WORDS AND ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
DITCH TRADITIONAL SHOES FOR THE FIVEFINGER PHENOMENON
You have probably found yourself looking at somebody wearing these toe liberating shoes and wondered “what in the world are those and why?”. They look like gloves for your feet. Think toe socks but thicker and more protective with an actual protective bottom. That is part of what has made Vibram Fivefinger Shoes all the rage over the last few years. It’s actually quite the genius marketing plan; Make something as common as a pair of shoes look so unique that people can’t help but stop and ask. It also doesn’t hurt that Celebrities have been seen in them, not just a few celebrities either. Hugh Jackman wore them while training for Wolverine, Danny Glover wore his with a suit on a red carpet, Donovan McNabb wore them during a workout on the beach, and the show Survivor has had handfuls of contestants wearing them. Even Ozzy Osborne donned a pair of them on the show.
From the A-list types like Kate Hudson, Prince Harry, and Sergey Brin (Google Co-founder) to athletes such as Randy Moss and Tim Tebow everybody seems to love their Vibrams. If you are a member of a gym or fitness club you have surely seen people squatting, deadlifting and even running in them. They have also made their mark in the Crossfit community because of the minimalist styling and the natural foot movement they allow. Players across all professional sports leagues are training in them. So there must be some substantial benefit to the Fivefinger design besides just looking cool and different.
What are Vibram FiveFingers and Why are they Beneficial?
According to the manufacturer, Vibram, the shoes act as a “second Skin”. In essence the shoes are snug fitting and allows the foot to maintain a “natural” shape. Think of them like Injinji toe socks, but thicker, and with Vibram’s industry leading patented rubber as the outsole. They provide a myriad of tread types for a whole range uses. You can get the same quality sole as a high end sneaker or boot with ultimate traction and stability but without losing that natural barefoot feeling. Many people feel that this keeps the all important connection between their body and the ground. Basically the shoe protects your foot from sticks and stones while still allowing you to feel every bump and blade of grass underfoot. It’s a naturalist's dream!
There is more to the barefoot style of shoe than just feeling close to the earth. There is some definite benefits that barefoot running and walking can offer. I mean, that is what the human foot was designed to do in the first place. Adding shoes with heel to toe drops and extra cushy padding seems normal/comfortable to us now, but our natural stride and physiology is designed by nature for us to be barefoot. Anything we do to get away from this is fundamentally changing the body. Everything starts at the feet, if your heels are higher than the body is designed for then you put more stress on the knees thus putting the hips in an unnatural position. This continues all the way up the posterior chain and eventually causes back pain and even permanent damage to joints and issues with posture. We evolved throughout human history not wearing shoes so this argument can stand on its own (excuse the bad pun). You have spent your whole entire life walking unnaturally on feet that were never intended to be in shoes in the first place. This is why so many people need “Arch Support” and Orthotics, it’s not because of their feet, it’s because of their shoes.
Then there is the issue of the toes splaying out naturally while walking. In recent years this has impacted the way a lot of shoes are being designed, none more so than the Fivefingers. If you were walking barefoot and looked down at your feet you would notice the toes spread out to balance you and keep you upright (this is referred to as toe splay). When you wear a traditional shoe or sneaker the toe box is constricting and crams the toes together while walking or running, the opposite of what should naturally happen. Again, this cannot be healthy over the long run and people are starting to figure this out. Another benefit of barefoot style shoes is that your toes are used to balance you when you step on a rock, hole, branch, or uneven surface. The toes can move and the foot can bend accordingly to keep you from twisting your ankle or falling down. In regular shoes your feet have no choice but to roll over, which causes many ankle injuries every year.
Getting Used to Your Vibrams
When you first start breaking in your Vibrams you are going to feel great, but be cautious will going all in on the barefoot bandwagon immediately. You need to give your feet, knees, and muscles time to adjust back to their natural state. You will be using different muscles than you did when you wore your regular shoes and your knees will be back in their true position for the first time in your life most likely. Vibram recommends slowly incorporating them into your daily life at first by using them for 20-30 minutes a day for the first couple weeks. After that you can start wearing them daily and once fully adjusted to them you can begin using them for your workouts, runs, walks, whatever. Once you get comfortable in the barefoot shoes you will feel barefoot and your body will thank you.
Like with every good thing in life, there are some Cons that come along with the benefits. Firstly, these shoes look funky. Some people love the cool and unique vibe that the Vibram Fivefingers have and the attention that comes with it. Others don’t like the look as much. Truthfully, they are not something you would probably wear to church with your mom in your Sunday best, they don’t really go well with the business suit so a lot of people can’t wear them to work, and they wouldn’t be something you would wear on a first date to make a nice impression.
Second, they are not very good in wet conditions. Vibram makes certain models that are supposed to be better for this than others. But the shoes only go up so high and the form fitting material will get soaked through in the rain, You could get away with walking through wet grass but not wading through a small stream.
These things are minor details in my eyes and the Pros outweigh the Cons by a significant margin. Don’t believe me, try them for yourself! You will be surprised at the freedom these wonderfully basic shoes will add to your life.
All in All, Vibram Fivefinger Barefoot shoes are the hottest trend in the fitness industry and for good reason, THEY WORK.