My Take on the Vibram FiveFingers Running Shoes

After I finished reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, I bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes. I have been running in them now for five weeks. I am loving them. The only negative is that I am continuously having to explain them to curious strangers. In fact, three people stopped me today in the space of three miles.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO

As a result, I thought it would be helpful to share my responses to the nine most common questions I get. If you’re thinking about buying a pair, maybe this will help you.

  1. Why do you run in those things? Because I like running barefoot. However, I can’t always run on safe terrain. Running in the Vibram FiveFingers is as close as you can get to running barefoot and still have some protection. They provide a thin layer of rubber than keeps you from getting cut or bruised on sharp rocks or glass.
  2. Why would you want to run barefoot? Twenty-five percent of all your bones are in your feet. Your feet are a marvel of biological engineering. They are designed to adjust your stride, distribute your weight, and minimize the impact on your joints—on the fly. Unfortunately, when you encase them in modern running shoes, your feet lose contact with the ground. They don’t adjust. They aren’t free to do what they were made to do.
  3. But aren’t running shoes designed to provide cushion and prevent injuries? Yes, but according to McDougall, despite supposedly huge improvement in shoe technology, 70 percent of all runners get injured every year. This number has not decreased in decades. Interestingly, running injuries were very rare until the invention of the modern running shoe in 1972. McDougall claims, there is a direct correlation between running shoes and running injuries. In fact, the more expensive the shoe, the more likely you are to be injured and the more severe your injury will be.
  4. But all the running magazines advocate the super expensive, super advanced shoes. Why? Follow the money. Running shoes are a $15 billion industry. The companies that make these shoes are not going to admit that their product is the problem rather than the solution. These same companies advertise in the running magazines. The magazines can rate the various shoes and write reviews, but they can’t challenge the whole premise behind the shoes without flushing the bulk of their revenue stream.
  5. But they look so bizarre. Aren’t you embarrassed to wear them? Yes, they look weird. My kids say they look like “gorilla feet.” I was initially embarrassed, but I got over it. When people make fun of me now, I tell them, “ridicule is the last stage you go through before you order a pair!” I have several friends now running in them who initially laughed.
  6. Can you run as far in your FiveFingers as you can with traditional running shoes? Not yet. So far, the longest I have run in them is 3.5 miles. Regardless, even if you are a seasoned runner, you must start slowly. Your feet have essentially been encased in casts for years. You will be using muscles you never knew you had. Some of your muscles have atrophied. I recommend that you run no more than half a mile at first and gradually increase. However, I am on-track to run a full half marathon in them in November.
  7. Which model of the FiveFingers do you like best? I initially bought the Classic. They are the easiest to get on and off. However, after my son-in-law bought the KSOs, I decided to go with those. “KSO” stands for “keep stuff out.” They just feel better to me. This is totally subjective and “your mileage may vary.”
  8. Do you really think you will stick with them? Only time will tell. I am admittedly an early adopter. I love new stuff. I try things for a while, and then I discard them. That’s just my personality. That’s why I haven’t blogged about the Vibrams until now. I wanted to give them a month and see if I still liked them. I do, but that could change. Caveat emptor.
  9. Where did you buy your Vibrams? I bought mine on the Vibram FiveFingers web site. It was totally self-service. I got them in about three days. However, they do distribute them through some retail outlets. For example, Cumberland Transit in Nashville carries them. You can check their store locator for a local retailer in your area.

If you are a runner, I think the FiveFingers merit serious consideration, particularly if you have been prone to injuries and tried everything else. If you are still not convinced, I would urge to read Born to Run. Even if you don’t buy into running barefoot, it is still one of the best running books I have read.

Question: Do you have the Vibrams? Are you running in them? What has been your experience? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Bryan D.

    I bought a pair of Vibram Bakila LS last Summer in an attempt to improve my running consistency; after dropping what they cost to get ‘em I was motivated to run. After the first few uses I was practically incapacitated due to atrophied calves and jumping right into my usual 1.5 mile run. Nearly a year later and I’m running 3.5 miles in them 3 times a week on an inclined treadmill and I suffer only occasional soreness in my shins and knees. They took some getting used to but my 1.5 mile run time is now my best ever and I actually look forward to PT tests.

  • http://twitter.com/DeafMom Karen Putz

    I love my Vibrams! I wear them everywhere– they’re the most comfortable athletic shoes that I’ve ever owned. I’m a barefoot water skier and occasionally I will barefoot water ski with them on so I can stay up longer on the water. 

