We Tried It: Vibram Barefoot Running Shoes

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
11/12/2009 2:03 PM   :  150 comments   :  27,693 Views

The Internet--including the SparkPeople Message Boards--have been abuzz for the recently with talk of barefoot running. Member CAMPB528 wrote me, asking to review her beloved Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running shoes. A few weeks later, she tracked me down at the Spark Your Life Convention in Cincinnati to show them off. She wasn't the only member to mention them.

At first glance, I thought Aimee was barefoot. The shoes are bizarre--imagine toe gloves--and they're not cheap ($75-$80 or more). But these women say they can handle the stares, questions and gentle mocking. They love their Vibrams and say their lower body feels stronger and they're standing taller, though they're quick to say these aren't miracle shoes. They won't do the work for you.

While they acknowledge these shoes aren't for every runner--and do require a careful breaking-in period, these Vibram lovers want to share their new favorite footwear with you.

Aimee (CAMPB528), Kris (KJNE8O), and Joy (SAVANNAHZMOMMA1) answered my questions about their Vibrams! Aimee has worn hers since summer, while Joy and Kris have had theirs two months and one month, respectively.

NOTE: Do your research before swapping your regular running shoes for Vibrams; these women are offering their personal experiences. If you have any ankle or foot issues, consult your health-care provider.



Why did you decide to buy them?

Aimee: My running buddy had purchased a pair from our local running store. We had been discussing the benefits of barefoot running on your body for some time. I was really excited to find a pair of shoes that gave my muscles the benefit of barefoot running while at the same time protecting my feet from glass, rocks, etc. I also decided they would be a good investment because I was also looking at investing in a pair of rock climbing shoes which the Vibrams can also be used for!

Joy: While listening to the audio book of "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, I started to ponder the idea that my persistent and often very bad ankle pain from a sprain two years ago (slipped on ice) might be served by having my feet bare more often. High heels and soft squishy shoes do cause my ankle to bend in unpredictable ways. I have noticed that going barefoot puts me right against the ground--very stable--and that more of my small muscles are enlisted in the foot. My hope is that I will strengthen my feet and supporting muscles, while not causing random wobbles that hurt me. Of course, I must still wear my work shoes, and love heels, so the threat's still there. But, I hope on my "off days" to get all the good I can out of these.

Kris: (Joy recommended that same book to her.) In this amazing real-life story full of crazy ultra marathoners a few “truths” spoke to me, and one is that athletic shoes change the way that millions of years of evolution have designed humans to run and could be the cause of most injuries. The author was in search of a reason he was always in pain when running – knee pain, feet pain – and his path of discover led him to barefoot running and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.

Earlier this year I was waylaid during half-marathon training by IT Band Syndrome, which cost me hundreds of dollars in Physical Therapy and a race a couldn’t run. After that, every time that I tried to run I’d have some sort of pain and I was very bummed out because I really want to be a runner!

After reading the book I realized that maybe there was a way that I could run and that I could be and stay pain free.


Aimee

What was your fitness routine like before you got them? How has it changed?

Aimee: I would say my fitness routine is relatively the same. I have maybe added in an extra running day since buying them.

Joy: I am easing into the VFFs. I did not just take off on my customary 5 mile run with them. I'm allowing my body to adjust to being "barefoot" more. Believe me, just walking a day at the mall or grocery shopping or hiking with my little daughter was plenty to ask of feet that have been in heels much of the week.

I want to mention that I decided to just LIVE in these VFFs first, to see if I found any special soreness in muscles with these. I discovered odd little muscle pain and twinges the first few days--not tendon pains, but just in other places in my muscles I hadn't felt before. There was some discomfort right around the sides of my big toes where I've been prone to mild ingrown toenails. The baby toes felt a little uncomfortable. I had a hard time getting my feet to relax enough to spread the toes. This was the first 2 or 3 days, wearing them just 2 or 3 hours at a shot. Then, all of a sudden the shoes gave way, AND my own feet relaxed and the toes spread. I can slide right into them now!. They are so, so comfortable. The muscle soreness dissipated.

I ran my first race in the Vibrams, and they were nothing short of phenomenal. I have run a number of races throughout my life--this one felt the best, yet I am in poorer shape than in my Army days. The shoes are very, very light and I felt darn near like a gazelle in them. (My 5K time, starting from well back in a crowded and slow pack, was 24:37. My first race in years, and it felt great.)

