Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review of Vibram Five Fingers Shoes

I've had my Vibram Five Fingers shoes for 3 weeks now and have walked on both roads and trails quite a bit...and done a few short trail runs too. My quick summary review: They are great! I have the KSO ("Keep Stuff Out") version of the five fingers (picture at left from Vibram web site). It has a full top mesh that keeps dirt and pebbles out of the shoe. The other versions (Classic & Sprint) have an open top design. Indeed, the KSO does seem to keep stuff out and my foot feels secure even when running. I've run and walked in them with and without socks (I use the Injinji toe socks). I prefer socks, but they are comfortable barefoot too. For now the socks give a bit more cushioning and keep my feet dry. In winter I'll definitely stay with the socks, but for the rest of this summer I'll likely rotate socks/no-socks in the shoe. In addition to walking around town and running on pretty tame local trails, I've worn them to work twice. I've gotten lots of funky looks and questions (from runners and non-runners). Here are the most common questions I get...and my most common responses...

What the hell are those?
These are Vibram Five Fingers shoes. They are quite the rage lately. Pretty cool, eh? Like a comfortable slipper for my feet. My toes are free to do as they please.

Where did you hear about these? I've never seen or heard about them.
I think I originally heard about them about 3 years ago on some ultra running list. A friend bought a pair right away, but I was afraid to get them without trying them on first (local stores didn't carry them back then). Lately I was "re-motivated" to check them out when I heard about the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. The book has generated quite a bit of press around barefoot running...or at least minimalist running. I bought the book too...that review will be coming soon.

Where'd you get them?
You can find them at several retailers on the web, but I got them at Champaign Surplus in Champaign, IL. Nice store for lots of camping and outdoor activities. I'd suggest trying on a pair before buying them on the web. Sizing can be a bit weird. I wear a US size 13 shoe and ended up with a size 46 (European) in the KSO.

You don't run in those do you? They don't look very supportive.
Sure, why not? Who needs all that cushioning and support? Man was meant to run barefoot. That's how we evolved. It's natural to walk and run barefoot and this is pretty darn close to barefoot! If you allow your body to really feel the ground, it automatically adjusts the foot landing, stride frequency, stride length, etc. You end up treading very lightly. And you develop stronger and more flexible feet. Lots of folks have "cured" their previous running injuries by going barefoot (or as close to barefoot as possible). These Five Fingers shoes still protect me from rocks, roots, and other hazards while allowing my foot to operate as it was designed to do. Humans are great natural distance runners!

Doesn't it hurt to run with those?
My calves took a beating the first couple of runs, but that was probably due to me jumping into longer runs too quickly. With barefoot-style running, your calves absorb more of the shock (as opposed to your heel) so it takes a little time to adapt. Just like anything new, it's best to ease into the new barefoot running. Plenty of people run long distances...even ultra marathons barefoot or with these five finger shoes. Occasionally I can feel a rock pushing through the bottom of the soles, but you react quickly and pull up before any real pain is felt. That's the beauty of this type of sense the ground and adjust on the fly.

I have bad knees (or plantar fasciitis or blah blah blah) so I need a supportive-cushioned-motion-control shoe. Guess these five finger thingies aren't for me?
Nonsense. Maybe that fancy running shoe is causing your problems. There have been studies that show more expensive running shoes actually are connected to more running injuries. Barefoot running can actually be easier on your body than shod running. And over time, you'll have stronger feet with fewer problems. Maybe these shoes are the solution to your running injuries.

From the Vibram web site:
"The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised. That’s why we recommend wearing FiveFingers for exercise, play, and for fun. Stimulating the muscles in your feet and lower legs will not only make you stronger and healthier, it improves your balance, agility and proprioception." Sounds good to me! Time to start exercising my to join me?

NOTE: I'm just a runner & blogger. I am no doctor and I'm not prescribing barefoot running or five finger shoes as the treatment for any of your running ailments. Consult with your medical professional before making huge changes in your lifestyle that could affect your health. Just be careful when your doctor says "Stop running." That seems to be the easy solution to any running injury. Be similarly cautious when orthotics are prescribed. Do you really need more support for your weak feet or do you need less support? It's amazing what your feet can do when they are freed from the prison of over-built shoes and allowed/required to do their own thing. Work your feet and they will become stronger.


Heidi E. Carpenter said...

You've been granted a Honest Scrap award! See my blog for details.

Motion control shoes give me plantar far the most comfortable shoes for me are my semi-minimalist NB 790 trail shoes.

Chris Ⓥ said...

I have the NB 790s too. They are really good shoes. Supposedly they are being replaced by the new NB 100 this fall (still minimalist, but slightly more protective).

Not sure what an "Honest Scrap" award is, but I'll check it out. Thanks.

Heidi E. Carpenter said...

I had no idea what the award was either, just passing it along! ;-)

I've heard of the NB 100's, I'll have to give them a shot...since the 790 is slowly becoming harder to find. When I run on gravel in the 790's, I can't help but marvel how you can feel the gravel through the so-called "rock plates"...but that is a part of their charm! And my feet love them. I also have a pair of Montrail Streaks but I think I need to give them up, they give me killer plantar fascitiis despite being ""neutral"" shoes.

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