We Try It: Vibram Five Finger Shoes

I’m a shoe person.  Not a Carrie Bradshaw-esque kind of shoe person, but one of a different sort.  I dislocated my kneecap when I was 18, and since I was much more foolish back then than I am now, I never followed through with physical therapy.  For the past decade I have been paying for that foolishness.  My knee healed improperly so the cartilage is being ground away and my hips and spine are permanently canked.  I also have fallen arches and bunion on my left foot, which my chiropractor has attributed to the knee trauma.  It didn’t take me long to realize there is a direct correlation between the pain in my knee and the type of shoes I wear. I will scour thrift and consignment stores for deals on clothes, but when it comes to my shoes I pay retail top dollar for comfort and function.

For my birthday back in May, Mr. Nevada surprised me by taking me to purchase a pair of Vibram Five Finger Sprints in blue and grey.  I had become interested in them after a good friend bought a pair and loved them.  In fact everyone I knew that had tried Vibrams loved them, so I wanted to give them a try also.  I have this fantasy of becoming a “runner,” much like my daughter fantasizes about becoming a mermaid.  The reviews I read on runners’ forums raved about these odd-looking shoes so I was excited to try them.

Vibram Five Finger shoes are lightweight “minimalist” shoes.  Minimalist shoes lack the excessive cushioning, stability enhancements, and support that traditional sneakers have.  Vibrams are designed to engage the muscles in you feet and legs allowing the user to walk and run with a natural stride.  Because the wearer uses a natural stride and works with the toes, arches and legs the way they were designed, the pains and injuries cause by traditional shoes are eliminated.  It’s sort of like going barefoot, but with the benefit of protecting the soles of your feet.

The salesman was very pleasant and tried to be helpful with fitting my shoes, but it turns out he knew as much about how Vibrams should fit as I did ““ not a whole lot.  I ended up buying the wrong size, which ended up being a good thing.  After wearing my new Sprints and deciding they definitely didn’t fit right, I scoured the Internet for information about the proper fit.  Here is what I found out:

The fit should be snug, but not tight (like a glove for your foot)

Your heel should be firmly seated in the heel cup before tightening the straps (Velcro in the case of my Sprints), at the same time your toes should be comfortable in the toe pockets.  There should not be any pressing, rubbing, or pinching in the toes while the heel is properly seated.

Your longest toe (which might NOT be your big toe) is the toe you should measure your shoe length from.

READ the instructions on the inside of the shoebox to learn how to properly put these suckers on, otherwise you WILL get frustrated.  Putting Vibrams on takes more effort and time than throwing on sneakers and lacing them up, but with practice it gets easier and quicker.

After I got the right size and figured out how to get them on, I took my Vibrams out for a day of walking downtown.  I was a bit surprised when I received a couple of compliments on how “cute” they were.  I think they are funny-looking, like bizarre alien scuba gear.  What surprised me more was that, after six hours of walking around on asphalt, concrete, and cobblestones I had no fatigue or pain from the hips down.  After that success, I tried to take them into the gym.  They worked great on the elliptical, stepper, and recumbent bike.  I could feel my toes gripping for traction (which was cool) and I didn’t get any numbness or cramping in my feet like I sometimes did in my sneakers.  Since these shoes were working out so well, I took the final step and tried jogging in them.  I did awesome!  I was able to go longer faster and I did not experience and tightness or pain in my knee.  One very important thing to note here ““ when you jog or run in Vibrams, you have to change your entire stride.  Traditional footwear has trained us to strike on our heels, and then push off with our toes.  In Vibrams, you strike with your mid to forefoot and push off with the balls of your feet.  Your heels only “kiss” the ground, and your toes grip after the strike but don’t push off.  This stride engages the seldom-used small muscles in your feet and calves and utilizes your Achilles tendon in a way traditional shoes won’t allow.

The day after my first jog in Vibrams, my calves were killing me!  After more scouring the Internet I found I had made the second cardinal mistake in switching to Vibrams ““ pushing it.  I was so excited about the lack of pain in my knee and my increased speed I didn’t give myself time to train up the weaker muscles in my feet and calves.  After my calves recuperated, I started again but took it easy building up my calves.  Since then, I have been extremely happy with my Vibrams.  I still don’t know if I ever be a “runner,” but I’m a much better “jogger”!  I’m even thinking about getting a pair of the slip-on Vibrams in solid black so I can wear them out for every day things ““ I still think my Sprints are funky looking.

Pros:

  • Extremely comfortable despite minimal cushioning and support
  • Very lightweight
  • Machine washable, air dry
  • Eliminated my knee pain, hip and foot pain during exercise and extended walking

Cons:

  • You might find them funny looking (I think the benefits out weigh the aesthetics)
  • Takes longer to put on than regular sneakers
  • It does feel weird having “stuff” between my toes, but I quickly got over that.
  • For running, jogging, hiking, there is an adjustment period needed to train unused muscle groups.

