A few years ago, I saw a guy at my gym lifting weights in socks, without any shoes on. I was still pretty new at this fancy, elite gym and honestly, I thought he had made a mistake—like he’d forgotten his sneakers at home and decided to just workout without them. But then I started noticing guys in the gym actually taking off their sneakers to do some training and realized it must be “a thing.” Of course, it didn’t stop me from giving some subtle side-eye every time I saw it.
It’s almost counterintuitive. Never before have our sneakers offered such technological advancements. They’re lighter, stronger and springier than ever. They can help us run faster, jump higher and crush any WOD. But the best footwear for training just might be no footwear at all. It turns out, kicking off your shoes could be the secret to getting stronger and more toned. Which is exactly why it’s a thing with powerlifters. Often, our feet are the only part of our bodies touching the floor and grounding us while we work to develop our muscles in the gym.
“I started researching the benefits of running barefoot almost 10 years ago when the book Born to Run came out,” says Michael Aidala, a personal trainer and health coach who’s also an ambassador for Ten Thousand. Now, he says he trains without shoes often, for everything from weightlifting and handstands to the jump exercises known as plyometrics.
“The biggest benefit I personally see from barefoot training—both with my clients and myself—is the increased proprioception of the nerves on the bottom of the foot,” says Aidala. “It greatly enhances my balance and ability to ‘feel’ the ground and produce force.” That increased force is all but guaranteed to help you when you’re doing such lifts as deadlifts and squats or working with a kettlebell, since you push through a hard surface with your heels, instead of some cushioned sole.