Is It Better To Deadlift Barefoot?

You might see lifters in the gym deadlifting barefoot or in socks and wonder if you should be taking your shoes off and doing the same thing.

Is it better to deadlift barefoot? Deadlifting barefoot allows you to increase balance, reduce the range of motion, engage the posterior chain muscles, and have more efficient force transfer between you and the ground. As a result, you’ll be able to lift more weight. However, some gyms might not allow you to deadlift barefoot. Additionally, if you’re a competitive powerlifter it’s against the rules to compete barefoot and you’re required to wear some sort of sole in competition.

Let’s dive into the reasons why deadlifting barefoot may be advantageous, and what kind of alternatives exist if you don’t feel comfortable taking your shoes off in the gym or you’re a comeptitive powerlifter. Feel free to check out our reviews on the best deadlift shoes.

In a hurry and want to know my favorite deadlifting shoe? Click HERE to check out The Asics Wrestling Shoe on Amazon. This shoe will mimic deadlifting barefoot and provide extra grip and stability in the ankle.

4 Reasons To Deadlift Barefoot

Deadlifting barefoot is not a new concept.

You can see both bodybuilders and powerlifters deadlifting barefoot. Even Arnold Shwarezeanger has been shown to deadlift barefoot in his old school training videos.

Barefoot deadlift
Arnold Schwarzenegger Deadlifting Barefoot

You might be wondering what are the reasons why people choose to deadlift barefoot? There are four distinct advantages, which ultimately allows you to lift more weight.

1. Increased Balance

By deadlifting barefoot you’ll be more connected with the floor, which will increase your balance when lifting.

When deadlifting, you should feel completely balanced over the mid-part of the foot. If your goal is to lift the most amount of weight possible, you want to reduce any rocking either forward and back or side to side when lifting. If rocking does occur, then your body will begin to move in those directions, which will likely cause an inefficient bar path.

Check out my article on the best bar path for deadlifts, plus mistakes to avoid.

When you deadlift barefoot, it allows you to have a greater awareness of any micro-movements between your feet and the ground. If you wear a running shoe, for example, there will be some natural curvature to the sole of the shoe, which will create instability as you try to find your balance over the mid-part of the foot. It might be easy to find your balance when you’re standing without any load, but when you’re deadlifting under load it’s extremely hard.

If you deadlift barefoot you’ll be able to cue yourself to find your mid-foot before lifting the weight off the ground. Powerlifters will also cue themselves to ‘push the floor away’ off the ground in order to generate force vertically.

2. Shorter Range of Motion

The biggest advantage to deadlifting barefoot is that you’ll be lifting an overall shorter range of motion.

In powerlifting, when the goal is to deadlift as much weight as possible for 1 repetition, you want to leverage every aspect of the movement to reduce the range of motion.

I discussed this concept thoroughly when talking about finding your ideal deadlift grip width.

Essentially, the shorter the range of motion, the less work you do. Work is a measure of FORCE X DISTANCE. So if you apply the same amount of force over a shorter distance then less work is performed.

Most shoes people wear in the gym will have some sort of sole. These soles typically range from 0.5 to 1.5 inches. When deadlifting, you will be pulling the bar any extra distance that the sole measures. This might not be a significant issue for the average gym-goer. However, if you’re powerlifter going for a 1 rep max then any range of motion advantage will help you successfully complete the lift.

This is why you should not deadlift in your squat shoes.

Is it better to deadlift barefoot?
My lifting shoes with a heel measure 2.5cm / 1-inch.

When deadlifting barefoot, the distance between your foot and the floor is the least possible distance, giving you a significant leverage point when it comes to the weight needs to travel.

3. Engages Hip Extensor Muscle Groups

When deadlifting barefoot you can shift the loading demand to the hip extensor muscle groups such as the glutes and adductor magnus (inner thigh).

You can read my anatomy guide to learn more about the muscles used in the deadlift.

By deadlifting barefoot it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to recruit the hip extensors more. It just means that they might be recruited less than what they otherwise would if you deadlift with shoes.

Let me explain.

The risk when you don’t deadlift barefoot is that the shoe will shift your balance toward the front part of the foot. When you shift your balance forward, you bend your knees and push them more forward in front of the barbell. This will shift the loading demand from your hip extensors to your knee extensors and make your quads work a lot harder.

This is not to say that your quads shouldn’t be working in the deadlift (especially in the bottom range of motion). However, you want to have a natural balance between using your hip and knee extensors, rather than shifting all of the loading demand to your knee extensors.