  • CFR3

    Inspired by the book, Born to Run, I bought a pair and took to the woods. I’ve returned to tell the tale. They felt great.

  • Timwiford

    I bought Vibrams after participating in an Olympic Tri-athlon last year.  I started slowly mostly walking and hiking in them. 1 year later I am running farther and faster than I have in years. Used to be that whenever I ran I would have lower back pain.  No more.  I hardly even think of it now.  Highly recommend Vibram’s and highly suggest starting slowly.  

  • http://www.thegeezergadgetguy.com/ Thad Puckett

    After reading this post I started planning to buy Vibram’s FiveFinger shoes.  I finally got them yesterday.

    After reading this post I wonder why I chose to run 1.5 miles in them the first day.  Though  have been running for over 6 years (started in my mid 40s), I feel this morning like that 1.5 miles was the first time I had run anywhere.  

    Oh my aching calfs.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Ouch Thad! I know how you feel. I went from traditional shoes to the Merrell Trail Gloves(another barefoot type of shoe) and couldn’t believe how much they made me hurt. I had to learn to pay attention to my body and let it tell me when I’ve pushed too far. Good luck and congratulations on joining the minimalist family!

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  • http://www.ramblinlambwellness.com/ Nancy Lamb

    Hey Michael, 
     I read the book and was totally motivated.  I have so many problems with my feet it’s annoying. I love to run and due to achilles tendonitis and a neuroma,I haven’t been able to maintain a program for years. Thanks to a doctor who decided that he’d sew two toes together (it was not planned,nor was it with my approval, but it’s 30 years past)  I can’t wear 5 fingers. What do you think of Merrel’s line of barefoot shoes?  They are the same conept minus the ‘fingers”Nancy

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      There are a number of minimalist shoes on the market now. I have the Merrell’s and like them. My favorites at the moment are the Saucony Kinvara 2. (I linked to the women’s version for you.) Hope that helps.

  • samra aziz

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  • http://twitter.com/geofflittle Geoffrey Little

    Michael.  I got my first pair today.  This was the first post I ever read of yours years ago – my first introduction to you.  When I am stopped by curious Nashvillians about the gorilla feet, I will refer them to your blog, and mention Platform, and they will think you are a podiatrist. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s hilarious!

  • Janet

    I’ve been running in Brooks PureFlows for 4 weeks and am up to 4 miles as a long run. A running store here in Des Moines, Iowa, does a video gait analysis and brought out 3 minimalist shoes for me to try on their treadmill.  The Brooks PureFlows matched my style, I have strong, neutral arches, not a pronator.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1494445710 Kiara Ashanti

    I now wear mine when I WANT to get comments from strangers. lol it is so funny to me.

  • The.Doctors.Dilemma

    Would you recommend five fingers to a new runner?  When I say I’m new to running I’m not kidding- I’m still working on comfortably running 1 mile. I’ve never liked shoes of any kind and am familiar, as well as very into, the idea of barefoot running.  Do you think it’s a good idea to run barefoot, or in vibrams, as beginner- thereby skipping (as I see it) the bad running habits forced by running in sneakers? Or do I need to become accustomed to running before I try this approach?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I really can’t advise you on that, because I don’t know enough about your situation. I would recommend you go to a good running store and talk to someone there. Thanks.

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  • Sean

    A long time ago in a land far away…when I was in my teens while beginning training for my initial run at a  marathon, I discovered that the ‘pain’ in my feet was easily relieved by running my last two training miles barefoot. 

    I also used to reduce the discomfort by playing other sports in bare feet as well. 

    Today, while I am no longer a committed long distance runner, I walk everywhere I can often putting in ten or more miles a day and I LIVE in my Five Fingers. Nothing compares and my old back pain which was not resolved by surgery, has disappeared too. Bye bye Chiropractor visits and stomach eating anti-inflammatory meds. Traditional running shoes don’t just promote issues with your feet, but ankles, knees, hips, back etc. too (the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone…) and I have had a long history of all these problems after 40 years of serious high level sporting activity. I even sleep better now!

    The first thing I ask anyone who ‘scoffs’ is, “Do you have back problems?” and that changes the whole conversation.

