Barefoot running, barefoot workouts, barefoot fitness of all sorts is a hot topic these days. Proponents of barefoot exercise often point towards its natural benefits and even its strengthening and injury-reduction potential.
But should you be using an elliptical trainer without footwear? Is it advisable to jump on the elliptical clad in just your bare feet? Generally speaking, healthy adults are unlikely to experience any significant issues from using an elliptical trainer without shoes. Any issues that do arise are likely to be ones that you feel the onset of early, such as general discomfort or soreness, rather than severe injuries that come out of nowhere.
Nevertheless, there are a few things you’ll want to consider before chucking out the Nikes and jumping on the elliptical with toes and soles exposed to the elements.
Is It OK To Do Elliptical Without Shoes?
Generally speaking, it should be relatively safe to exercise on an elliptical machine barefoot. The low impact nature of the equipment means that you’re less likely to experience the sort of repetitive impact strain of running or jumping that can often require foot support to mitigate.
Indeed, it is this low impact motion that often attracts people to the elliptical in the first place.
Nevertheless, low impact doesn’t mean zero impact. Cross trainers still involve you working up a sweat, moving your limbs, feet, and joints in ways that go beyond just basic walking or resting.
For this reason, you may still find that some form of shoe support is preferable, either in terms of protecting the soles of your feet from soreness, or providing lateral and ankle support.
This can be particularly important for those recovering from ankle, foot, or lower body injuries. Be careful and consult a physician before switching to a barefoot exercise routine if you habitually suffer from ailments of the knee, ankle, or lower legs.
Aside from joint or muscle injury, there are other types of discomfort that you might want to consider. Many elliptical machines have grip pads on the pedals. Whilst these can help people with shoes grip the plates better, they may prove abrasive and uncomfortable for anyone riding barefoot.
You may also just find that the sliding back and forth motion occasioned by the cross trainer results in pressure or friction blisters forming on the foot, particularly if you’re not used to working out without shoes.
Use common sense. If you really want to try barefoot elliptical training, take it easy and pay attention to any sore spots. The machines tend to have far less ‘pinch points’ than treadmills, so the chance of injury in this regard is reduced, but still pay attention to anywhere that doesn’t feel right.
Another thing to consider is sweat. If you work up a healthy sweat, this can act as an unwanted lubricant between the pedals and bare skin.
If this is the case, accidentally slips or even falls could be possible, which does expose you to the risk of injury. If you want to go for a barefoot feel but want to make sure you have proper grip, why not opt for yoga or exercise socks with grip on them?
Finally, be considerate of other gym users if you’re in a commercial setting, and be mindful that other gym users use the machine!
We’d strongly recommend not going barefoot in a commercial gym, and most gym owners are likely to back us up on this. If you have an urge to barefoot train on an elliptical, it’s probably worth investing in a machine you can use in the privacy of your own home!
What Kind of Shoes Should I Wear On An Elliptical?
If you decide that the barefoot vibe isn’t for you and you want the traditional support of a shoe, what type should you go for?
Generally speaking, anything that serves you well for running should serve you well for the elliptical. Comfortable running shoes should be fine.
General purpose trainers, or cross trainers as they’re sometimes called, are also a good bet. They frequently combine the support elements of various different fitness shoes in order to give you something that stands up to a range of motion and exercises.
A bit of toe space and good lateral support are both key, so make sure you use a pair of shoes that aren’t pinching you. You may not require a great deal of shock absorption due to the low impact nature of the elliptical.
The back and forth motion is likely to put some pressure on your ankle joint and the tendons of the foot though, so making sure the foot and ankle are properly secured and supported can be important.
Replacing workout shoes can be tricky to gauge, particularly if they’re never used outside of a clean gym environment. You’ll see plenty of figures thrown around in terms of how many miles, hours, or steps a shoe can take. We’d recommend trusting how you feel.
If the shoes feel thin, hard, or unsupportive, and if you’ve been using them regularly for 6 months or so, it might be time to look for a new pair!
Do You Need Running Shoes For Elliptical?
Comfortable running shoes can be just fine for elliptical use. If you want to incorporate the machine into your work-out schedule, but don’t want to fork out on a brand new set of kicks, using your running shoes is unlikely to pose any issues.
It’s often a good idea to make sure any running shoes you’re using have flat, even bottoms, rather than being rocker bottom shoes. This means they will grip the pedals better, providing you with good stability.
Rocker bottom or unevenly soled shoes might feel a bit awkward with the elliptical motion. At worse, they could cause you to be unsteady. You can buy in soles like this for extra support:
If you have had difficulties with injuries before when running and have found that a certain type of running shoe has helped, it might be worth using that type of shoe for elliptical as well.
The motion is certainly different, but if your particular pronation, arch-type, and foot structure has benefited from a certain model of running shoe, this is likely to transfer quite well to the elliptical.
In conclusion, trust your body, pay attention to burgeoning pains, and whenever in doubt about injury or rehabilitation chat to your physio or doctor before diving into a new workout routine!
An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!