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