    And you know what..it’s kinda cool be in touch with the ground beneath my feet, somehow I seem to be more aware of the world around me when I am more in tune with Mother Earth, and I’m not even trying to be more in tune with Her, even if She’s a cement sidewalk…it almost makes sense!

    Five Fingers, they aren’t just for runners. 

    Peace, Love, Granola, and Five Fingers!

  • Kyle

    Brought a pair of the treksports 3 weeks ago. Haven’t really run in them, but I have scuba dived and climbed up the Dunns River falls in them. They have taken a good beating. Great product. Thank for the blog about unplugging on vacation as I did that as well while in jamaica. Thanks.

  • Graham Scharf

    I ran in Vibram TrekSports for a year, about 15-30 miles a week. Needless to say, I wore through the soles. I replaced them with a pair of New Balance Minimus trail shoes, and realized that the Vibrams have the genuine advantage in lack of foot slip (especially when wet or descending hills) that you just can’t achieve without toed shoes. I’ll be switching back to the Vibrams for running . . .

  • John Fritsche

    Here is a video showing the difference between running in shoes and barefoot.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrnj-7YKZE 

    I have been running in my Vibram KSOs for about 2 years. I recently completed the 11 mile Tough Mudder and the advantage gained by training in Vibrams was massive. The strength and endurance in my calf and shin muscles was evident while running up the large hills and sprinting through a majority of the course. They also work great for surfing. I definitely recommend them.

  • John

    Thanks for your review!  My wife has a pair and she loves them.  I have the New Balance Minimus which is a step closer to Five Fingers, but I haven’t committed to buying the Five Fingers yet!  I have run a half marathon in them and continue to prefer them as my running shoe.  Five fingers may be next!!

  • tj

    I agree wholeheartedly!

  • Brandon Frye

    I appreciate your article. I have been running in the Bikila LS for the last 2 months or so and I am growing to love them. I am still in the transitioning phase but hope to finish a full marathon with them in on May 4th. I loved “Born to Run” too. Here’s my full review of the shoes
    http://www.forkstofeet.com/2013/03/vibram-fivefinger-bikila-ls-review.html

  • zhoubachi

    I have been using vibrams for about 4 years now and I LOVE them. I actually cannot wear any other running shoes now. they are so much more comfortable and i have never had any injuries or pains with them

  • carlos

    I have the Bikila and the Spyridon.
    My 1st run on the bikilas was a 4 mile, my foot hurt after the first 3 miles.
    This happened for the 1st 2 weeks i had to train with a reg. training shoe and leave the short rec sessions to the bikilas.
    After those 2 weeks i bought the spyridon, my 1st run was a 6 miler at the trails with no problem.
    So after that i ditched the reg shoes and started to train exclusively with the bikilas on pavement and spyrido at the trails.
    I average 30 miles per week, i also cross train during the week.
    My longest runs have been 9 miles on the bikilas and 12 miles on the Spyridon.
    I love them no knee, back, hip soreness at all.

    I have used my dad´s seeyas a couple of times and i find them great for tempo runs, but they hurt my feet at easy pace or while warm up /cool off. I see them strictly as a racing shoe, at least for me.

    I have been temted to use the bikilas as reg. shoes since i feel so good in them so i have even been thinking of buying the kso as reg street shoes and the kmd as gym crossfit shoes and ditch all my other shoes.

  • Clane Squord

    I bought the KSO TREKSPORT ones, and so did my husband. I first experienced
    a fair bit of pain in my right foot, by the two middle toes. But that disappeared
    quickly.

    The difference with these vibram shoes compared to proper outdoors shoes for
    hiking, running, is that it stretches your muscles in your calves (since you
    walk flatter on the ground) as well as your muscles in your ankles and the
    arches in your feet (since you now can feel every surface, whether it be rocky,
    sandy, grass, twigs and branches etc) and adjust instinctively to keep balance
    as well as become more agile. They also allow you to be more mobile around the
    ankle, again helping in keeping your balance, but also helping in strengthening
    those muscles in your ankles. Initially, you will endure a fair bit of pain in
    the calves on your first run, despite you thinking you aren’t doing bad and you
    could potentially run even further. So don’t go for your normal run (most of
    vibram shoes aren’t designed for just walking) or perhaps hike! You will, I promise,
    feel it the next day (and after)!

