Quick Hit: A Weird Trick for Better Lifts

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Arnold Schwarzenegger used to workout barefoot.

I know this because I used to work for a company that published fitness and bodybuilding magazines, and I would frequently hear all about Arnold’s legendary training protocol (his equally legendary personal shenanigans, not so much) from both my colleagues and our contributors.

And it turns out Arnold’s choice to forego footwear wasn’t about fashion.

“Golden-era bodybuilders sometimes preferred the feel of their feet against the gym floor on heavy lifts such as squats and deadlifts,” Muscle & Performance explains, “because they believed it built the supporting musculature of the feet, ankles and calves along with the rest of the larger muscles.”

I had never put much stock in the notion until recently, when I noticed that the contours of my cross-trainers’s insoles were forcing me to roll forward on to my toes while squatting, which made it hard to push through my heels.

I started thinking about the golden era’s preference for skipping the shoes altogether, but decided to heed the warning Muscle & Performance included in their story:

“Near-max loads should still be shoed — especially by those new to barefoot or minimalist footwear training — because of the incredible forces that come to bear on the bones of the feet.”

Fortunately, I think I found the perfect middle ground between the benefits of barefoot lifts and the safety of shoes: water shoes.

Unlike cross trainers, water shoes have almost no arch support, which in this case is a good thing. Because they have thin insoles with little cushioning, I’m able to push down through my heels on big lifts like squats and deadlifts, and I can almost feel the muscles in my feet making contact with the ground—with almost being the operative word.

The water shoes still provide some cushioning and comfort, but not so much that it impedes my lifts. Plus, because they’re made to absorb wetness, they’re great at wicking sweat off my feet and helping my gym bag avoid the dreaded shoe stank.

Is it a little bit weird? It is, and at first I felt weird about it. But I found a pair made by Speedo that almost look like sneakers, so people hardly notice that I’m wearing funky footwear in the gym.

But I notice the results, which is all that matters.

Speedo Men’s Surfwalker 3.0 Water Shoe
Breathable, quick-drying and (most importantly) flat-soled, allowing for maximum building of foot musculature and improved stability during big lifts.
See on Amazon >>

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About Dave Bowden

Dave Bowden

Irreverent Gent founder Dave Bowden is a style blogger whose advice on how to look good and live well has been featured in some of the world’s most trusted publications, including New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and more.

When not obsessing over style and self-improvement, he can usually be found spending time with his wonderful wife and sons, indulging in a hoppy craft beer, or sobbing over the woeful state of Toronto's sports teams.

Check out Dave's Style Story to find out how a chance encounter with his friend's step-dad taught him the value of looking good and living well. (Don't worry—it's less creepy than it sounds!)

2 thoughts on “Quick Hit: A Weird Trick for Better Lifts”

  1. Hey Dave. Just wanted to let you know that I took your advice and actually tried using water shoes at the gym and… it worked! I felt way more in control of my lifts, and not just for squats/dead lifts. Doing upper body stuff felt better when I had a more solid connection to the ground. Great tip dude!

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