Working Out Barefoot: Pros and Cons

Person lifting weights barefoot

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Stretching and exercising barefoot are commonplace in a yoga or pilates studio. Yet in more traditional settings, like gyms and weight rooms, entering without shoes is far from the norm. In fact, many gyms have dress codes that require sneakers to be worn for safety concerns.

Yet in other spaces, there are other ideas for proper workout footwear. You might have seen photos and videos of your favorite social media personalities talking about training barefoot. Many personal trainers and fitness experts are exercising sans shoes or using barefoot shoes instead of traditional sneakers for potential health benefits.  

Why People Are Training Barefoot  

Training barefoot is rising in popularity within the wellness space. “Barefoot training has become more prevalent in recent years due to the prevalence of barefoot shoes, online influencers, and literature supporting the benefits,” explains Dave Mace, founder and head coach at Maximum Potential Calisthenics.

Exercising barefoot can offer benefits for the feet as well as the body. “Training barefoot may improve agility, ankle stability, and the positioning of the joint, if done correctly,” Mace notes. “For some, this may relieve minor niggles, such as a low arch or pain from repetitive movements like running.”

But before you decide to ditch your shoes, there are some things to consider. According to Mace, people who aren’t accustomed to walking or training barefoot may get tired faster or could be more prone to injury. 

He offers up advice for anyone who is curious about exercising barefoot. “Newbies to barefoot training should start by walking barefoot for 5 minutes a day—this can just be around the house, to begin with,” he suggests. “Then, slowly introduce barefoot training by doing shorter workouts, warming up the feet before starting, and thinking about correct form and foot positioning throughout.”

And if you prefer to literally have a bit more cushion before making a sudden change or transition, he suggests using minimalist shoes to adjust. “Some people find transitioning to barefoot shoes helps to prepare the body for barefoot training,” he explains.

Benefits of Barefoot Training 

There are several benefits of barefoot training. 

Stability

Training without shoes can help increase stability in your feet and in your body.

“When you work out barefoot, you have the ability to spread your toes (unlike in sneakers where they are often compressed), which creates a bigger contact surface with the ground that allows for greater stability,” explains Eva Peña, CPT and founder and director of Wellness+ Studio.

“Also, barefoot exercise can help to readjust feet that have changed shape over time because of footwear, something that greatly impacts stability.”

Increases Coordination

Being barefoot is a natural part of being human. “Getting back to your nature, re-learning your movement patterns, and improving muscle engagement increases the activation of proprioceptors, unequivocally bringing your coordination, stability, and balance to the next level,” says Peña. “This in turn leads to healthier joints and a significant reduction to the risk of injury, making you more biomechanically efficient.” 

Strengthens Feet

“When you workout barefoot, you engage all your feet muscles in a way that is not always possible because of the ‘accommodations’ your shoes provide,” says Peña. “For example, most running shoes are designed to help propel you forward, not to provide balance, so as a result, your feet don’t engage the right way, which leads to tighter muscles, increased pressure on joints, and weaker feet.”

According to Mace, “Training barefoot can reduce or remove foot pronation; this is because it strengthens the feet and improves muscle tone allowing the arch to rise.”

One study with fifty-seven runners showed that wearing minimalist shoes could help strengthen the feet. Results showed that barefoot shoes could be as effective as doing foot exercises to strengthen the feet.

Increased Foot Mobility

Working out barefoot helps increase foot movement and mobility. “Training barefoot improves ankle mobility by connecting tissues from the toes, plantar fascia to the ankle,” explains Peña.

Although it’s common to wear shoes to exercise, there can be some not-so-great influences on the feet and body. “While there are certainly benefits to wearing shoes, our bodies also change to accommodate the footwear which can lead to various consequences including weaker feet and unnatural weight distribution,” she says.

“When you are barefoot, you’re engaging all your muscles in the proper manner which allows you to create the necessary connection between your tissues and ligaments because your body is not shifting in order to try to find balance," Peña concludes.

Sensory Awareness

“One of the benefits of training barefoot is the sensory feedback you get when your feet connect directly with the ground,” says Mace. “Our brain then tells the body how to land our foot on the ground, including how much pressure to exert.” 

Deja Riley, wellness expert and Lululemon studio trainer, adds, “Your connection to the ground allows you direct access to know where you are moving in space at all times.”

Mace explains that when we wear shoes, it’s more difficult to feel the surface and get sensory input making it easy to overcompensate. “This can cause us to exert more force than we need to and, over time, results in damage to the joints,” he says.

Where You Should Not Train Barefoot 

Some gyms may not permit working out without shoes based on their dress code as well as for safety reasons. Considering hygiene and cleanliness is also important. “If there is an irregular surface or potentially poor hygiene conditions, it’s important to be cautious and carefully consider if this is the right environment in which to exercise barefoot,” explains Peña. 

Checking out the space where you plan to train is important before you ditch your sneakers. “You shouldn’t train anywhere barefoot that could be a safety hazard,” warns Riley. “Ensure the space around you is clean—you have to watch out for your soles.” 

Working Out Barefoot

Yes
  • Workout surface is flat

  • Surfaces are clean

  • No required dress code

No
  • Workout surface is sharp or uneven

  • Surfaces are dirty

  • Dress code requires shoes

Deciding whether to exercise barefoot is also personal. “It depends on each individual’s training level and experience with any particular activity,” notes Peña. “I recommend avoiding high-impact workouts until you are very comfortable and confident with that exercise.” 

The type of workout is also important to consider whether you do it barefoot or with sneakers. “When doing exercises such as jumping, it may be safer to train with shoes on to cushion the joints from the force of landing,” explains Mace. “Equally, if you are climbing or walking on sharp uneven surfaces, it's best to refrain from training barefoot.”

A Word From Verywell

Working out barefoot may lead to certain health benefits, but ultimately it should only be done in safe, clean environments. Additionally, individuals should only work out barefoot if it's within their comfort level—speak to a healthcare professional if you have any questions or hesitations about your workout footwear.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it OK to lift weights barefoot?

    Lifting weights barefoot can be done and in fact, may help with stability since your feet will have more contact with the ground. This helps your body and feet have more sensory input. Make sure when lifting barefoot that not only is the floor safe and clean but it's also permitted.  Some personal trainers recommend getting familiar with exercising and training barefoot first before starting to lift weights.

  • Is it OK to workout barefoot on carpet?

    Whether it’s ok to work out barefoot on the carpet, depends on the intensity of the workout. Carpet is an option for low-impact exercise without shoes.

    The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends only doing low- to moderate-impact exercises on the carpet.

  • Does working out barefoot strengthen feet?

    Yes, working out barefoot strengthens feet by using all the muscles in the feet. This helps make the feet more mobile, and increases flexibility.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Ridge ST, Olsen MT, Bruening DA, Jurgensmeier K, Griffin D, Davis IS, Johnson AW. Walking in minimalist shoes is effective for strengthening foot muscles. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jan;51(1):104-113. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001751

  3. Sánchez-Ramírez C, Alegre LM. Plantar support adaptations in healthy subjects after eight weeks of barefoot running training. PeerJ. 2020 Mar 31;8:e8862. doi: 10.7717/peerj.8862.

  4. Franklin S, Grey MJ, Heneghan N, Bowen L, Li FX. Barefoot vs common footwear: A systematic review of the kinematic, kinetic and muscle activity differences during walking. Gait Posture. 2015;42(3):230-239. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2015.05.019

  5. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: "Precautions for Aerobic Dancing to Avoid Aerobic Injuries"