I used to hate Vibram Five Fingers. I’ll admit it.
The first time I heard about them I barely even paid attention because I thought they looked so goofy. Then my friend bought a pair and I laughed at him for paying so much for “almost nothing”. What a silly, silly, man I was.
Now I have two pair of Five Fingers (Seeya & Spyridon LS) and I love them!
After seeing so many people wearing them and saying great things, I decided to read up on why minimalist/barefoot running was such a big deal. The benefits made sense to me so I decided to try it out.
I have since run dozens of miles in Las Vegas, hiked the Valley of Fire in Nevada, Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, and Mauna Kea in Hawaii with minimalist shoes. Going barefoot in Las Vegas didn’t work out so well because the pavement burnt the heck out of my feet.
Quick Distinction: Wearing minimalist shoes does not make you a barefoot runner. Running barefoot precludes shoes, however slim they might be.
What Is Minimalist and Barefoot Running?
- Minimalist Running: Wearing low profile, thin soled shoes that provide protection but very little support or cushion. The idea is to get as close to barefoot as possible without literally being barefoot. You gain a lot of the benefits of running barefoot but with some traction and protection from road debris. Sometimes Vibrams and other brands are called “barefoot” shoes while other are called minimalist shoes. Either way, they are really just minimalist shoes. Examples – Vibram Five Fingers, Merrell Barefoot Series, Brooks PureGrit, etc.
- Barefoot Running: This is the simplest form of running because you wear no shoes at all. The idea behind barefoot running is to run with a natural stride and a mid- or forefoot strike rather than a heel strike with traditional running shoes. Examples – The feet you were born with.
So, why should you give up your current shoes for a slim pair (or none at all)? Here are some of the commonly mentioned benefits:
- Natural Stride – You will recondition yourself to use a natural stride and naturally correct the biomechanics of your feet.
- Forefoot Strike – You will land on the mid- or forefoot which reduces impact on the ankles, knees, and hips.
- Strong Feet – Strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments of the feet. Toughens your feet.
- Fewer Injuries – Minimal/Barefoot running may reduce injury by correcting inefficiencies and common injuries like tendinitis, calf pulls, etc.
Free your feet to perform at their best. The benefits of running barefoot have long been supported by scientific research. And there is ample evidence that training without shoes allows you to run faster and farther with fewer injuries. [From Vibram Five Fingers]
The Biggest Mistake
The biggest mistake that new comers to minimalist or barefoot running make is rushing.
Rushing to ditch their old shoes.
Rushing to add mileage.
Rushing to speed up.
While the enthusiasm is great, it is counterproductive. It’s much better to ease into minimal/barefoot running. If you want to make the switch, start preparing before you even get minimalist shoes or start running barefoot.
Because you will be using your foot and leg muscles in new ways. Your stride will change, your strike will change and your speed will change. Everything changes.
Ethiopian Abebe Bikila become the first black African to win a gold medal, winning the 1960 Summer Olympics marathon barefoot in 2:15:16.2. [From REI]
Prepare To Make The Switch
When I knew I was going to buy the Spyridon LS for hiking and trail running I began to strengthen my feet. I went for walks barefoot, started jump roping consistently, and spent more time stretching my legs, calves and toes. I also did ankle rotations and toe raises.
- Start Slow & Be Mindful – Walk barefoot, walk in minimalist shoes, and get used to be mindful of your surroundings (watching for cracks, glass, twigs, potholes, gravel, dead squirrels, etc.). And seriously, you don’t run through glass and potholes anyway, right? Add mileage conservatively.
- Ice It Down – After a jog, ice your legs and feet. This is a good proactive measure that feels good too.
- Foot Massage – A wonderful way to massage your own feet is to buy a cheap tennis or racquetball to roll under your feet. I prefer a racquetball. Some suggest a lacrosse ball.
- Stretch – Be sure to stretch your legs and feet more thoroughly.
- Jump Rope – I did this to get used to landing on my forefoot and strengthen my calves. I did this 3-4 times a week but do what works for you (I’m not a trainer or doctor.).
Note: Don’t become one of the knuckleheads in this article from USA Today.
The day I bought the shoes, was the day I hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. While I don’t have hard evidence, I suspect the time I spent getting ready paid off. I didn’t have any foot pain or blisters.
In the past, I have had knee and ankle injuries from football and basketball. None of these have bothered me since wearing my Vibrams and my bad ankle is definitely stronger.
I chose to ditch my traditional running shoes because running in my Vibrams is just way more comfortable. I feel lighter and more agile. Wearing the Vibram Seeya, I barely even feel them and they are far more breathable than regular shoes – even my Nike Free 3.0 (an older model from about 2007).
If you make the switch, let us know how you did it. Leave a comment below.