    I was particularly paranoid about how I looked with them on, but after a few
    times, especially when you get used to them and don’t notice them anymore in
    terms of feeling, I just forgot about them and didn’t pay any attention anymore
    to what people might be thinking or pointing at…

    My conclusion: I love them and can tell you they definitely will do you a
    lot of good! Enjoy the weird experiences walking through sand, mud, gravel,
    grass, moss, twigs, etc. Be aware of rocks, i.e. be agile and consider where
    you put your feet, remember that you will feel everything now! I talk from
    experience, sadly enough! Although kicking a rock hard will be the quickest way
    to learn! Have fun!

  • mhsutton

    Actually I don’t run in mine because I’m not a runner. But I only wear vibrams – everyday and everywhere. I cycle and do yoga and other exercises in them. I also go to work in mine.

    They are – by a long way – the most comfortable and naturally feeling footwear I have ever had and I cannot imagine ever wearing anything else. Occasionally I wear Converse sneakers – but that is often out of necessity than need.

    Sure they look interesting and I love that too – it becomes an attractor for people to strike up a conversation – I’ve had many. A few have led to pretty good friendships. In fact, my asking a peer at a conference about his pair led me to becoming a lifelong fan. Awesome brand marketing that isn’t marketing!

    My favorite are the bright orange KSOs and I have a pair of the deep brown kangaroo leather ones too – for more formal occasions.

    Funny name too ;-)

  • http://www.nateanglin.com/ Anwell Steve

    I believe most people are really curious about this gear because it’s obvious that it’s an uncommon footwear. But, everyone should really be aware what Vibram FiveFingers are and the benefit they could get from it.

  • Reinesch Ralph (blog on Wpres)

    Hy i started running with the FF Model Bikila in 2010 and since February with the Trek modell. I usually run my 10km races in 38m and the half marathon in 1h24m. So i can only confirm that the FF is the way people should take if they want to increase strengh an diminish the risk to get an injury while running

  • Amy Appleton

    I have had a pair for over 2 years and love them. Yes, many questions from curious people. My kids call them duck feet. However, I increased my speed in them because they forced me out of old bad habits. I have only run up to 6 miles in them. So far they only thing I can’t do in them is a spin bike because they are not stiff enough. Looking forward to many more funny looks on the running trails and gym!

  • JT Humes

    After a double hip replacement several years ago I haven’t been running, but I walk several miles almost every day. Started with the Vibrams a couple of weeks ago. So far, so good. (and i have started to jog a little because they feel so good).

  • stewadc

    I have had my vibram for about a year. I started wearing them around the house as they suggested. From there I started wearing them in the gym to my exercise classes, interval training. Just resently I started running on the tread mill with them. Everything is working out great. The vibram I bought were for the gym. I want to investigate buying a pair to run outside to see what the difference is.

  • kevin

    Many folks are disappointed that switching to VFFs or Xero shoes or Frees, etc. either doesn’t seem to fix Plantar Fasciitis/fasciosis, or seems to make it actually worse.

    Take heart. You are doing the right thing by switching to non-restricting, unpadded shoes; it’s just that either you are over-correcting your stride (due to all kinds of dire warnings), or you are failing to address the real causes of the PF.

    Start here. It’s not exclusively the case, but it’s often the case that plantar problems are accompanied by out-turning of the feet. Do you waddle a bit when you walk, or do your toes naturally point straight to the front when you walk without thinking about it? Try walking naturally in shallow snow, or wet sand, or any surface that retains the imprint of your foot… then look back.

    Consider that the plantar fascia anchor in several places, but the longitudinal arch anchors at the metatarsals in the forefoot, and at the bottom/back of the heel… but that anchor-point on the heel is also where your Achilles tendon anchors your calves. If your calves are tight, there’s a constant tension/pre-tension on your plantar fascia. If your calves are tight, your heel can’t stay on the ground as long as it should, at the back of your stride. Your foot corrects for that early heel-lift by turning your toes out (over-pronation).

    Meanwhile, your calf muscles anchor at their other ends, up around your knees, some of the gristly bits attaching just below the knee, others wrapping higher.

    Just above the knee, the muscles of the thigh are affected by what is below them (calves) and what is above them (hips, glutes, psoas, erector and rotational muscles of the hip and lower back, etc.).

    It’s a chain, and all the parts affect each other. When one part gets out of whack, the others shift to compensate. But that also means that you can’t easily fix one part of the chain, because the other parts are now heavily invested in maintaining the wonky status quo and tend to undo any fix you apply to just a single component.

