It has been a month now since I bought the Vibram FiveFinger shoes, so I figured it was a good time to reflect on some of the conclusions I have come to. I plan on continuing to incorporate wearing these shoes as often as it makes sense to and also to explore the option of wearing no shoes at all, so…. “stay tuned”.
When a person runs in a traditional running shoe, they usually land on their heel first. This transfers a stronger impact force up through the ankle, knee, hip and back than a runner who lands more in the middle of their foot (i.e. midfoot). This is one reason why there are so many proponents of barefoot running… less impact. When a person runs barefoot, they can’t get away with landing on the heel and therefore land more in the middle of the foot and almost “tip-toe” as they run. Running this way reduces the chances of certain types of injuries, especially bone and joint injuries but the amount of strength and demand on muscles that running in this style can cause a whole separate set of injuries, typically those involving muscles and tendons.
Another thing that I have learned is that maintaining the form required to land with a midfoot stance is a real challenge. The tendency while running barefoot is for your feet to spend as little a time as possible on the ground, which leads to a leaping and bounding stride. This is actually a very comfortable and fun form of running, the problem is that it requires a lot of energy and is tough for the average person to sustain. If your form starts to degrade due to fatigue, that’s the time that injuries happen.
Up to this point I can’t get away with putting the FiveFInger’s on to go for a short walk (never mind a hike or run) and expect my gait to leave my feet pain free. I have to consciously walk in a way that keeps my foot from pronating too much and my heel off the ground, and when my feet get tired I need to stop wearing those shoes quickly to prevent the musculature in the bottom half of my leg and foot from really tightening up on me. The best practice that I have come up with so far is to treat my fivefinger shoes as sort of “training wheels” for running. I use what I have learned from wearing them and attempt to duplicate a barefoot running form while wearing my traditional running shoes. This gives me the option to “rest” a little by using a heelstrike-first gait until I recover enough to continue running as if I didn’t have shoes on at all.
I have learned of people decreasing their injuries from running by skipping the traditional running shoe and going barefoot (or wearing the fivefinger shoes), but more often than not, I come across people who have been unsuccessful with integrating them into their lives and sometimes even end up with injuries. My advice to someone who is thinking of taking a minimalist approach to running footwear is to do so very, very gradually. Listen to your body and give your feet support when they need it. When you are wearing your “during-the-day” shoes, be sure that they are providing adequate support so that you will be able to spend a little time with very little support at all.