Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wearing the Vibram Five Fingers

"Are they comfortable?" is the first question that people ask when they see my shoes. Surprisingly, it's not an easy question to answer. I've been wearing my Vibram Five Fingers for about two months now and they garner a lot of attention. I have had many conversations with friends and stranger about my shoes, so let me share my story.

At the beginning of the summer, I was downsizing and packing all the possessions in my house. This involved a lot of walking around the house, and going up and down the stairs, which I did in bare feet. When I started venturing out of the house again and wearing shoes, I started having back pain. I realized that my body was no longer used to wearing shoes. This was my big chance to try barefoot shoes. I had seen people in my yoga class with Five Fingers, and I had heard an interview with the author of, "Born to Run," a book about how shoes may be harming runners. One of the theories is that all the extra cushioning in running shoes encourages a more powerful heel strike, which leads to injuries.

So, back to the question, "Are they comfortable?" Yes. Very. Now.

Barefoot shoes provide almost no support. They're essentially soles with fabric to hold them on your feet. This is radically different from the shoes that we are used to wearing. If someone switched overnight from wearing runners to wearing high-heeled shoes, there would be no surprise that they would be uncomfortable. Even people who add orthotics to their shoes are told to start wearing them one hour per day and increase by an hour each day.

Even though I was used to going barefoot around the house, I wasn't used to walking down concrete sidewalks at high speed. I now walk with a shorter stride, use my knees earlier in the stride, and recruit many more muscles to reduce impact. The net result is I am developing an arch! My feet have been getting progressively flatter over the years and it's nice to see this trend reversing. I had seen some improvement from doing yoga, but this was much more dramatic. All in all, it seems to me to be a much healthier way of walking. They're very comfortable now and I have even run after my kids in them. I'm not looking forward to the cold weather then I need something with insulation.

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