One of my clients asked me a good question the other day that I thought would be a good post to write about. She asked me why some people prefer to squat bare foot over wearing trainers yet other people say squat shoes are better. Here’s my take on things.
I believe squatting bare foot will feel better to a lot of people because they can apply more force through the ground as they are coming from the bottom of the squat. Normal running trainers have a cushioned heel which absorbs a lot of your force as you come out of the bottom. Furthermore when you have a fairly heavy load on your back in trainers it’s easier to feel unbalanced due to this cushioning and also due to the uneven nature of the trainer sole.
Lifting shoes eliminate all the issues that running trainers pose. They have a flat sole, no cushioning and a raised heel. The raised heel help to make it easier to achieve depth on the squat for those with poor ankle mobility. From my experience the majority of people find it hard to achieve depth whether it be ankle mobility or other mobility issues in the lower body. Usually a combination of these issues is the problem as we spend too much time sitting and not enough time moving.
Where it gets interesting is squatting bare foot for most people may feel better but feeling better doesn’t always mean it’s optimal. Most people have poor foot mechanics and this is where the problems can start. If someone is very flat footed and decides to squat with no shoes what you tend to see is the knee caving in as there is no support (see attached video below on this). This can potentially end up causing problems in the knee. Both trainers and lifting shoes will provide some support to the foot arch, better trainers more so. Again better doesn’t always mean more expensive. I have some Nike trainers I’ve paid good money for yet I would not dream of squatting in them. One because I love them and two because they have zero arch support.
Another thing to look at when squatting bare foot is the issue of ankle mobility. If you have no heel support and poor ankle mobility then hitting depth on a squat is going to be near impossible. And if you are hitting depth with poor ankle mobility there is a good chance other muscles/joints may be over compensating to achieve this.
So what do you do? Personally I don’t ever suggest any of my clients squat bare foot. If they choose to I tend to find out what their reasons are and before I make a change I will assess their form bare foot, provide feedback and my opinion. Ultimately I leave the decision up to them. What I can say is, none of my clients squat bare foot after we have discussed it. I think if you are serious about your squatting you should invest in some lifting shoes. Especially if ankle mobility is an issue. Lifting shoes range from around £50-200 but they will be a very good investment. I don’t know anyone who has lifting shoes who thinks they aren’t great to squat in.
If you choose not to squat in lifting shoes I would look at investing in some flat soled trainers, Converse Chuck Taylor are a good choice for this. Again if ankle flexibility is an issue I’d lean towards lifting shoes. If you aren’t that serious about your squatting then I would lean towards trainers for most people.
I would be very interested to hear other peoples take/experiences with this topic. All thoughts written are my own, based on experience.