Not all shoes will shift your balance forward. It only applies to shoes that have a slightly raised heel. However, most shoes that gym-goers usually wear when training have a higher heel.

4. More Efficient Force Transfer

When deadlifting barefoot you can have the most direct transfer of force into the ground.

A lot of training shoes are designed by having a gel or air-based sole. This would be something like your classic running shoe or cross-trainer. While these shoes are well-constructed for certain types of physical activity, they are not designed for max strength training, specifically deadlifting.

Your average training shoe is designed to absorb and dissipate the forces that occur when making contact with the ground. It’s been said by Dr. Aaron Horchig of Squat University that “squatting with the soft compressible sole of these shoes is basically like trying to lift while standing on a giant marshmallow”.

When maximally lifting, you want to have the greatest transfer of force between you and the floor, which is why deadlifting barefoot reduces any chance of force transfer loss through the sole of your shoe.

Want to improve your deadlift technique?

Alternatives To Deadlifting Barefoot

There are some less desireable reasons for deadlifting barefoot.

First, your gym may not allow you to lift barefoot. Even if you were allowed, I would be cautious about stepping on bacteria or fungus, or the risk of dropping any weights on your foot.

Second, if you have a desire to compete in the sport of powerlifting or you’re already a competitive powerlifter, then you are required in competition to have footwear. Therefore, you’ll want to train in the shoes worn in competition so that you’re reducing the number of new variables when you step on the platform.

For these reasons, I would still deadlift wearing shoes. There are definitely shoes that mimic deadlifting barefoot and still give you the same advantages. This is Eddy Hall, the strongest deadlifter in the World wearing one of the flat-soled shoes that I’ll discuss next.

Here are my top three shoe choices for deadlifting in order of most favorite to least favorite:

Top Pick: Asics Wrestling Shoe

Wearing wrestling shoes while deadlifting has been a long-time choice by many powerlifters.

The Asics Wrestling Shoe has a 0mm sole mimicking exactly like deadlifting barefoot. There is also the added benefit of having a grippier underside, which is beneficial for sumo deadlifting so that your feet don’t slip.

Click HERE to check sizing, colors, and price on Amazon.

Second Choice: Converse Shoe

Similar to the Asics Wrestling shoe, the Converse has a 0mm sole, which mimics deadlifting barefoot. However, the underside is simply not as grippy and I like to feel like I’m ‘sticking to the floor’ when lifting. If that is not a concern for you, then this will be cheaper than the Asics wrestling shoe.

Click HERE to check sizing, colors, and price on Amazon.

Third Choice: Deadlift Slippers

The rules in powerlifting say that you must wear a ‘sole’, but they don’t specify much more beyond that. Therefore, many competitive powerlifters wear slippers because they feel the most connected with the floor. Personally, I think they would look silly unless you were training in a powerlifting gym. But if you don’t care about ‘looks’ then this is you’re cheapest option.

Click HERE to check sizing, colors, and price on Amazon.

People Also Asked

Here are a couple of frequently asked questions when it comes to barefoot deadlifting:

Can You Deadlift Barefoot When Competing In Powerlifting?

No, you can’t compete in powerlifting barefoot.

According to the International Powerlifting Federation, lifters must abide by the following rules when it comes to shoes:

  • Shoes shall be taken to include only indoor sports shoes/sports boots; Weightlifting/Powerlifting boots or Deadlift slippers. The above is referring to indoor sports e.g. wrestling/basketball. Hiking boots do not fall into this category
  • No part of the underside shall be higher than 5 cm.
  • The underside must be flat i.e. no projections, irregularities, or a doctoring from the standard design.
  • Loose inner soles that are not part of the manufactured shoe shall be limited to one-centimeter thickness.
  • Socks with a rubber outside sole lining are not allowed.

Can You Wear Olympic Weightlifting Shoes When Deadlifting?

Yes, you can wear Olympic weightlifting shoes when deadlifting. However, it’s not recommended.

While an Olympic weightlifting shoe has a hard sole, unlike the gel or air-based sole of other trainers, the issue is that the heel is raised. Therefore, wearing Olympic weightlifting shoes when deadlifting will increase the range of motion you need to lift the weight.

If you have the option of deadlifting wearing running shoes or deadlifting barefoot, always deadlift barefoot. I discuss why in my article on Deadlifting In Running Shoes: Should You Do It?

Final Thoughts

If you want to maximize your deadlifting performance or compete in powerlifting, then you should deadlift in a shoe that reduces the distance between you and the ground and places your center of mass over the mid-line of the foot. This will mimic the barefoot deadlift and provide you with the advantages that come with it.

Feature image @cowboycam69