Two Weeks With the Vibram FiveFingers

For the last couple of weeks, I've been sporting a pair of Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport. I tend to get mid-foot and rear-foot pain (my plantar and my heal) once tennis season starts, and since I started standing much of my day and working out four or more times a week, it's been getting worse.

A couple of trainers and a massage therapist recommended them to me, so I thought I'd try them out. I went over to Fleet Feet (which I can't recommend enough, by the way, in terms of professional knowledge and personal attention) and gave them a try.

They take some time to put on the first time (I also tried the Bikila, which have a harder top, making them even more difficult to put on), and they feel odd, since our toes don't tend to spend much time spread out.

The point of the shoes is to make your body operate essentially like you're barefoot. There's no ankle support nor arch support, and depending on the model, there is varying amount of tread (the TrekSport has a really good tread on it, and I'm not worried about slipping on anything). They're machine washable (but not machine dry-able, since rubber melts), which is pretty awesome, too. I've noticed a bunch of things.

Standing posture. I'm standing more on the ball of my feet, like I do when I'm barefoot at home. Doing that eliminates a lot of slouching, since that would throw me off balance. It means I'm standing up straighter.

Walking. I don't love walking in them, but I don't mind. I tend to be a careless, wandering walker, and with these shoes, I need to be a little more careful about what I'm stepping on and how I'm landing. Which is probably a good thing, just it's a lifestyle change – a pretty big one, it turns out.

Running. They change my whole running style, which for me was the primary thing I was seeking. The sports I play (tennis, racquetball, softball) require short, quick bursts from a standstill, along with changing direction. I'm running more front-foot and mid-foot now instead of rear-foot, which means that the optimal starting posture is something of a squat. And if you're standing up and figuring out what I'm talking about, you're recognizing that the start comes from your glutes (your butt), rather than from your quads and knees, which is where the initial push comes from if you're starting on your heal. Strictly speaking, I'm a little faster, my foot's in less pain, and I'm working on building up my glutes, because, to be crass about it, my ass cheeks were sore for the first three or four days.

Machines. I don't mind these on the stationary bike, but I don't like them on treadmills (even walking) or other elliptical-style machines. I feel like I want more ankle support. I tend to prefer the bike and running on the track anyway.

Reaction. Some people hate these things. Mostly they're people who understand, from an athletic perspective, why one would wear them, but who have an aesthetic dislike for them. Fair enough. Then there are the people who have actually stopped me in stores to ask about what's on my feet. This is cool, as long as you're not in a hurry.

Recommendation

If you're thinking about getting a pair (or 2 or 3 – they have a bunch of models with varying purposes), first decide what they would do for you, then consult people who understand those things. Go to a local shop and try them out. In Syracuse, Fleet Feet even has a treadmill they'll let you hop on (in fact, if you've never been before, or haven't been in a while, they'll put you on the treadmill to see how you run).