t as dynamic as running. It’s also a minor impact, so it’s not such a risky endeavor. But you may have to bite the ball, swallow your ego, and drop the weight a bit when you start lifting barefoot.
Don’t expect to squeeze the weight you’ve handled in shoes, at least not right away.
Do not let the weight drop on your feet
This doesn’t just apply to bare feet: a pair of trainers won’t protect your feet from an 80-pound dumbbell on a quick descent. But the advice becomes more and more urgent when you are not wearing shoes at all.
I don’t think I have to say this, but you never know. Do not drop weights on your bare feet.
Barefoot lifting can pay off and be incredibly satisfying as long as you do it safely and intelligently. Hopefully after today you will know how to get started.
Do you lift barefoot? What’s your favorite part about the barefoot raise? What do you have of it?
Let me know below and thanks for reading!
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with an original lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is the key component to achieving optimal wellbeing, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real food company, the Primal / Paleo, Keto and Whole30 friendly kitchen staples manufactures.
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