I love being barefoot. Many summers were spent cruising around the block with the other kids on our bikes (barefoot), walking along the beach with friends down in Santa Cruz (barefoot), and climbing trees and reading books high up on their limbs (barefoot). There’s just something so freeing and natural about letting your feet breathe and being able to move your toes freely.
But since moving to Calgary and working as a personal trainer, my feet have been decidedly more covered up. The weather doesn’t allow you to be barefoot (or sandal-ed) every month of the year like in California and being in a gym or training setting means for safety reasons you need something on your feet. So when the barefoot running movement came along, I was intrigued, along with many others in the fitness and/or running world. That’s where Vibram Five Fingers come into the picture.
Although there are many people who have been running barefoot for years (namely the incredibly speedy and long-lasting Tarahumara tribe of Mexico), the idea of it and the science and mechanics behind running barefoot are recently surfacing and the “barefoot movement” is garnering some power. The idea behind these shoes is that running shoes are unnatural and have caused the muscles in our feet and legs to atrophy because the shoes, compelte with cushioning and aid for movement, are doing all the work for us. From the VFF site: “The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 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.” So why not engage with what’s proven to be a hot-button topic right now? Here’s my own personal review of these shoes and the idea behind leaving your runners behind.
My first impression with these shoes was fairly positive, although I didn’t see or feel much of a difference in my workouts after using them because I almost always workout barefoot as it is. However, since I’ve started wearing them for longer periods of time, I’ve felt muscles working that don’t normally in my running shoes – most notably my calves and hamstrings. Recently I’ve begun to wear my VFFs around town to break them in and to get my muscles used to working fully on their own again, and although I haven’t made the transition to run in the them yet, I have used them for short trots around our neighborhood or to get the mail and back.
I do believe in the idea behind VFFs and barefoot movement in general because, again from the VFF site:
“Many experts believe the shoes we wear not only cast the foot in a protective form, but also weaken our foot and leg muscles, leaving them underdeveloped and more prone to injury. And while there are many occasions where traditional footwear is essential for protection, safety, and security, it is equally important to stimulate and exercise the foot in a more natural state on a regular basis.” Moreover, there’s something very natural feeling about being closer to the earth, about curling your toes when you jump up off the ground and being more thoughtful when you land because there’s less to cushion the blow. But the practice of wearing them takes time to work into partly because our feet are so not used working on their own so much.
Often we focus on the end result (ie: losing weight or becoming a faster runner) without taking the time to be thoughtful as we’re on our way to those goals. The journey and destination to get there is just as important (ie: not just eating less or “better” but choosing foods that are locally and organically grown and full of the right nutrients). I think it’s the same with barefoot running, because you have to take time to retrain your feet, your stride, and in short your biomechanics to function the way they were intended to.
But there are some cons to these shoes too. So here’s a short list of some of the pros and cons I’ve discovered along the way:
- Beware of overdoing it. Chances are that the ligaments and musculature of your feet are underdeveloped, so slapping the shoes on and heading out for a normal run is going to do some damage to your tender feet. Give it some time, going for short jogs (.25 mile or just 1 or 2 minutes at first) and focus on mid-foot strikes rather than heel strikes.
- Gloves for your feet? Getting these shoes on can be difficult at first! Especially if you have bunions like me and your toes are slanted in rather than sticking out straight (yes, it’s true!). I recommend situating your big toe, second toe, and pinky toe in the right toe slots before sliding the rest of your foot in place and cinching them up.
Pros: I loved this list from the Vibram site, so I thought I’d just copy and paste it to the “pros” section:
- Strengthens Muscles in the Feet and Lower Legs – wearing FiveFingers will stimulate and strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs, improving general foot health and reducing the risk of injury.
- Improves Range of Motion in Ankles, Feet and Toes – no longer ‘cast’ in a shoe, the foot and toes move more naturally.
- Stimulates Neural Function Important to Balance and Agility – when wearing Vibram FiveFingers, thousands of neurological receptors in the feet send valuable information to the brain, improving balance and agility.
- Improves Proprioception and Body Awareness – those same neurological receptors heighten body awareness, sending messages about body mechanics, form, and movement.
- Eliminates Heel Lift to Align the Spine and Improve Posture – By lowering the heel, our bodyweight becomes evenly distributed across the footbed, promoting proper posture and spine alignment.
- Allows the Foot and Body to Move Naturally, Which Just FEELS GOOD.
Has anyone else tried these shoes or read up on the barefoot running movement? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation!
Time will tell as I continue to read about these shoes, try them out, and experience being more barefoot in my life (well, almost – the shoes themselves offer protection while simulating being barefoot because, let’s face it, our world is different now than it used to be when it was created with the concrete, nails, broken glass, etc around our streets and even trails). I’ll keep you posted as I learn more about them and as I experience change with continued usage of these glove-like shoes!
Live well and be well (and go get barefoot and try it out for yourself!),
Check out this helpful, informative video clip of Chris McDougal, author of Born to Run. Notice his style of running and compare it to yours and let me know what you think! This book is definitely next on my reading list…