weightlifting with barefoot shoes

Barefoot Shoes for Weightlifting: A Comprehensive Guide

Last Updated on January 20, 2024

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There’s a growing trend in the world of weightlifting – barefoot shoes.

Offering a minimalist, back-to-basics approach to lifting, these shoes have created a buzz in fitness communities worldwide.

But what exactly are barefoot shoes? And are they the right choice for your weightlifting regime?

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the world of barefoot weightlifting, exploring the benefits, popular options, and considerations you should be aware of before swapping your traditional weightlifting shoes for a barefoot alternative.

The Benefits of Barefoot Shoes for Weightlifting

Barefoot shoe rolled
A Barefoot Shoe Rolled

Barefoot shoes are designed to mimic the experience of being barefoot while providing a minimum level of protection against hazards.

While the concept of ‘barefoot’ and ‘shoes’ might seem contradictory, it boils down to the shoes having a thin sole that allows for more sensory input from your feet to your brain.

xero shoes prio barefoot shoe white
Xero Shoes Prio – a very popular model

But how does this translate to weightlifting? Let’s dive in.

Improved Sensory Input

While weightlifting, a lot of emphasis is placed on form and technique.

One crucial aspect of good form is being aware of your foot positioning. Barefoot shoes offer an improved connection with the ground, increasing your awareness of your foot position.

This heightened sensitivity can aid in making minor adjustments that could improve your lift and potentially help avoid injury.

Better Balance

Enhanced Balance

Having a stable base is crucial in weightlifting.

Traditional weightlifting shoes often have an elevated heel that can sometimes compromise balance.

On the other hand, barefoot shoes promote a natural foot splay and grip, providing a more stable base for lifting.

This benefit can lead to improved lifting performance, especially in exercises where stability is key, like squats or deadlifts.

Natural Lower Body Starting Positions

Barefoot shoes promote more natural lower body starting positions.

Standing, Walking, Lifting - Barefoot

The lack of an elevated heel means you are more likely to engage your glutes and hamstrings in lifts, promoting proper form and technique.

This feature can be particularly beneficial in exercises like the squat or deadlift, where maintaining a neutral spine is crucial.

baretread.com woman deadlift in barefoot shoes

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits barefoot shoes can offer let’s explore some popular options available on the market.

Xero Shoes 360 Cross Training Shoe

A review by Jake @Thatfitfriend

The Xero Shoes 360 Cross Training Shoe is an all-purpose cross-training shoe that can handle the rigors of weightlifting. It provides ample toe space, allowing your feet to splay naturally. The shoe also features a minimalist, zero-drop design that provides a close-to-ground feel for better stability and sensory feedback.

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

vivobarefoot primus III

The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III boasts a wide toe box and a close-to-ground design, making it an excellent option for weightlifting.

These shoes allow for maximum foot splay and provide excellent ground feel, making them ideal for lifting where stability and balance are key.

Bearfoot Shoes


Bearfoot Shoes offers a variety of barefoot shoes designed with weightlifting in mind.

Their footwear often features extra grip for rooting into the floor during heavy lifts.

This extra grip can make a significant difference when executing challenging lifts, where any slip or instability could lead to poor form or injury.

Drawbacks and Considerations

Like any fitness gear, barefoot shoes for weightlifting are not without their drawbacks and considerations.

Understanding these will help you make a well-informed decision.

Less Support

Unlike traditional weightlifting shoes that often have thick soles and firm heel support, barefoot shoes provide less support due to their thin soles.

For some lifters, especially those transitioning from traditional lifting shoes, this can potentially lead to discomfort or a feeling of instability initially.

However, gradually adapting to barefoot shoes can strengthen foot muscles over time.

Risk of Injury

While barefoot shoes can enhance sensory feedback and encourage proper form, they also carry the potential for overuse injuries if the transition is too abrupt or if the lifter uses improper technique.

It’s crucial to ease into the use of barefoot shoes, gradually increasing the weight you lift while wearing them.

Gym Policies

Another point to consider is gym policies. Some commercial gyms have rules against barefoot lifting, even if it’s done with barefoot shoes, due to sanitary reasons or potential injury risk. It’s best to check with your local gym before making the switch.

In my experience, I never had any issues with it.

Tips for Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes for Weightlifting

If you’ve decided to try barefoot shoes for your weightlifting routine, here are some tips to aid your transition and prevent potential injuries.

