Should you be Deadlifting Barefoot?

Many coaches in the strength training world have been asking this age old question time and time again.

“Should you be performing the deadlift barefoot?”

So to quickly answer the question, yes. Deadlift barefoot.

So what is the reasoning behind going shoeless when picking up a heavy bar off the floor?

The deadlift is an exercise that loads the posterior, or back, portion of our body. The hamstrings, glutes, and back extensors are getting worked as we stand on up with the weight.

Wearing shoes with a higher heel lift causes our weight to shift forward. When lifting the weight, we should be pushing more through our heels and not through the ball of our foot (Approximately 70% through the heel).

The heel lift in shoes also cause our foot to always be in a more plantar flexed position and being stuck in that position for hours on end without ever getting into a neutral position. By having the foot in this position, many individuals lack full dorsiflexion.

Majority of individuals are wearing stiff shoes that cause the intrinsic muscles of the foot to become weak. This then could cause flat feet, which could lead to more problems up the chain.

There are 33 joints in the foot, and they are all supposed to move some with any type of motion (i.e. walking, running, jumping, etc.). Stiff and supportive shoes cause these joints to become less mobile.

So when deadlifting barefoot, what should we be feeling?

One of my favorite cues is to make your foot feel like a tripod.

There are three points of contact:

  • The heel
  • The big knuckle
  • The little knuckle

Take a look at different types of footprints.

If you want to see where you land, wet the bottom of your foot and step on blacktop or concrete. If your footprint looks like the first picture, then you have a normal arch. If it looks like either of the other two, we got some things going on.

And by using the cue of the tripod, you can see in a normal foot how our weight can be distributed through those areas to create a stable base, compared to the other two images.

Another cue I use when setting up the deadlift is to grip the floor.

By trying to grip the floor, we are creating an arch and a stable surface to pull from.

The more stable we are in our feet, the more we are going to be able to pull from the ground.

If you are interested in trying barefoot deadlifting, make sure you have a good arch before you jump in.

If your foot is flat do not, I repeat DO NOT, jump right into barefoot deadlifting. You are going to increase your risk of injury.

Work on some feet strengthening exercises by gripping the floor and single leg balance exercises. Doing these will help create an arch that will overtime strengthen your foot.

As your foot becomes stronger, begin looking for shoes that are a little less supportive and keep working your way down until you are able to go barefoot.

If your gym doesn’t allow going barefoot, then get a minimalist shoe with no heel lift.

By improving your foot strength, you are going to see your deadlift numbers jump.

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