I’ve been running in Vibram FiveFingers (aka barefoot running) since August 2010. Since I’ve switched, I’ve gotten injured much less, gotten significantly faster, and have developed some crazy calf muscles. I do not believe that Vibram FiveFingers (or other minimalist shoes) are for everyone, but they are certainly for me.
You can read about my first time running in Vibram FiveFingers here, and keep reading below for Q&A/tips on getting started with “barefoot” running!
Does it make your feet hurt to walk on the ground in VFF? No, not at all.
But what if you step on something? Well, watch where you’re going! Every once in a while I’ll hit an acorn or a large rock but I’m pretty good at avoiding those, and little rocks don’t hurt.
Do you have to run differently? Yes. I’ve always been a major heel striker (see blurry, pixelated – sorry! – picture below) and now have to run up on the balls of my feet much more. I’m not running on my tippy toes, but more like a mid-foot strike. And consequently, I’m developing toned calves for the first time in my life! Score!
Does it feel harder to run that way? Surprisingly, no. It’s much less jarring on my body and I feel like I look like the runners I’ve always envied…you know, the ones who look so light on their feet? I pretend I’m a Kenyan runner now instead of a clomper.
What about injuries? Now, I’m no doctor, but I have a feeling my injury rate is going to go way down. Last year while training for a marathon in standard running shoes, I developed issues with my SI joint (located in the lower back/upper butt area). Even after months of physical therapy, I could still feel the ache in my SI joint after a couple miles. However, I haven’t felt ANY pain in my SI joint since I’ve been running in the Vibram Five Fingers. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I don’t strike with my heel anymore, which I think was really jarring and impactful to the SI joint area. I’ve also struggled with IT band problems for over 6 years, and haven’t had any issues since switching to the FiveFingers.
Do your Vibrams provide good arch support? I’ve recently discovered that my right foot has become very flat-footed over time. There is very minimal arch support as you can see below. The bottom is a sort of rubber, flexible sole. However, I have read multiple studies about people who had flat feet and wearing VFF drastically improved their arches. Their feet strengthened from wearing VFF and the arch of their foot developed; they claimed you can “build” arches if you have flat feet and that flat feet are a result of not properly utilizing your feet. Make sense? BUT, obviously check with your doctor since this is all hearsay and I have no personal experience with it.
What if I have weak ankles? Same thing as arches…studies have been done that running barefoot helps strengthen ankles and also reduce foot injuries such a plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendon issues.
Do you still run in your normal running shoes? I did at first (alternating runs or switching to my Asics after 2 miles or so just so I could get in some distance), but now I don’t wear my Asics at all. In fact, after running in Vibrams for about 8 months, I wore Asics for a 3 mile run just on a whim and strained my ankle. My doc said it was likely because I abruptly switched back to Asics after my body had adjusted to the VFF.
So how do I get started? I started wearing them as much as possible, just walking around the grocery store or whatever. Also, I’m always barefoot in my house so I think that helped build the muscles in my feet…running in VFF using the muscles in your feet in a different way than traditional running shoes. When you want to start running in VFF, take it very gradually to avoid injury, particularly stress fractures in your feet and arches. I followed this schedule (approximately):
- Week 1: run ½ mile, 3 times a week on non-consecutive days; I ran Monday, Wed. & Sat)
- Week 2: increase each run to 1 mile, following same schedule
- Week 3: increase each run to 2 miles
- Week 4-6: mid-week runs are around 3-4 miles; I stayed at this distance for a while just to continue to strengthen my feet and calves
- Week 7 and on: mid-week runs stay 3-4 miles, but I’ve started adding one mile to my long run of the week (on Saturdays)
In the beginning weeks, when I wanted to run longer, I switched to my Asics after the initial mileage in the Vibrams. If you want to read about my first-ever run in Vibram FiveFingers, click here.
Do you wear them all winter? If so, how do you keep your feet warm, especially on long runs? How is the traction? Yes, I run in the winter with them. I just wore toe socks made by Injiji. The traction is just like regular running shoes! If it’s icy, be careful as you would in any shoe!
Some of you mentioned that you are crazy blister prone, get blisters at the base of your big toe, etc. Would Injinji socks help with blisters? Injiji socks helped tremendously with my blister issues. I like the lightweight liner ones best.
Do you think there is a maximum mileage for VFFs once you’ve gotten used to them? I have no idea. I would imagine as long as you built up slowly, used good form and listened to your body that there wouldn’t be a “maximum” mileage. But I would think everyone’s personal “max” would vary, regardless of shoe type. Some people will never run more than 5 miles at a time and some will run ultramarathons…so there’s probably never a set-in-stone max, ya know? I’ve run 13.1 in mine.
What surface do you typically run: road or trails? I do most of my running on roads, but I have done some gentle trails and it felt fine in the Sprints. I don’t think the Sprints would be great for hard-core trail running, but you definitely could find another model for it.
So I was wondering–did YOU order your pair online? If so, I’m guessing you got the right size? No fitting problems? Nope, I got mine at a local retailer so I was able to try them on first. If you do order them online, I would suggest a company that has a good return/exchange policy, like REI.
I get nervous the first time doing the plate loaded leg press with them. And I am especially nervous about it this time with VFF. Have you used your VFFs for any kind of strength training? I absolutely love weight training in VFFs. I feel like I have much better balance (particularly on lunges and squats!) and it’s easier for me to correct my form.
Your feet will be sore at first. It’s kind of weird. They don’t necessarily hurt, but they get sore after runs. If you experience pain, definitely take a few days off!
Try to land lightly. You naturally will anyway, but try to make it a conscience effort, especially in the beginning.
[And yes, my header is very out of date. I don't wear Asics anymore A new picture is on my to-do list.]
*Remember, I’m not a doctor or running coach, but am just sharing my experiences. Please check with your own health professional before making changes to your exercise routine and always consult a professional for injury diagnosis and treatment!