Vibrams Five Fingers: Friend or Foe

 

In 1960, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won the Olympic Marathon in bare feet. Three decades later, Ken Bob Saxton completed his first barefoot marathon in 4:12. Still, it wasn’t until 2009 that barefoot running became a hot topic.

 

The biggest contributor was Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” Which has now left us with a huge debate about the pro’s and con’s of minimalist shoes used for exercise. I love how passionate people get when commenting about these shoes. Here are few little facts I should start off with; there are different varieties of minimalist shoes for hiking, yoga and running, Vibrams are not the only brand, avid barefoot runners really do not consider minimalist shoes “barefoot running”. There, now that we got that out of the way, let’s start with the con’s (or alleged con’s) of these shoes.

 

Cons:

1. They were conceived to help the #1 issue for barefoot runners which was to protect the foot from hard surface injuries, nails, glass, hot asphalt, etc. however, they may not be protective enough.

 

2. Many orthopedic doctors feel these type shoes are not the best choice for heel strikers due to lack of cushion as well as other problems like high arches.

 

3. These same doctors also feel these shoes are not meant for high impact activities where more cushion should be available and ankle support.

 

Pros:

1. The foot will learn to due what it was naturally meant to do. With more than 200,000 nerve endings, 33 major muscles and 19 ligaments the foot sends messages to the brain to help strengthen these muscles and regain proper balance and alignment.

 

2. Promotes proper striking of the foot on the surfaces. Cushioned shoes tend to encourage heel striking while minimalist shoes allow for the weight to be distributed on the ball or mid-range of the foot.

 

3. Due to the “strike point” being near the front or mid part of the foot, it is suggested that less stress is put on the joints causing less injury. (Conclusion based on a study by Harvard University on 68 young, healthy runners of mixed gender. Participants were evaluated by a motion analysis machine while running in both shoes and barefoot. 54% average increase in the internal rotation torque of the hip, and a 36% increase in the bending forces of the knee when using running shoes).

 

So obviously, the debate goes on, and the question is have you been sold yet? And if the answer is yes, here are a few things to consider:

 

1. Start slowly. As you begin, you will probably notice soreness in your feet & calves as this is a new exercise for many of the new found muscles. This change in foot gear (or lack of) may take months to a year or more to finally get used to.

 

2. Wearing minimalist shoes, is NOT the same as going barefoot. As close as it comes to mimicking being barefoot, anyone who runs barefoot will tell you it’s not the same. The sensors on the bottom of your foot are still unable to reach their full potential. However, for most people who want the protection from the hot asphalt, glass, etc. it just may be the answer.

 

3. If you know you have a major injury, disability or are extremely overweight you may want to check with a physician before wearing minimalist shoes as they may cause further damage to your injury or create an injury.

 

While Vibrams may be the most popular name on the market new minimalist shoes are popping up all over such as Vivo Barefoot, Nike Free, Fila Skele-toes, New Balance just came out with it’s Minimus Collection and in March Merrell launched it’s Barefoot collection. Be sure to try on a few and see which brand and style agree with your foot and particular needs.

 

Intrigued by the barefoot/minimalist concept and want more information? Try some of these great websites:

http://runningbarefoot.org/

http://barefootrunninguniversity.com

http://runnningbarefoot.org

 

 

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