    If you are like the majority of people, you spend the majority of your working life sitting, or maybe standing fairly still… but sitting is more likely. Then you sit to eat, sit to watch TV, sit to Tweet and Facebook and blog. . . Doesn’t matter that you do a few hours of exercise during the week. That cumulative sitting does terrible things to your back (it did mine), but it also tightens your hips and restricts their range and mobility, which puts a strain down the whole chain, to your feet. Sitting weakens the glutes and encourages the psoas to take over most of the function that the glutes should be doing. Overusing the psoas puts strain on the lower back and often impinges on the sciatic nerve. An impinged sciatic nerve can cause pain in back and down the legs, but it also STIMULATES the muscles that it innervates, causing them to be slightly “on” all the time. That “pre-tensions” the hamstrings and calves, which gets back to the plantar fascia. Viscious circle.

    So, the first TAKEAWAY is that switching to zero-rise (no raised heel), toe-freeing, unpadded shoes is a good thing, but you need to address the whole chain.

    The other issue is that people switching to VFFs or Xeros or Frees or…. are direly warned to change their stride and NEVER, EVER heelstrike. Actually, you should. Not when you are running, but when you walk. Running with your feet landing under you (as you are supposed to do) solves any heelstrike problem while your exercise. But you walk, too. If you try the same solution while walking, you find yourself doing this tiny, mincing stride that’s both embarrassing and ineffective (you don’t go very fast – little people with short legs can leave you in the dust, just walking). So, to avoid heel-strike, but still walk at a decent speed, you reach out in front, but you point your toes. Soon, your calves are tight like pieces of wood, and your plantar fascia are screaming. Most likely your feet turn out when you walk.
    The solution, when your are walking is to touch first with your heels, but just avoid letting it be a “strike”. Make it a gentle, controlled, modulated heel-arrival.

    When running, heel-strike is to be avoided.
    When walking, heel-first landing in VFFs, Xeros, etc. is fine and expected. Just train yourself to be gentle, and your feet will thank you.

    My story is that switching to VFF and Xero shoes is curing Morton’s Neuroma in both feet. But my overthought overstriding when walking in the unpadded shoes (reaching to make my forefoot land in front of me) actually did make Plantar Fasciitis/fasciosis worse, until I figured out what was wrong.

    Reference Kelly Starrett, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width, stick your bum out slightly, and descend into a deep squat. First, if you can’t do it, there’s a mobility problem to address. Next, if you can get into the wide-stance squat, but your feet want to turn out, that’s a tightness somewhere in the foot/calf/ham/butt/psoas chain that needs fixing. If your feet also want to roll inward, collapsing your arches, to let you stay in a low squat, that’s another indication of tightness further up.

    Try just getting into the squat, and putting your elbows against the insides of your knees, to push the knees out until your shins are vertical (the knees not tipped in toward each other). Just holding that squat for a few minutes every day will help loosen the legs and hips and therefore help with the calves and feet.

    Enjoy the VFFs…… oh, final word – if you can’t wear merino-wool toe-socks in them, then throw a cup of ordinary vinegar in the washing machine when you (frequently) launder your VFFs; it will help with the stink. Soap/detergent, too, but the vinegar as an anti-stink additive. Helps. Wearing wool helps prevent…….

  • Linda M Au

    I assume you’ve seen the latest about the Vibram settlement…. Story here: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/05/vibram-required-to-stop-all-health-claims-about-its-fivefinger-shoes/

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Actually, I just heard about it for the first time today. Thanks for providing the link.
      I stopped wearing Vibram’s a few years ago. Though I didn’t have any trouble with them, I didn’t like wearing them in cold weather.

  • Chiquituno

    I am the President of the Washington Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society. I have run barefoot for many years. And I mean barefoot. I also own Vibrams and use them occasionally on really sharp terrain, but they are minimalist shoes. Many of my group members do not run barefoot, but run in minimalist shoes. I do both and our group, although called “barefoot runners” welcomes both. But there is a difference in running with your skin in contact with the ground or in flat shoes that allow your forefoot to strike first.

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  • Lynn

    I’ve been running in the for just over a year and I love them (the KSO). Most comfortable shoes I ever had. Plus when I hike in them it’s like being a mountain goat, able to cling to boulders when scrambling up and down them! Literally cannot run in regular running shoes because of constant small but significant injuries. Yay for minimalist!