Benefits of Barefoot Kettlebell Swings
I’m often asked, both in the gym and online, “What are the benefits of barefoot kettlebell swings?”
Well, more accurately, I’m often asked, “Why no shoes?” (And, if I’m being totally honest, I’m asked this at the grocery store, restaurants, and at the gym.)
In fact, caught ma’self lookin’ like this the other day:
Anyway, if you’ve ever seen footage of me training with kettlebells, perhaps you’ve wondered why I choose to swing barefoot. “Is she just a hippie?” you may have questioned, “Or are there actual benefits of barefoot kettlebell swings?”
But to address the latter….
[I’ll skip the gnitty-gritty sciencey stuff, and today I’ll focus on the straightforward reasons why I recommend barefoot training for most of my clients.]
IMMEDIATE Benefits of Barefoot Kettlebell Swings
To begin, the most immediate benefits of barefoot kettlebell swings are that they do not suffer the disadvantages of shod swings. So let’s start there. What’s wrong with wearing shoes for kettlebell training?
In short, shoes cause unnecessary interference between your foot and the ground.
- Traditional weightlifting shoes provide a solid, raised heel to improve leverage and to artificially enhance heel-drive. Quite purposefully, they limit range of motion in your ankles and feet in order to maximize your ability to lift heavy weights without excess strain/injury to smaller, supporting muscles, tendons, & ligaments.
(You see, competitive powerlifters don’t prioritize overall functional fitness the way Pat and I do–as the “expert generalists” we aspire to be; rather, they care about lifting the most obscene amount of weight that they can possibly lift.) I want to be limited in my muscular strength in order to match the ability of my body to safely deal with the load and forces because I want to move in a healthy way now and for years to come.
- Running shoes, on the other hand, provide all sorts of cushioning in all sorts of places; they are created, quite purposefully, to absorb shock. You can run and run without worrying about all the pesky feedback from the ground. (In fact, some sneaks are so effective that one can run marathons on paved surfaces with the most terrible gait pattern imaginable.) To each their own, so if your goal is to run many miles, then running shoes will help you do just that.
For kettlebell swings, though–Why on earth would you want your shoes absorbing the force that you want to send into your hip thrust?
- ALL SHOES, to some degree, prevent your foot (and thus the rest of your body) from natural movement. Most of you won’t find it difficult to believe that high-heeled, pointy-toed shoes aren’t a great option for fitness or for general physical healthy and comfort.
But let’s face it: anytime your toes are contained in narrow toeboxes–unable to splay to absorb the forces from walking, jumping, or even standing–or when your ankles have artificial support to maintain a “forced neutral” position, your body’s natural mechanisms are altered. Consider for a moment the atrophy that occurs when one has a broken bone casted; consider the similar effect of shoes. Your movement leaves out many of the small muscles and other supportive infrastructure that is imperative for healthy, efficient function.
NOTE: If you’re not into going totally barefoot, opt for the least restrictive, most minimal shoe that works for you. Chat with a healthcare professional you trust before making any huge changes to your footwear. (You might very well need to mindfully transition, training your feet and ankles and knees and hips, etc. to deal with impacts they haven’t experienced regularly for a long time.)
Now, here are the specific benefits you’ll notice right away when you switch to barefoot kettlebell swings…
- You’ll feel more stable. With your feet in direct contact with the ground, you’ll feel that you are able to drive through 100% of your foot; i.e., your heel and your ball. With improved balance you’ll be more capable of moving heavier kettlebells more efficiently. (Heavier weights mean better workouts mean improved strength and greater fat loss.)
- You’ll have better alignment. Your joints will groove where they are supposed to groove. If they aren’t, you’ll know it, and you’ll be able to make adjustment. The better your alignment, the more efficient and safe your movements will be.
- You’ll actually utilize more energy because you’re engaging more muscles. More calorie burn–yay!
- You’ll be swinging kettlebells in such a way that you won’t just be a great kettlebell-swinger, but you’ll also be a great avoider of injury.
LONG-TERM Benefits of Barefoot Kettlebell Swings
- Improved proprioception: Going barefoot allows the hundreds of thousands of nerve receptors in the bottoms of your feet to gather the environmental information necessary to not only protect your feet themselves from injury but also to protect bones and joints throughout the entire body by maximizing movement efficiency. Immediately, that leads to safer, more coordinated and athletic movement; further down the line, that leads to fewer falls and other debilitating conditions that affect the elderly.
- Longevity in your joints and supportive tissues: Safe, efficient movement now will allow for safe, efficient movement in the future. Avoiding overuse and underuse, utilizing natural biofeedback, allows your body to do what it was meant to do in the way in was meant to do it.
One last thought here…How often do you go barefoot, in general? Do you allow your foot to take it’s natural form, with toes splayed, arch unsupported, all four corners of the foot connected to the ground? Maybe start there.
Benefits of barefoot kettlebell swings might be secondary to the benefits of being barefoot around the house once in a while.
Try this bodyweight complex, inspired by Pat’s latest #IBetYouCantDoThisWorkout: Fibinacci Finisher!
8 jump squats
5 mountain climbers (each leg, alt.)
3 plank rotations (each side, alt.)
REPEAT for 5 minutes. Expect to REST a bit, but try to keep that rest to in between rounds ONLY.
P.S. If you skipped to the end, here’s the abbreviated version I wrote in direct response to the question, “why barefoot?” asked in a comment of Pat’s first weekly challenge in his #IBetYouCantDoThisWorkout series, Mt. Inferno.
So glad you asked! Short answer: stability & alignment. Being in bare feet allows you to “ground in” more solidly, which is helpful for force production. As for alignment, most running shoes have a raised heel, which pitches one forward slightly. (You can think of it in an exaggeration of working out in high-heels.) Long answer: It’s even anti-aging! I’ll write this up as a blog post soon! I’m a Barefoot Specialist, so to say I feel strongly about this would be an understatement. .