OK, where was i last week…
…Oh yeah, lifting in socks / barefoot. That’s right.
Sometimes I get sidetracked.
So, Like I said, before my little rant about weight sleds, cross fitters and my right to exist, I’ve been curious about the trend, mostly among lifters & kettlebell folk, to take off their shoes and lift in their socks or barefoot. Is it a new thing? What’s the deal? Have I just been blind to it through 40 years of gym going and 25 years of working as a trainer & Group X instructor?
The answer to that, as far as I can determine, is “kinda, but not really”
In the serious lifting world, lifting barefoot ( I’m just gonna say “barefoot from now on, to save myself all of the “sock/barefoot” references) has existed for a long time. There seems to a sort of “purist” sentiment about lifting barefoot. So it’s been around for a while, but it’s just recently become more popular among the rest of the fitness world. I suspect (and yes, this is just a straight up guess on my part) it’s because of social media. Someone who actually knew the pros & cons of barefoot lifting might have posted pics / vids / tictocs of themselves lifting, sans shoes. 10 or 100 or so folks ( depending on whether the first guy / gal was a micro-influencer, macro-influencer or mega-influencer (I made the last one up) saw this and thought, “Hmm, I wonder why they’re lifting in their socks”?. Some of them may have actually researched the matter and chose to adopt this style of lifting. Then 5 or 50 of those folks posted and a few 100 or 1000 saw their posts and thought “ Cool, no shoes” and went with it. 1000s became 10,000s became 100,000s became 1,000,000s & by the time it got to the 1,000,000s level, it’s likely that people stopped asking why. It had reached the “why is gluten bad” level, where various tales of an entire spectrum of amazing benefits were shared (“my cousin’s sciatica went into remission, he’s lost 20 lbs and his wife says that, well, you know, twice a day, like clockwork…”)
…but I digress…
…OK, so it’s been around for a while. But why barefoot?
“Your foot is packed with 20 muscles that help support standing, walking and other movements,” says Tyler Nightingale, DPT, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City. Opting to go shoe-less and weight lifting in your socks, can help increase the muscle activity in your feet, he says, giving those muscles some much-needed attention. It can also positively affect your balance. Which is especially important for older adults who are often at higher risk for fall-related injury, Remind me to tell you about the time 2 weeks ago where I did a full somersault fall because I couldn’t quite clear a 3/4” crack in the sidewalk during a run. True. Embarrassing, but true.
Also, lifting weights in socks or with bare feet can help you feel more grounded, enabling you to engage more muscles, according to Nightingale. This can be especially helpful with compound lifts like deadlifts or squats, where the weight you’re maneuvering is generally heavier. Lifting shoes (commonly called Olympic or weightlifting shoes) are a special kind of footwear that is specifically designed for lifting weights. They have a hard, non-compressive sole and the heel is raised, which helps you to retain correct form, which can be good if you’re lifting, say the weight of your body over your head. Some lifters also prefer weightlifting shoes because they provide rigidity and make them feel more stable. That, while being more of a mental benefit, is immensely important when you go for heavy weight. You need a stable base to push off of and having the confidence can help a lot. It’s similar to running, where you have runners who prefer the cushioning of certain brands and other runners who prefer minimal cushioning or running barefoot.
Reminder, running barefoot = crazy.
Now, should you jump into barefoot lifting, cold-turkey like?
Before you dive into your first barefoot training session, it makes sense to educate yourself and take a few precautions. For example, you might start by devoting five minutes of your training session to barefoot training. Then add an additional five minutes to every training session each week until your entire strength-training program is occurring barefoot. That will give your feet enough time to adapt, and give you a chance to notice any issues and assess whether it’s right for you. Especially if you’re a little more “seasoned”, like me. In general it takes my body longer to adapt to new exercises and workouts.
Welcome to my 60s.
So, is it right for you? Well, like most things in life…
…it’s up to you. If you’re curious, give it a try. All the cool kids seem to be doing it. Maybe you’re one of them. I’ll be in the “dorky older guy wearing the New Balance” lane.
And, BTW, when did wearing New Balance become the Scarlet Letter of being old? I’m going to address this one in a future blog because, dammit, I like New Balance! And get off my metaphorical lawn, you damn kids!