For those of you who have not already come across the Vibram Fivefingers the image on the right is an example of these shoes. You may already recognise them from someone wearing them at your local gym. Maybe you wondered if this was a new fashion craze you had missed and that having feet resembling a gorilla was very in right now!
The Vibram Fivefingers go against all advice we have ever received when looking to purchase a pair of running/training shoes. They have very little padding, a rubber sole, and don’t appear to give the same level of support that a conventional trainer would.
But don’t be fooled by these strange looking shoes for less is most certainly more in this case. Yes they are not as aesthetically appealing as many other training shoes and this can be a deal breaker for people where appearance counts. But the design is very specific to the function of the shoe.
The brand Vibram was founded by a man named Vitale Bramani who invented the first rubber sole, specifically for mountaineering.
Following on from this invention in 2001 the Fivefingers were designed by a man called Robert Fliri, which over the last few years, have really taken off alongside the growing research surrounding the concept of barefoot running, an idea that relates back to our ancestral lifestyle.
The main design features specific to these shoes are as follows;
- Individual toe pockets – help strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs, improving balance, agility and range of motion.
- Rubber sole – non-marking and provide protection from hot surfaces and rugged terrain.
- Thin, razer-siped soles – add flexibility and slip resistance over a variety of terrain.
- Shape – designed to conform to the natural shape of the foot.
- Zero drop – forefoot and heal are same distance from the ground allowing for a more natural running experience where the foot lands mid to forefoot.
- Weight – very light due to the minimalist nature of the shoe
The shoes have ranges suitable for running, water sports, fitness, trekking and casual use. The running shoes tend to be a little lighter whilst the trekking shoes offer more protection on the midsole for potential bruising from stones as well as providing extra grip and traction.
When I was asked to review these shoes I was very happy to oblige. I have wanted to trial these for a while now after hearing such positive reviews from other fitness professionals. The pair I trialled were the Classic slip on Fivefingers pictured below, suitable for running, fitness and water sports. http://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/products.detail/id_product/46998/id_colour/124/id_picture/33117
I went for a size smaller than my normal shoe size due to the sock like nature of the shoe. As you can imagine if you want the shoes to fit like a glove you do not need the extra room they advise for normal trainers. They do give specific measurement guidelines to use when buying the five fingers which I did follow only to come to the same conclusion, but it will be different for everyone.
The shoes can be worn barefoot and are easily washed but also have a sock glove option to wear underneath. I didn’t bother with this.
I found the shoes a bit tricky to get on initially as like most people my toes are very close together and used to being crammed into other shoes. But after a while this process got much easier and they now slip on like a glove.
Right from the word go these shoes felt amazing. They felt so light that it felt like I didn’t have them on. My feet and toes had the freedom to spread and didn’t feel anywhere near as restricted as in my normal shoes. It was a strange sensation but an incredibly comfortable one.
As gym shoes these felt more grounded, assisting to improve my balance. I really noticed how much more my feet actually move around in my normal training shoes in comparison to the Fivefingers. This movement increases the risk of going over on your ankle, especially during lateral movements. The five fingers felt so flexible that it made it easier to perform certain movements and the impressive grip helped me to maintain better form during my training.
One thing to remember when starting out with these shoes is that too quick a transition from a normal heeled trainer to a shoe with none could cause injury if not done properly. The calf and achilles will have to stretch further than they had to previously, the extra distance gained when taking the heel away to be precise. The Fivefingers encourage the use of the full length of the calf because the heel is so much closer to the ground.
If running is your goal with these shoes then there are some important factors to take into consideration before you start.
The saying ‘don’t run before you can walk’ applies greatly to these shoes. It is advised to increase the mileage gradually. Use them initially for walking and gym use before running. The extra tension in the calf will gradually reduce as it begins to stretch and adapt.
When I first tried running in these shoes it no longer felt comfortable to heel strike, which threw me into landing forefoot, adjusting my stride to short, light, patter type strides. This shift to forefoot running places the calves under more constant tension, which if overused initially can cause calf strain. This is why it is so important to introduce the shoes gradually into your training. The calves will still be sore initially and will take time to adapt but this is completely normal.
It you are currently running in a traditional trainer then it may even be worth making a transition from this trainer to a shoe with less heel before moving on to the Fivefingers. However if you are currently running in a shoe with less heel than a conventional trainer then the five fingers could be the perfect next step into becoming a more efficient runner. For those of you looking to do more cross country running or trekking with these shoes I would advise getting the shoe with more material coverage to prevent dirt and stones getting in. For road running the slip on Fivefingers suited me just fine.
So to conclude, looks aside, there is no denying the benefits to owning a pair of Fivefingers. I would certainly not say they are the only training shoe that one should own but I am saying that they are a great and worthwhile addition to your training equipment. I personally love them and have really felt the benefits already, not only this but the design of the shoe has really grown on me since wearing them too.
I have not had my pair of Fivefingers for long but having spoken to other fitness professionals who have had them for over a couple of years, theirs don’t appear to have worn. They seem to have the longevity most normal trainers do not. So although the initial expense can be dear they will stand the test of time.
Now obviously these shoes are to be used properly and with caution. I certainly would not advise to go straight out for a 5k run as soon as you get them. The benefits of these shoes long term are great but they need to be implemented into your training slowly to avoid any risk of injury.
I will be keeping a diary of my progress of integrating these shoes into my running. I have always suffered from pain in the arch of my foot and occasional knee pain whilst running longer distances. I have no obvious injuries and youth on my side so I am inclined to believe that my running style is the problem. It will therefore be interesting to see if the change in shoes will encourage me to adapt my running style which in turn may alleviate these symptoms. I will post my findings at a later date.
I will be using pose running coach David Payne; davidpaynefitness.com to assess my current running style and to teach me, in the five fingers, how to land in a relaxed way that will support my body and be kind to my joints.
If you, like me, are keen to get started with a pair of five fingers then they can be purchased by using the follow link; http://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/