I you are interested in getting Vibrams I would highly recommend finding a retailer that is very knowledgeable about fitting them and have the sales person show you how to properly put them on and tighten them.  If you are interested in using them for running, jogging, or hiking, learn about proper stride and give yourself time to train your muscles properly.

Here are some links that were helpful to me:

http://www.runbare.com/446/how-to-transition-into-vibram-five-fingers/

http://www.begin2dig.com/2008/11/fitting-vibram-five-fingers-and-injinji.html

Though this site discusses barefoot running technique, I found it very helpful in correcting my stride wearing Vibrams.

http://www.barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/5BarefootRunning&TrainingTips.html

60 thoughts on “We Try It: Vibram Five Finger Shoes”

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  7. I got a pair a few weeks ago (the Virbam speed, made for running) and love them. I have weird foot issues that were causing me a lot of knee and hip pain and these shoes are a godsend. They really adjust my gate and now the pain is minimal. We are going to Disney in 2 weeks and I plan on rockng them the whole time we are there to keep me from blistering and aching. In fact, I’m thinking about getting a second pair that are a little cuter and more casual!

  8. I was on holiday in the USA earlier this year and decided to buy a pair of these.
    They are really good for the gym! I really enjoy lifting weights, and these are really good for that. A few months ago I bought trainers, and started using those instead of my vibrams. I ended up pulling a few muscles and couldn’t figure out why. I then realised my shoes my be affecting my form, so switched back, and the pain went away.
    I also really like being barefoot, but that’s not the best idea living in a city. People give you funny looks but they feel so nice!

  9. Someone at my gym started wearing these and had only good things to say too. After reading this, I’ve decided to go get fitted for a pair the next time I need new shoes :) I’m really excited about the prospect of running in a more natural way because I’ve had knee trouble on and off the last few years (to the point where I had scope surgery and had to stop running for a while). When I first started getting into running, I would run barefoot on my treadmill because I did not have proper runners. I was terribly out of shape at the time, but I do think the rhythm and style of running felt better. It’s too rough on the soles of my feet, though.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. I got a pair of the kimonos about a month ago. Getting fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing is key. Also, all of the styles aren’t meant for running and they all have a slightly varying fit. I found the kso style was too wide across the ball of my foot and there was another style that was too narrow. I think the sprints are adorable, but the person that fitted me said they aren’t really for running any considerable distance.

    That said, they really are incredibly comfortable. I’ve always had problems with my arches aching, but they fit right into mine, with just the right amount of support. My feet and ankles were very sore when I was breaking mine in (I was also staring a pretty rigorous fitness routine as well), and I was suddenly aware of muscles that I had no idea even existed. I think I’m past the adjustment period, and I’m definitely a convert. I think my next pair will be the trek sports, which are trail runners.

    1. Thanks for the info! Another reason I wish I had a more knowledgeable sales person – I had no idea the Sprints weren’t suitable for long distances. Though, I have to say, that’s no really a consideration for me…..yet. I’m still shooting for a 5k. ;)

  11. My bf loves his, but be aware that the Vibrams don’t fit well on everybody. I have a rather wide forefoot and thick first 2 toes, and while mine are comfortable to walk around in, I can’t run more than a mile or so because my toes get pins and needles, and start to hurt. After several months, they haven’t gotten stretched out like I assumed. So, if when you try them on in the store then feel a little tight, beware – they might not be for you, save your money.

    If you want the same ‘barefoot’ experience for working out and running, but the vibrams don’t work, try getting a simple pair of flat sneakers. I got a pair of adidas marketed as ‘fashion’ or ‘street’ sneakers, which have simple cloth upper and a super thin, non-wedged sole and have used those for distance running for two years, including a couple half marathons. If they fit loosely on the foot and have minimal sole without serious structure, you will get the same basic benefit as the vibram 5 fingers, with better comfort.

  12. Thank you so much for this post! I have been going back and forth on these for a few months now. Honestly, my whole anti-Vibrams ‘tude is completely superficial because they are funny looking. However, if they can get rid of my damnable near-constant shin splints, I may just be in. Thanks for the review and the tips and links. I will now be in the corner attempting to get over myself and my nonsense.

    1. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to get over the funky look. When I first wore them to the gym I pretended to myself that I was an awesome trend setter just so I could keep my head up. Talk about nonsense! But the effect on my knee has been worth every moment of “holy hell, what do I have on my feet?”. now, even if they were day-glo orange and yellow, I’d still wear them. If you do decide to get some and have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message!

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