Squats are one of the most important compound full-body exercises that work on many muscles together and the best part is that they mimic functional movement patterns. It improves muscle strength, mobility of joints and also strengthens tendons, joints, and ligaments of the lower body. Since your feet make the base for a squat, it is important to understand whether there are certain benefits of doing squats barefoot instead of with shoes.
More and more people are becoming aware of barefoot training, even running. Barefoot training has now been on trend like the good old days where shoes weren’t an option at all. Feet are traditionally meant to move and feel since we have so many sensory receptors hidden under the soles of our feet. Training barefoot can give you certain advantages that might be currently getting masked while training with shoes.
Our feet are truly amazing. They have small bones, muscles, ligaments, and receptors that adapt to the ground and are the sole contact between the world and our brain. Since we have become so used to being in shoes most of the day this adaptability has reduced over time. More and more research is pointing to the fact that gradually allowing your feet to do what they are meant to do can allow for a complete fitness that connects your brain to your muscles much better.
The skin that covers our feet has built-in receptors that are called “mechano-receptors” which sense contact with the ground. They basically “feel” the ground and communicate this information to the brain and the brain, in turn, communicates with all the muscles and bones to keep us stable. This helps us attain balance and steady position no matter what the surface. Shoes prevent the touch sensors of our feet from accurately feeling the ground. The neuromuscular connection is hence compromised. The neuromuscular connection is an important aspect of strength and balance; key factors in fitness. Over time, the small muscles in the feet “get lazy” since its a fact that what you don’t use, you lose.
Squatting barefoot can help correct this. One study conducted at East Tenessee State University did an analysis of a barefoot squat using EMG and found that muscle activity was much higher barefoot as compared to with shoes. Try this simple test to activate the muscles and sensations in the bottom of your feet. Stand barefoot on one leg and check your balance. If it gives way easily you definitely need to work on your foot. Now try doing a set of squats barefoot and feel the connection developing between the feet and the body immediately. The receptors and small muscles awaken fairly quickly if you are “tuned-in”.
Foot and ankle biomechanics improve significantly with barefoot training, but if you are just starting to train yourself for it, start slow and steady. Overloading your feet all at once will not give them an opportunity to accommodate to the changes. Give your feet enough time to adapt; this will reduce future strain and pain. Even if you have flat feet, barefoot is recommended as it makes the muscles of the foot and ankle work so much. If you don’t feel confident you can start with minimal shoes that have flexible bottom and thin-soled and then progress to barefoot.
Squatting without shoes will improve the tactile capacity of your feet over time that can have a significant impact on your balance and strength. Most people are quite surprised at how much difference it makes to squat barefoot the first time they try it. So give it a go!