Kris: I am an extremely active person already, teaching and taking classes at the local Y 3-4 days a week on average, cycling (finished a 180 mile cycling event in August), running a bit here and there and just general activity like gardening, hiking, etc. The VFF’s haven’t changed my routine at all because (other than Spinning) I can wear them for any of my fitness classes as well as general walking around.


Joy and her boyfriend after their 5K

Who would like these shoes?


Kris: Anyone who likes being barefoot! Also, I was a slight overpronator when I purchased them. I've found that having better awareness of my foot strike has helped me to correct that problem. They are also very versatile.

I ran a 5K on Halloween in my Vibrams. [Editor's note: Kris ran a 5K after having taught three fitness classes that morning, Joy told us!] It was at night, on road, golf cart path, gravel, and muddy, grassy areas. The Vibrams felt GREAT and not once did my knees hurt! In fact, all my runner’s knee pain is GONE after running a few runs in the Vibrams. I think that using the correct gait for me, not changed by running shoes, has been what has helped me heal. I also had a very modest goal of 35 minutes since I haven’t been running very much at all. I shattered my goal by running that 5K in 28:30! I couldn’t believe it, that was one of my best 5K times ever and the whole race felt wonderful. I do have some calf soreness but as I get stronger I know that will stop. I really look forward to my next run now since I know I can run free of pain!

Joy: This shoe seems to demand toes that step down in length from big toe to pinky. If your second toe is the longest, you might have trouble. Another bit of advice. The shoe store will likely make you use a sock to try them on. That made my shoes feel a bit too tight, but I took a plunge and got them. They fit perfectly.


Kris, with her boyfriend and daughter, after that same 5K

For more information, check out this review from Runner's World or read the company's FAQs. We've spotted the Vibrams at many places running shoes are sold, but check the website for more info.

Have you tried the Vibrams? Would you? What do you think about barefoot running?


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Comments

  • 150
    I have bunions (which are NOT blisters btw, they're when the big toe turns in towards the other toes and the bone on the side sticks out farther than normally) which are a hereditary condition. I also have no arch & wear orthotic lifts in my shoes. I know my feet sound like a mess. BUT when I'm at home I walk around barefoot & it's not uncomfortable & I don't seem to have any more problems than usual. Has anyone with these kinds of problems tried these shoes? I'm worried about spending all that money just to get something I can't use. - 8/28/2012   9:55:25 AM
  • 149
    Hi Everyone, regarding shoes, I'm a person who loves shoes, but spend any chance I get barefoot. I've tried to "follow protocol" and wear walkers, runners, hiking boots, etcetera.. but I have what my kids call "hobbit feet" very wide and very flat and yes, I do have the longer second toe issue. It's hard to find shoes that don't rub on my bones, cause blisters, or make my feet as though they are screaming to get out of the shoe. I more often than not end up taking my shoes off and going barefoot when on the track, on the road, or in the hills, which also seems to ease the cramps and pinches I feel in my legs when wearing shoes. hmm. maybe I'm just an odd duck, who knows/? I'd like to try these though, given the described design, who knows until we try right? These just might work. - 12/25/2011   2:33:53 PM
  • 148
    I hate things between my toes, but I gave these a try and I love them. I also love that I can throw them in the wash to keep em clean! - 9/12/2011   8:14:05 PM
  • 147
    I have had my five fingers since March and my husband and I both love them!! The only negatives that I have to say is that if you don't wear socks with them, they tend to smell really bad!, but I got over it :) They are the best! - 7/14/2011   12:59:43 PM
  • ELLIMINTY
    146
    Walking barefoot has long been a preference of mine, and occasionally a necessity. My feet have a tendency to be broken in by shoes long before the shoes get broken in, so each summer when I made the switch to summer shoes, I would find myself in a two week period where I could not wear ANY shoes thanks to the plethora of blisters on the tops of my feet. So I would risk life and limb wandering around the city barefoot.

    Now I have my Vibrams, and I love them. I regularly go on 5-6k walks using them, and about 3 weeks after getting them I decided to try them on the treadmill. I didn't really expect them to work (I'm not a good runner, though I'm learning slowly). I didn't run faster or longer than I usually do... but I did have a revelation: no shin splints! I had gone from minimalist shoes perfect for stretching and dance, but leading to ankle pain and shin splints to extra-cushioned runners... and then back to the Vibrams. I think the key is finding shoes that let you fel free, and then you'll do what just comes naturally.

    Barefoot running's not for everyone: recent studies have shown that while some people with injuries do see improvement, it is the people with no prior injuries who see the best results with barefoot running. Many with knee and ankle injuries see improvement for a couple of months and then see a worsening of their initial problems.

