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Digital Running Club » Ask the Experts, Columns » Ask the Experts: Vibram Five Fingers

Ask the Experts: Vibram Five Fingers

What’s your opinion on the Vibram 5-finger running shoes? Hideous, yes. But are they good for running?

-Tricia

There are few things that have polarized the running community more in recent years than the emergence of Vibram Five Finger running shoes and the movement toward barefoot and minimalist running. The first time, I heard this question, it was asked of an expert on stage while I was shopping for a shot glass at the 2008 Walt Disney World Marathon expo.

“For every person who has had success wearing the Vibram Five Fingers,” he replied, “I’ve seen nine more who’ve injured themselves.”

Case closed?

Actually, I’m a believer in the movement toward barefoot and minimalist running but I also agree with the expert who was on stage that day (unfortunately, I can’t remember who he was). I’ve heard of more people developing stress fractures after their switch to the Vibrams than I’ve heard of people who’ve had success with them. There’s a pattern, though. All of those who found themselves injured were experienced runners, and those who’ve had success are beginners.

Here’s the deal: If you’ve led a sedentary life, you probably wouldn’t start your running career by running 50 miles per week. If you did, you’d quickly develop an overuse injury like IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, shin splints, or even a stress fracture somewhere between your hips and feet. Most experienced runners know this. What they don’t seem to get is that they can’t expect to go out and run 50 miles per week injury free with little or no protection on their feet when their feet are used to running that same distance with protection. The beginners don’t get injured because the rest of their bodies can’t handle a lot of mileage. The muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments in their feet adapt to the stresses of exercise gradually, right along with the rest of their bodies.

My recommendation for those making the switch to barefoot running, minimalist shoes or Vibram Five Fingers, is to start gradually. You don’t have to cut back your mileage. Just start by wearing your Vibrams for your warm-up mile, then swtich to your old shoes for the rest of your run. A few weeks later, you can wear the Vibrams for one of your short runs during the week, while wearing your typical shoes for the rest of your runs. Add a few more miles on the Vibrams every few weeks, while reducing the mileage on your regular running shoes.

After several months, you can phase out your heavily padded shoes completely. I did.

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Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at ARunnersBlog.com

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2 Responses to "Ask the Experts: Vibram Five Fingers"

  1. Maria Taylor says:

    I was not an expert runner. I tried running with various sneakers, from Adidas to Brooks. My knees just simply could not take the impact of running. I read the book “Born to Run” per recommendation of a friend and Vibrams were mentioned in the text. I thought that I would give them a try. I started out slow, doing about a mile with the sneakers. I gradually increased how much I was running. There were definitely some adjustments. For instance, my calf muscles were being challenged as were the tiny muscles in my feet. However, my knees were much happier. I could actually feel the difference in my stride. My foot strike would land beneath my hips rather than in front of me. I could actually feel my toes pushing off with each stride – way cool. I felt like a kid running. It took about three weeks to adjust to the new sneakers and for the newly used muscles to get used to being used, but it was all highly worth it.

    I tried using my Vibrams for other activities and discovered that they are not good for things that require pivoting. I primarily use them for running, cross training, and water sports. I will always keep a pair of Vibrams on hand as I truly enjoy using them.

  2. Scott says:

    As a person who hikes 6 miles a day, 3 days a week; there is no magic item that will make you healthy. Just move your ass. Vibram 5 fingers are for posers that think they’re better than everyone when they workout in them. The driving culture in USA is the culprit for foot injury in my opinion. People barely use they’re legs since they drive to every destination. Lack of walking creates weak muscles. It’s not the traditional shoes that make you weak, it’s your lifestyle. Honestly, if you wanna develop those “hidden” foot muscles, take ballet. Reading this article, the people that experienced injury are those that actually workout and really put these shoes to the test.

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