As a triathlete, along with swimming and biking, I’m always looking for ways to be a more efficient and faster runner. In Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, he says, “Great athletes have known forever that the key to balance and explosive movement is having as little between your foot and planet Earth as possible.”
The barefoot revolution using “barefoot training” and “minimalist” shoes started a few years ago, but now it is becoming more and more mainstream. We’ve been seeing people running barefoot on forest trails, asphalt roads and even racing in marathons. For those who do not want to or are not ready to go barefoot, there is a minimalist in structure type of shoe called Vibram FiveFingers. After I read Born to Run, I had to buy a pair of these shoes. Originally, Vibram FiveFingers were created for sports such as climbing, sailing, and trekking, but now that they have become so popular, there are models for many different kinds of activities. They are made of a light, thin, flexible, yet strong vibram rubber sole that is shaped perfectly like a foot, including a separate compartment for each toe with fabric uppers that come in many different styles. It took me about 3 minutes to put them on the first time, but then they conformed easily to my feet. The inner foot bed is very comfortable and doesn’t chafe, and the rubber sole flexes very easily, even my toes can wiggle. I went walking and running over sand, gravel, rocks, trails, and asphalt and immediately fell in love with the feeling of freedom that wearing the FiveFingers gave me. They were designed to be a second skin that does not hinder any benefits that come with going barefoot. These shoes are a bunch of fun to wear! You can actually feel your feet actively contracting, relaxing, grasping, and maintaining balance in different places as you step on roots, rocks or other uneven terrain. Being able to feel the ground has improved my form. I’m moving more efficiently and with better body awareness.
The reason I use Vibram FiveFingers is to follow the example of the great athletes who knew that running or walking barefoot strengthens the 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensors, tendons and ligaments of your feet. This in turn increases the strength of your lower legs and even improves your posture.
The conventional running shoes nowadays tend to be too cushioned, cumbersome, and heavy. These shoes can override the hundreds of sensory receptors that are in your feet that send signals to your brain that activate the muscles of your feet, lower legs and controls your balance. Whether you are walking, running, or hiking it’s important to use healthy form (fore-foot foot strike, feet landing under the hips, slight forward lean from the ankles) that reduces impact on the knees, hips, and lower back.
Here’s an experiment for you to try: take your shoes and socks off and run for 100 yards on pavement. You will notice that you’re landing on your fore-foot even if you have been a heavy heel striker in normal shoes because the feet have their own springs and impact reducing mechanism. The Vibram FiveFingers encourage the feet to move naturally and allow the musculature of the feet to develop which strengthens the feet, ankles, calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. This gives us improved balance, posture, and core strength as well. The FiveFingers can help people with ’’bad knees’’ too, due to the reduced impact forces acting upon the knees, and exercising all of the muscles of the lower legs increases blood flow full of nutrients to and through the knees.
I enjoy the Vibram FiveFingers for their feeling of freedom, lightness and versatility. I would wear them in races if I could get them on in under one minute! But instead, I race in thin–soled shoes and settle for casual walking around, hiking, or running on trails in the FiveFingers to keep my feet and legs strong. Training in the FiveFingers helped me change my running form and technique to be more efficient. My strides have become shorter and quicker, my feet are landing under my hips, and I also have a lot more power from landing on my fore-foot and springing immediately forward. At the same time, I am almost floating; there is no up-and-down movement, therefore no jarring shocks going through my legs and back. My running is completely different from how I ran before, with straight legs in front of me, heels landing heavily, and a lot of up-and-down movement with little forward movement! Anyone, (except for those who cannot fit their toes into the proper places) can wear the FiveFingers. Yes, even those with flat feet!
I would recommend gently easing into wearing the Vibram FiveFingers if you’ve been wearing “normal” shoes your whole life. Your bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles need to be able to adapt back to being used the way they were designed to be used. Walk in them for 5-10 minutes a day, then 10-15 minutes a day for the next week, and so on. Don’t attempt to run in them until you can easily walk for 45-60 minutes without any pain over varying terrain. Have fun, use all of your senses to explore the trails or city streets, and experience the feel of walking upon Earth and being closer than ever to nature!
There are quite a few different models of Vibram FiveFingers that can be used for different activities, but they all serve the same purpose. They come in awesome varieties of color too!
Vibram Five Fingers models:
Men and women’s Classic– The most minimalist model with nylon fabric that sits low on the foot and a 3.5mm rubber sole.
Men and women’s KSO– A model that is very popular for it’s versatility. It has a 3.5mm rubber sole and a thin mesh upper with a strap to stay snug and keep stuff out.
Men and women’s KSO Trek– A more rugged model of the KSO with a kangaroo leather upper and 4mm EVA midsole with aggressive treads for traction in the outdoors.
Men and women’s Sprint– Similar to the Classic, but with top and heel straps for a snug fit.
Men and women’s TrekSport– As versatile as the KSO and KSO Trek, but more aggressive with a Coconut Active Carbon breathable upper and slightly cleated 4mm rubber sole for traction.
Men and women’s Flow– Made for colder climates or for water sports. It has a 2mm neoprene upper for insulation and razor siped rubber soles.
Men and women’s KomodoSport– A multisport designed model similar to the KSO for athletes, but with a stitch free foot bed and 4mm sole with plenty of grip and protection.
Men and women’s Bikila– This model is designed especially for running, with a padded collar, tear resistant TPU toes, Dri-Lex coated 3mm polyurethane insole, and a 4mm anatomical pod outsole
Men and women’s Bikila LS– Made like the Bikila but with a speed lace upper that allows more room for people with wider feet or higher insteps.
Men and women’s Speed– Made more for casual wearing, it’s designed like the Bikila LS but styled like a vintage running shoe with a traditional lacing system.
Women’s Jaya– This is for the female fitness enthusiast, with a nylon upper, padded collar, and 5.5mm EVA sole.
Women’s Jaya LR– Designed like the original Jaya, but with cool looking leather overlays on the upper.
Women’s Performa Jane– Created and recommended for indoor use such as yoga or pilates, with a kangaroo leather upper, top strap, and seven part rubber sole for increased flexibility.
Kid’s KSO– A smaller version of the KSO made specifically for kids.
-Caution: When you go to buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, please buy only from authorized Vibram FiveFingers retailers so you get what you pay for. Due to the popularity of these shoes, counterfeiters have produced fake FiveFingers that are of poor quality.