    My reccommendation? Take it easy and slow! Don't expect an automatic adjustment to walking barefoot: most people haven't done it anywhere but home in years! Start with an hour a day, and work up from there, and definitely don't start running long distances right away! Glory in how your feet feel (bare, minimally covered, or vibramed), and don't let your fast-paced life ruin your new relationship with those feet! - 6/14/2011   9:38:09 AM
  • 145
    I've owned my vff for a month, and I love them. I CAN'T walk in them because i walk really heavy on my heels and i can't figure out how not to. the one time i went for a long walk, i bruised my heels (not just felt bruised, but they were purple). Running in them, however, is AWESOME. today i ran through a kind of meadow and caught dandelions between my toes. lol. Also, my second toe is longer than my big toe and i have no problems. - 5/9/2011   7:23:15 PM
  • 144
    they don't really appeal to me...i don't think I could get over having fabric inbetween my toes like that. - 4/13/2011   12:58:07 PM
  • 143
    I've been wearing VFF's for over a year now. I LOVE them! I do yard work and house work, step aerobics, go on bicycle rides, hike. On their website they have models for just hanging around the house to water sports. I own the KSO's they are good for anything. I don't like my feet to get wet when they are not bare so I haven't used them for that yet. I run in my VFF's mostly, before, I ran in a pair of $90 runners and kept having tendon pain and shin splints and had to stop, hence the Vibrams. Now the only thing stopping me is father time lol.
    Someone mentioned foot injuries, on that note, there is no protection if you were to drop a free weight on your foot you may be injured. I've walked over shattered glass out of curiosity, the shoe and I was not harmed, however keep in mind even though these are very durable they are not indestructible. I avoid glass now that my curiosity is sated. As I walk I can feel the gravel under my feet, and I certainly feel it when i step on a sharp one, I just shift my weight some. That being said, after having worn them for a month or so I noticed that I pay more attention to where I walk more now. It doesn't really slow me down much, although beware of those wearing shoes they don't normally know when they are stepping on an unshod foot :(. On a side not these shoes are not measured in normal sizing I'm a 38 in VFF and a 7-8 standard us sizing. they recently came out with a kids line which is good-I can't keep shoes on my kids.
    Google barefoot running and you'll come up with a plethora of info at you fingertips.
    Happy barefooting!! - 3/18/2011   4:25:59 PM
  • 142
    I absolutely LOVE my VFFs. I've had them since July 2010 and they are a big help with my balance. I have ataxic cerebral palsy, and my balance is awful. Wearing the Vibrams allow my toes to be spread out, which give my better balance. It did take me a while to get them ON my feet the first week or two of wearing them (my toes didn't want to go into the right holes), but now, they just slide on! I love mine! - 11/14/2010   10:55:09 AM
  • 141
    I've not found a pair yet or gone hunting for them yet. They are very appealing to me though as I was a barefoot child most of my childhood - loved to run around barefoot but didn't care so much for the cuts, scrapes, splinters, animal wastes, etc. Then last year (well 2009 when this article was written, I guess), my sister-in-law was wearing VFF's and she really loves them. She recently ran a marathon in her VFF's so I thought that it was so cool that the VFF technology is finally here to enjoy running barefooted without the negative side effects. I'm saving up for a pair.... ;-) - 11/13/2010   7:29:56 AM
  • 140
    I really really want to run barefoot. I hate shoes and wear them as little as possible. So I'm certain running barefoot would feel good too. And I suffer from back problems and currently have a knee injury, so I'd like to try them... problem is they are too expensive for me - 2/5/2010   1:32:13 PM
  • OXYOKE87
    139
    Wow, really fascinating. Back when I was in shape and running, I had knee problems. When I get to the point where I can run again, these seem like they'd be worth checking out! - 1/27/2010   11:17:51 PM
  • KAREBEAR38
    138
    I would love to try them someday, especially if you can do kickboxing/aerobics in them. - 12/1/2009   11:54:32 AM
  • 137
    I feel kind of bad mentioning the 2nd longer toe thing, as I was just venturing a guess as to what kind of feet wouldn't work with these. My 2nd and 3rd toe are mildly webbed together, so I was concerned, but it turned out to be a non-issue. The rubber under the shoe is what I see as the constricting factor, but I could be wrong. A commenter below mentioned that a Runner's World barefoot running forum mentions how to deal with that.