Start Small

Begin with reduced weight and a limited range of motion.

This approach can help your feet and body get accustomed to the new footwear while minimizing the risk of overuse injuries.

Gradual Transition

Don’t make the switch overnight.

Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your barefoot training sessions.

This approach can help your feet adapt to the new demands.

Rotate Your Shoes

Consider rotating between barefoot shoes, training shoes, and weightlifting shoes based on the specific exercise or context.

collection of xero shoes to rotate for different gym purposes

For instance, you may find that traditional weightlifting shoes work better for you during heavy squats, while barefoot shoes are preferable for deadlifts.

Final Thoughts on Lifting Weights with Barefoot Shoes

Barefoot shoes offer several potential benefits for weightlifting, such as improved sensory input, better balance, and enhanced foot strength.

However, it’s essential to transition gradually and be aware of potential drawbacks and risks associated with barefoot training.

The decision between barefoot shoes and traditional lifting shoes ultimately boils down to personal preference and individual needs.

So, whether you choose to lift barefoot, in minimalist footwear, or stick with your tried-and-true weightlifting shoes, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable, secure, and powerful during your workouts.

Remember, everyone’s weightlifting journey is unique, and the best gear is the one that helps you reach your fitness goals while keeping you safe and injury-free.

Happy lifting!


What are the benefits of weightlifting with barefoot shoes?

Barefoot shoes for weightlifting can offer several benefits. They improve sensory input and promote a better connection with the ground, aiding in the awareness of foot positioning. This can lead to better balance, natural foot splay, and a more stable base for lifting. Using barefoot shoes can also promote natural lower body starting positions and encourage proper form and technique. Lastly, barefoot training can potentially lead to stronger and more adaptable feet.

Are barefoot shoes good for strength training?

Yes, barefoot shoes can be good for strength training. They can enhance proprioception, or the awareness of your body in space, which can help improve your balance and coordination. This can be beneficial for strength training, especially for compound exercises that require stability and precise movements.

Can I use running shoes for weightlifting?

Running shoes are not typically recommended for weightlifting. They are designed to absorb impact and often have a high heel-to-toe drop, which can affect stability during weightlifting. Flat shoes, including minimalist or barefoot shoes, can provide a more stable base for lifting weights.

Why do some people prefer to lift weights without shoes?

Lifting weights without shoes can enhance sensory feedback, increase balance, and encourage proper form, as the feet have direct contact with the ground. However, not all gyms allow this due to hygiene or safety reasons, hence the popularity of barefoot shoes, which mimic the benefits of barefoot lifting while providing minimal foot protection.

What are some of the best barefoot shoes for lifting?

Some of the top-rated barefoot shoes for lifting include the Xero Shoes 360 Cross Training Shoe, Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III, and various models from Bearfoot Shoes. These options offer a wide toe box, thin soles, zero drop, and additional grip, making them suitable for weightlifting.

What is the ‘zero drop’ in barefoot shoes?

‘Zero drop’ refers to the lack of height difference between the heel and the forefoot in a shoe. In barefoot or minimalist shoes, there is no height difference, which helps to promote a natural foot position, improving balance and stability during weightlifting.

Is transitioning to barefoot weightlifting safe?

Transitioning to barefoot weightlifting can be safe when done correctly. It’s recommended to start with reduced weight and limited range of motion. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your barefoot training sessions to avoid overuse injuries. Also, consider rotating between barefoot, training, and weightlifting shoes based on the specific exercise.

What are the potential drawbacks of barefoot weightlifting?

While barefoot weightlifting can offer several benefits, it’s not without potential drawbacks. These can include less support due to the lack of cushioning and elevated heels, which can feel uncomfortable or unstable initially, and the risk of overuse injuries if the transition is made too abruptly or with improper technique.

Are barefoot shoes suitable for Olympic weightlifting?

Whether barefoot shoes are suitable for Olympic weightlifting depends largely on personal preference and the specific lifting technique used. While barefoot shoes can enhance balance and stability, Olympic weightlifting often involves heavy weights and explosive movements where the added heel support and structure of traditional weightlifting shoes may be beneficial.

Can I drop a weight on my foot while wearing barefoot shoes?

While barefoot shoes do provide a minimal layer of protection, they are not designed to protect your foot from heavy impact, such as a dropped weight. Always exercise caution and proper technique when lifting weights, regardless of the type of shoes you are wearing.

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