As you may know, I am trying the Primal Blueprint way of life at the moment. Part of it includes going back to basics when it comes to running: going barefoot. Following the advice of my friend Boris, I purchased a pair of Vibram Five Fingers which would lead me as close as possible to barefoot running with a minimum of protection for my feet. I have been using them for a week and here is my review after the jump.
I was a bit skeptical at first when I heard about the Vibran Five Fingers (which we will call VFF from now on) so I did a bit of research and it seems that it would be a candidate for the revolution of jogging. People enjoy running with these "gloves" on their feet and can't consider going back. It also seems that more and more people are running barefooted. The reason behind it is that it is the most natural way of running and that, supposedly, jogging with heel-cushioned shoes puts a lot of strain on the spine without any added benefit.
Well well... The first thing I noticed when I first tried them on is that it is definitely not made for any foot. I am lucky enough that I spend a lot of time barefooted and that as a result my feet are not too distorted. But people with years and years of wearing tight and restricting shoes will not be able to fit in these.
It does fit quite tight to my foot, however my small toes did not feel right at first. I actually had to walk around with them for a day to get used to them before taking them out for a field test.
How about my running experience with it? Well, it really feels like you are running barefooted as you can feel every single bump on the pavement but not to an extent where the small rocks hurt the bottom of your feet which is a good point. Also, it really forced me to use all my feet (including my toes) as well as all my legs to stabilise myself and run. It really feels like a more complete running motion as the leg must be used as a spring to compensate for the lack of cushioning that I have been used to. After 25 minutes of moderate jogging, I wasn't any more tired than with my running shoes but I did feel that I exercised more efficiently.
I was still worried about the negative effect on my spine as there is definitely more shock on each step without cushioning. After a bit of researched, I found out that I needed to change my running motion with the VFF: striking with the heel first is not recommended and it is better to strike with the front of the foot first. So for my interval training session 2 days later, I decided to use this technique. I ran at my normal pace but forced myself into striking the ground with the front of my feet first. As a result, there was much less shock on my spine and the motion became much smoother. "Great!" I thought! But only 30 minutes after the end of my exercising session did I revise my judgement.
Because I am not used to this new running motion, I did put a lot of strain on my calves and my achilles' tendons which resulted in very sore and contracted muscles to the point that I could barely walk for the whole day and the following day with cold muscles.
So I did a bit more research and it appears that I should have done this transition more gradually to get my muscles used to this new motion. Apparently, even some great athletes hurt themselves really bad by jumping in too fast with running barefooted.
So as a conclusion, I would say that running with the VFF definitely feels great and improves the efficiency of my training. However, one must use fairly long transition time to allow the leg and back muscles to get used to the new motion when using the VFF and more generally when running barefooted. Since that very painful exercise session, I took it a little bit more easy when running and it is not hurting as much and becomes easier each time. I also discovered that stretching barefooted or with the VFF is much more effective as the big running shoes are not in the way anymore.
Finally, the VFF don't really cost much more than any other good running shoe: AUD199 at the local retail store. They can also be used in many other situations such as rock climbing, surfing, sailing (or any other boat really), etc.
For people interested in buying them in Perth, Mountain Design in the city sells the whole range at the same price as the official Australian online retail store.
External link: Vibram Five Fingers website