    Btw, we're real members, have been for some years, and I think the fact that we 3 all enjoy our VFFs contributed to a positive review. The actual writer of the article is a regular named contributer to other areas of SP. A commenter below felt this was a sponsored ad. Not at all. I'm sorry if any of my comments "oversold" the shoe. My ankle in month 2 now is substantially better, and I've done a number of really nice runs in them. I've had other adjustment issues from pushing too hard (tight calves, a temporary extensor tendonitis), but it's been a really favorable experience.

    - 11/25/2009   12:44:31 PM
  • NAVYGIRLTAM
    136
    One of my co-workers has these shoes. The first time I saw them, I didn't know what they were. I thought she was just wearing toe socks in the locker room, but when she was leaving the locker room wearing nothing but her "socks", I had to ask. She said she loves running "barefoot" and even increased her speed.

    I suffer from pain in my foot due to an injury from a year ago, and now am developing knee pain. Maybe these will help. Guess it won't hurt to try. - 11/22/2009   8:00:42 PM
  • 135
    If you're interested in barefoot running, a great source of info is the Barefoot Running forum at Runner's World. There is also a lot of info about the VFF's - even advice on how to make them work for those with a long second toe. As far as cost --- they last up to (or past) 1000 miles. If you were buying "regular" running shoes, you'd have to buy 2 or 3 pairs for that same mileage.

    Many people turn to barefoot running (or minamilist running such as the vff's) when they get tired of being injured.

    Starting slow and using good form (not heel striking) are very important aspects of successfully running barefoot/minimalist injury free. - 11/19/2009   4:28:16 PM
  • 134
    Even though I don't like to be barefoot, and I don't particularly like wearing something that separates my toes, I am open minded. They seem okay for walking, but running or doing rock climbing, I am not convinced. Plus, I need arch support, so arch supported shoes are the way to go for me. (I am also going to get support for my dress shoes as well). Running on hard, flat surfaces is enough to pound your feet, and I am not sure if this would help that or make it worse. It could work for those who like to be and workout barefooted, but not for me. Cool invention though. - 11/19/2009   1:30:40 PM
  • GSEAGO
    133
    Thank you for writing this! I have been pondering whether or not to get these, I think they are on my christmas list this year! - 11/18/2009   5:28:43 PM
  • 132
    these seem cool because i like being barefoot, but i really don't like to have my toes separated. my pinkie toe hurts to be pulled away from the others. i can't even wear toe socks because they're uncomfortable, but the concept of running barefoot is interesting. - 11/18/2009   9:45:45 AM
  • 131
    While it may be "natural" to run barefoot, most of us have worn shoes since before we could walk and our foot has literally grown accustomed to the support and shaped itself (good and bad) accordingly over, in my case, many years.

