Sunday, January 24, 2010

Feedback on the Vibram Five Finger


It seems that the VFF is the kind of shoe that evokes intense passions. The post from earlier this month had the most views of any posting I had done on this blog, and the most feedback -- mostly from passionate VFF owners defending the honor of their shoes!

It also got re-posted on the big one-stop VFF blog;

Interesting thing about that referral. The Birthdayshoes blogger only clipped the positive section of my post, not the more critical parts.

I probably sounded negative in my review earlier in the month. In my own defense -- I do like these shoes, and still wear them regularly.

But the passion these shoes invokes -- its making me think back to the discussions at UCSF Runsafe regarding barefoot running, Chi Running, forefoot vs. heel striking. The doctors at UCSF (wisely) advised caution to anyone pondering shifting running styles -- and the same applies when using the VFF. The blogs and books don't really capture & explain just how much of a drastic transition it is going from a pair of regular running shoes (or in my case motion control running shoes) to the VFF. Passionate defenders of the VFF may have legitimate reasons for loving the VFF -- but they don't do themselves any favors by ignoring or minimizing the difficulties of transitioning to the VFF.

A post-script to ponder. After one of my krav classes, another student came up to me and asked how I liked the shoes. While he wore regular running shoes for the krav class, he told me he ran in VFF's, and loved using them for running. He said he was doing as much as 10 miles on the streets of San Francisco in them. I asked him how long it took to transition to that point. His reply;

"Four to five months."

Food for thought. In the long run, the VFF may actually be better for running than a standard running shoe. But the transition to the point where it becomes a regular running shoe -- there is not enough discussion about how to get to that point, and how to manage the inevitable discomforts and hurdles.

There needs to be less discussion about the VFF being this kind of magic wand that cures all runners ailments, and more discussion of the VFF as a tool that facilitates a long (difficult) transition into barefoot running -- which running in the VFF essentially is.

In the meantime -- if I recommend the VFF to anyone right now, I'd recommend it to anyone who has to do conditioning exercises to strengthen their quads\glutes\lower back. Certain exercises, especially squats (with and without weights), are dependent on your heels being flat on the ground in order engage the muscles on the butt and back of the thighs. Running shoes, with those thick heels, prevents you from engaging those muscles.

Even in this case, I add a word of caution. If you are working with weights -- the VFF's have no real top cover on them. You drop barbell/dumbbell on your foot -- you'll pay the consequences.


  1. Yeah I had to pull only a snippet from your review -- this is because the "latest reviews" posts are only intended to be a list for reference. Perhaps I shouldn't quote any part at all and just put the links -- something for me to consider going forward.

    Regardless, your point is astute -- many, many people jump head first into VFF running and end up injuring themselves. Most think (wrongly) that, VFFs in hand, they're ready to go running long distances -- or will be ready in short order. This is *rarely* the case. I still get sore from VFF runs and I've been using them for quite some time. It took me a couple months of heavy use to get good at VFF walking, which requires either a much softer heel-strike or (as I tend to walk now) more of a midfoot strike/heel kiss.

    Since birthdayshoes is a fan site that is heavily driven by user submissions, it can't really harp on "take it slow" in every post, so you probably don't readily see that that is exactly what I've always prescribed either on the blog or on the forums. Also, most forum members at the site are very vocal about taking it slow.

    Finally, what's really lacking is any kind of guide to getting into minimally shod or barefoot running. You've got your training methodologies, sure, but they're mostly pay-to-play. I'd like to change this going forward, but as someone who is *not* a running expert on any of these styles, it's going to take me sometime to find people who know Chi/Pose/etc. who are willing to do write-ups to share. For now, the best I can offer is this:

    It's a start, but isn't VFF specific and doesn't demonstrate just how *long* it can take to rehabilitate your feet/leg muscles to being effectively barefoot.

  2. Awesome that you got so much press! I am going to stick with my Nike Frees. for the first few weeks running in them my feet would start to get tired after about 4 miles. however, now they are great. Also, immediately my speed increased significantly right away (as in 1-minutes faster in a 5k).

    For me it is just the right balance of a more flexible and think sole while still being comfortable. They also look pretty good.