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Barefoot Weight Training Guidelines

Written on February 23, 2009 at 5:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I know that you’re a bid advocate of including barefoot weight training in your strength and conditioning programs.  What in general is your “shoeless” policy with your athletes, if any?

A: Yes, we use a lot of barefoot weight training around Cressey Performance in our strength training programs.  In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training “accidentally” improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives.

Here are the exercises we’re open to doing barefoot:

All deadlift variations (rack pulls and DB variations included), box squats (hip dominant), and all any body weight mobility drills.

We don’t go barefoot for any loaded single-leg movements (aside from 1-leg RDLs and 1-leg squats/pistols) or more quad-dominant squatting variations.

All that said, we are careful about integrating barefoot drills in very overweight or very weak clients.  These individuals do not go barefoot for any of our dynamic flexibility warm-ups aside from in-place ankle mobilizations, as lunging variations can be a bit too much stress on them at first.

We do, however, encourage clients (in most cases) to go with a good minimalist shoe. My personal favorite is the New Balance Minimus.

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  • Mitch Rothbardt

    Could you explain why you don’t go barefoot on more quad-dominant squatting variations. I have been doing all my squatting barefoot and I very much like the way it feels.

  • Check out the Vibram Five-finger shoes for your barefoot lifting fetish. Dan John did a little review on T-nation a while back and I ran out to get a pair. I love em and they are always good for a convo. starter.

  • Joseph

    What would you suggest for someone who’s flat-footed? Whenever I squat or deadlift, I’ll wear Vans slip-ons with my orthotics in them. I’m just wondering if I’ll run into issues squatting/deadlifting barefoot because of my condition.

    Thanks!

  • John in Dallas

    Eric,
    I have been thinking about using the 5 finger shoes for pulls and squats. I have your Mag. Mobility and unstable surface training because I have a chronic sprained ankle from 25 years of running, a lot early in the morning and darkness. I bought high top shoes to get some stability for single leg drills to develop balance and I am working on glute medius and VMO imbalances.
    Will I get better results with no shoes on the exercises you mentioned above or should I stay with shoes? I have good ankle mobility interestingly enough and and no knee adduction in squats but I have a lot of wobble with single leg.
    Any suggestions would be great.

  • John in Dallas

    Post script to last post, I just finnished a full cycle of your Maximum Strength book, very good apporach and I increased all lifts. I did modify a little for my age. With that preamble I am not a newbie when it comes to lifting. I am in the process of getting certified as a personnal trainer for my next career and i read everything I can get my hands on. I just can’t seem to lick the knee wobble on the leg with over-used ankle.
    Thanks,
    John


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