    I think these could do more harm than good for me as I have broken toes that have healed funny, my 2nd toe is considerably longer than my great toe and I have a Morton's neuroma that feels like a rock between my tendons when I walk barefoot in my house. I think I'll stick with my runners - I already own them... - 11/17/2009   4:28:04 PM
  • 130
    I don't know if I'd ever instill the habit of barefoot running, however, I just might some day. I do like the looks of them because I love any type of shoe that is different and in fact FUNKY! VFF's are definitely different and funky too. - 11/16/2009   10:09:15 PM
  • 129
    I saw a guy at the gym about two months ago wearing these. They looked really neat so I asked him a few questions and decided that I might splurge for a pair one of these days. - 11/16/2009   12:03:15 PM
  • 128
    As a kid, I was ALWAYS barefoot (except for school & church, of course!). I'd love to have these, as I still like being barefoot. And I'm not even a runner! - 11/16/2009   11:57:30 AM
  • NIFTY50S2
    127
    Nice concept, yet I can't see myself wearing these in our -20 weather with snow. - 11/16/2009   10:19:21 AM
  • 126
    At the convention, did you meet anyone who tried them and DIDN'T like them? I'm skeptical because it kind of sounds like an infomercial! - 11/16/2009   1:02:56 AM
  • 125
    This entry sounds way too much like an advertisement to me. Please keep this site free from hidden sponsors. Its ok to have advertisers all over the pages, but the content should only be from real members. - 11/15/2009   11:37:53 PM
  • 124
    this is the first I have heard of these shoes and from some of the comments I might consider getting a pair. - 11/15/2009   11:16:40 PM
  • 123
    I got mine today, I thing I am going to love them. - 11/15/2009   10:07:48 PM
  • RWOLFGRAM
    122
    I am asking for a pair of these for Christmas! Saw a few runners with these at a race in San Fran last month. I love being barefoot and, as I am most of the time, I don't anticipate a big issue adjusting! - 11/15/2009   6:42:48 PM
  • 121
    One of the reasons I love having my elliptical at home, is I can get on it without shoes on if I choose to. I cannot imagine running barefoot, however. - 11/15/2009   2:08:29 PM
  • ACAD21SF
    120
    I have always loved being barefoot but I just can't imagine these being that comfortable when running. - 11/15/2009   1:22:03 PM
  • 119
    I JUST COULDN'T SEE MYSELF WEAR THESE - 11/15/2009   11:09:57 AM
  • 118
    I just saw a guy on the beach in Jamaica with these on! I thought they were something new he was wearing for scuba. Being a runner, I can't even imagine running with these. Maybe for working out in the yard or around the house, but definitely not for running, at least for me! - 11/15/2009   10:28:17 AM
  • 117
    Ouch. I can just feel my arches crying in pain just reading this. - 11/14/2009   9:46:53 PM
  • 116
    I take your word on bare foot running, i couldn't try if even if i wanted as i suffer really bad with my Arche's in my feet, my feet are extremely swollen with pain with it at this momentin time
    Bella - 11/14/2009   5:24:11 PM
  • 115
    I LOVE barefoot running - only tried it on the beach though. I worry that they wouldn't work since I have a longer second toe. They look bizarre, but so did some of my other running shoes at the time - 11/14/2009   4:06:22 PM
  • 114
    In answer to some of the questions, yes you feel everything you step on but it isn't necessarily painful. The rubber sole is on one hand thin but thick enough to prevent cuts. The sole is molded so there is arch support. I've worn professionally made orthotics that cost a couple hundred dollars for 24 years and I don't find that they bother my arch, on the contrary, I think they've actually improved my balance. - 11/14/2009   4:05:12 PM
  • 113
    So, these look awesome, but do they really give good arch supports? I will have to go try them on, but I love the way they look. - 11/14/2009   3:20:36 PM
  • 112
    Is there any arch support? What happen if you step on a sharp object, It was hard to tell from the picture but is there any sole to provide safety? Other than that they are really cute, I would buy them if they came in 13's. - 11/14/2009   2:51:33 PM
  • 111
    I live in bare feet, and when I'm at home (I know I shouldn't) but I like to workout with bare feet as well. I agree with some here and would like some more information. Do they provide good support, what are they made out of, etc? - 11/14/2009   1:48:06 PM
  • 110
    As a nurse I would tell my patients to act with caution as these don't seem to give much support to the foot and ankle and for people having diabetes it would be very unsafe as any small injury could result in amputation of a leg and/or foot. - 11/14/2009   11:19:12 AM
  • 109
    Do they come in wides? - 11/14/2009   11:16:29 AM
  • 108
    The article didn't give any information about the shoes that would make me go look at them. What are they made out of? What kind of foot support is in them? Are they just flat thin rubber? What is walking on rocks like? How heavy are they? Do they come in 1/2 sizes? Is the material like Crocks?

    If I had to assume, from what I wasn't told, they are just regular tennis/running shoes with toes?

    One of the poorest I tried it articles I've read here. - 11/14/2009   10:38:36 AM
  • 107
    Hmmmm....Vibrams sound interesting. I would try them.

    - 11/14/2009   10:11:18 AM
  • EPIPHANYSTUDIO
    106
    I don't think these are the shoes for me. I used to run barefoot as a child,but now..notsomuch...lol! - 11/14/2009   10:01:27 AM
  • 105
    I hate being barefooted even in my apt....and with that kind of price....you gotta be kidding me....the answer to my even thinking of trying it is a big fat NO - 11/14/2009   7:54:22 AM
  • CEDWARDS4
    104
    I am glad that you posted member comments. However, I thought that Sparkpeople would try them as well. I've been researching this over the past few months and am intrigued by the thought. I frequently suffer from running related knee injuries and shin splints after training for a race. So, I am hopeful that these could do the trick. I may try them to see if they make a difference. - 11/14/2009   5:45:52 AM
  • 103
    This is a great article but I have to ask whoever posted to please PROOFREAD for mistakes before posting. I hate to nitpick but it's unprofessional. - 11/13/2009   9:35:32 PM
  • 102
    I will have to try them on to see how they feel. One thing for sure...they are hideous! - 11/13/2009   8:12:49 PM
  • STRAWBERRY*MOON
    101
    I certainly respect everyone's right to choose--even what I believe are bad choices--but I can't help but ask, why do we find more and more gadgets/novelties to spend more and more money on in order to do what our bodies were intended to do--move? What if we gave that $75 to $80 to a charity that truly helps people in need. What if we just moved? - 11/13/2009   7:01:20 PM

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