Why Do Gymnasts Compete Barefoot? (answered)

Gymnastics is unusual compared to most sports because gymnasts usually compete barefoot. Shoes restrict the natural movement of the foot especially the ability to fully point toes which is a key movement for gymnasts. Being barefoot indoors is not a problem and the extra grip and stability that bare feet provide are essential.

However, there are some specialist types of shoes that can be worn by gymnasts in certain types of gymnastics events that will help improve their performance.

Why can’t gymnasts wear shoes?

The flat bottom surface of regular shoes might provide extra comfort when running or landing but the rigid surface won’t allow gymnasts to perform skills as efficiently.

The added weight affects the ability to flip, rotate or even hold advanced body shapes like Planche.

Gymnasts also like to feel the equipment they are using with their feet. Gymnastics equipment is made from surfaces such as carpet (floor exercise), suede (balance beam) and soft landing mats all of which are comfortable to land on barefoot.

Regular shoes are not permitted to be worn at all by the FIG because as well as the negative impact on performance, judges mark scores based on whether they can see a gymnast point their toes or not. This is part of the execution score taken on each skill.

In addition to this, regular shoes will damage the expensive equipment used at competitions.

Gymnastics shoes

However, there are some specialist types of shoes that gymnasts can wear if they want to. These types of shoes are tight fitting to gymnasts’ feet allowing them full extension and flexion of the foot.

Milano Artistic Gymnastics Shoes
Milano Artistic Gym Shoes

The benefit of wearing gymnastics shoes is that they can stop feet from slipping due to sweat. They are also more hygenic than walking around gyms barefoot all of the time. Some gymnasts will wear socks underneath their gymnastics shoes as well.

It is very hard to find good quality gymnastics shoes, but my favorite to wear are sold by Milano. These are ideal for Artistic gymnasts and Tumblers but they also have a version specifically for Trampoline gymnasts. I wear them to coach as they have more grip than just wearing socks and in our facility, we don’t wear outdoor shoes when coaching.

Are gymnasts allowed to wear socks?

Gymnasts are allowed to wear socks if they so wish and they are more commonly seen than in previous years. The benefit of wearing socks is that they reduce the friction between the foot and the surface of the floor or apparatus.

In certain situations, less friction has great advantages but at other times it will almost certainly lead to disaster!

When performing a spin (think balance beam routine) less friction will help a gymnast spin more before they stop. This can lead to higher difficulty scores as the greater the amount of spin, the greater the difficulty tariff.

On the Rings in socks

On the other hand, when performing complex tumbling passes (think floor exercise) the reduction in friction will increase the chance of a slip on take off or landing.

Trampoline shoes

Trampoline gymnasts wear socks or shoes to prevent their toes from getting caught in the holes of trampoline beds. A professional trampoline bed is different from those usually found at home as the bed is not solid and a toe getting caught in the bed will cause an injury or loss of balance.

Specialist trampoline shoes are very similar in design and style to artistic shoes. They are tight fitting with no solid bottom and allow the trampolinist to point and flex their feet freely.

Rhythmic gymnastics shoes

Rhythmic gymnastics shoes tend to cover less of the foot. Only the toes tend to be covered as Rhythmic gymnasts spin and turn more on their toes compared to artistic gymnasts.

Rhythmic gymnasts don’t perform complex tumbles and are instead focused more on the dance elements and making their routines flow.

Rhythmic gym shoes
Rhythmic Gymnastics Shoes

Conclusion

Although the majority of gymnasts do compete barefoot, there are times when specialist shoes or even socks have an advantage. If you are thinking of buying a pair of gymnastics shoes beware of cheap options as they will often lack the tightness that more expensive versions offer. You also need to make sure they are not too rigid at the bottom as this will stop the feet from pointing when needed.