When I first looked at Vibram FiveFingers, I laughed. I thought they are aqua shoes or shoes tailored made for Spiderman or probably for Ninja? They look so weird that I keep asking my friend, “Can you run in those shoes?” I really could not imagine myself in that shoes.
Vibram FiveFingers are indeed shoes. They have five toe cutouts. That is why some people refer to them as “toe shoes”. They were originally developed as “barefoot alternative” for boaters, kayakers and yogis. These shoes were named by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions in year 2007. The shoes have caught on with runners and professional athletes.
The Italian company, Vibram claims that normal running shoes change the natural biomechanics of running. According to the company, the raised cushioned heel of the conventional running shoes cause the heel to strike the ground heavily. On the other hand, it claims that “barefoot” running and walking is safer to our legs an feet in long term.
Tony Post, who is the president of Vibram USA, mentioned several interesting points. Runners tend to lengthen their strides and land with heel first when they are in normal running shoes. You cannot do that with barefoot. You will naturally run with shorter stride, land on the middle or balls of your foot. The impact will be distributed more evenly. Then, your foot rolls inward and spring back up as you lift your foot and push off the ground. Together with its Vibram FiveFingers footwear, “barefoot” running strengthen leg and feet muscles, increase range of motion in ankle, improve balance and eventually lead to fewer injuries.
My friend lent me a pair so that I can write a review. The one I tried on were Classic.
As a kid, when I played soccer in the field, I seldom wore shoes, preferring to be barefoot. I tend to run faster. When I put the shoes on my feet, I was immediately taken back. The rubber padding is not that thick. It was a stimulating experience. Not quite the same as being barefoot, but much closer than I expected. I can feel the curvature of the grass covered ground and I can feel the rocks under my feet. The best part is that I can feel that my toes are moving independently.
Because I ran on the balls of my feet with Vibram FiveFingers, I felt like I was running on springs. Quite a great sensation. My first run was slow and less than a mile on a flat field. The first few steps, my ankles hurt and my knees were screaming. They got better few minutes later. Then, I ran on a grassy hilly course, but I stopped half way and back to walking. I felt the soreness on my calves this time.
The next one, I wore them on a hot afternoon. I was sure the pavement was hot, but they were not heated up during my walk.
I wore the shoes to the gym. When I did the deadlift, I feel my stabilizers in my feet are working to help balancing my posture. The first few repetitions are tough.
Second week, the pain was less. Third week, they were almost all gone when I continued to wear them.
All the above leg and feet weakness tell me something about how much my sports shoes have been subsizing my feet strength.
- They promotes”barefoot” running. So, people who do not want ugly calluses on their feet yet want to feel the earth while doing outdoor activities, the shoes gives them the answer.
- Five Fingers are light. They are flexible and can be bent. You will find it easy to pack them for traveling.
- The shoes are comfortable. Though my toes look weird being separated, I feel that they have more room to move around.
- You can just wash them with washing machine and hang them out to dry.
- They are the best shoes for water sports – sailing and kayaking. They dry fast and no more worry about having your sneakers soaked in muddy water.
- For people who want to run barefoot yet do not want to develop tough rough skin, FiveFingers are the perfect gift. They act as a thin barrier giving basic protection. You do not have to worry about the risk of hurting your feet skin with sharp object.
- If you want to seek attention, these funky shoes will help you getting lots of looks.
- I do not recommend you to wear it to free weight area. If you accidentally drop any dumbbell, barbell or kettlebell to your feet, these shoes will not protect you from the weights.
- Do expect to have burning feeling your calves after the first use. The pain can be on the ball of your feet. However, you will experience this disadvantage when you do barefoot running (in fact, even more pain) and not really a drawback of using these shoes.
- From aesthetic perspective, the shoes are ugly. But, if you can live with Crocs, these ones are not too bad then.
- You may take a little more time to wear the shoes because you need to fit your toes nicely into each compartment. So, you have to be patient, just like how you wear a glove.
- The shoes do not come cheap. Depending on the types, be ready to fork out as little as $70 to $170.
- Start out slowly. Choose a soft trail. Avoid rocky or asphalt ground. Transition slowly. Once you have got used to the shoes and have built stronger feet, then only you should be more adventurous.
- The shoes are great to run short distance. Unless you have strong legs and feet, do not use them for marathon.
- Right after your first run with Vibram FiveFingers, I bet you will feel the pain – sore tendons or sore ankle. Despite the soreness which may last for several days, you should try it again. You are building your feet and calf muscles. Each run feel better than the previous.
Different Types of Vibram FiveFingers
Vibram FiveFingers come in several varieties with different features:
- “Classic” is the most basic version of the four, with no strap and no covering for the top of the foot.
- “Sprint” is essentially the same as the “Classic,” but it has a hook and loop strap that crosses the top of the foot, and another that crosses the back of the heel. These closures provide a personalized and more secure fit, and for the record, this is the version I own.
- “KSO” (stands for Keep Stuff Out), which covers the entire foot with inserts of breathable, stretchable mesh to help keep out sand, gravel and grit from entering the shoes. This model also comes with hook and loop closures for a more secure fit.
- “Flow” is also available with an IdroGrip performance rubber sole. The uppers are made from 1.2 mm Neoprene, which makes this style a better choice for some water activities and colder temperatures. This version also covers the entire foot.
FiveFingers brought our feet back to basics. We were not born with shoes. Interestingly, from evolutionary perspective, on bare-feet, human ran from prey and hunt for food. Our feet evolved over time, without having the latest Nike shoes. We are born to run. I read a book about it (Born To Run). While animals run with great spped, they get tired easily. Human, as a pack predator, ran longer time with good stamina, outlast the prey before and hunting them down. We are good at running with barefoot then.
In this sneaker-crazed world, running “barefoot” with FiveFingers may not be well received. If you want to take a break from restrictive clunky shoes, you may want to give Vibram FiveFingers a try. For fan of minimalist footwear like Nike Free, you will fall in love with Vibram FiveFingers. I am glad that I tried these shoes for a month before returning them to my friend. Will I buy a pair to replace my Mizuno running shoes? Not really. But, I will buy them to supplement what I have. I do not think everyone will like it because these shoes are just so different with almost zero cushioning. They protect your skin, but not your muscles or joints. Some will love it, some will not. I know some will buy it for the sake of experiencing it.
One thing I am uncertain is whether the shoes are durable. If you have used them before, appreciate your feedback.
I am sure the big boys like Nike is closely watching the trend. It used to be adding more and providing more protection. If you walk into sports shoe store, you will see inch-thick heels shoes and many of them are designed to correct overpronation and supination.
Now, no one dares to underestimate the impact the move toward minimalism can have on the $17 billion sports shoe market. I foresee less padding, less material and lighter shoes will be introduced in this competitive market. We should expect the price getting lower since less material is used, shouldn’t we? I doubt so, because I am sure the manufacturer is charging us on the concept and not the material.
Last but not least, if you ever want to get a pair, the Sprint model looks more comfortable and (according to my friend), they are less likely to fall off your feet.
By the way, since the shoes have different compartment for different toes and if you wonder what type of socks will fit for these shoes, you have a solution too – Injinji socks.
Get Vibram FiveFingers from Amazon.
Category: Fitness Gadget/Equipment
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