Vibram Five Fingers: Minimalist Running Shoes And The Hype

Let me start this post by saying that this is not a sponsored post. I bought these myself and wanted to share some hard, objective data with you to potentially help you with your own weight loss/fitness journey!

A few months ago when I reignited my fitness journey, one of the first conscious decisions I made was to take a risk and try something different. I have very flat feet and have been wearing orthotics for the past decade… ever since I stopped my intense training in the martial arts. With my arches so flat, I always felt at the end of the day like I had been walking around Disneyland for the past 13 hours; even if I hadn’t walked that much. So, I sought out a podiatrist and began looking into picking up some prescription orthotics. Eventually, I picked up a pair and it was heavenly! Though it was pretty harsh walking on plastic footbeds (with padding on them), my feet weren’t sore like they were before. That is how I was fixing the problem of dealing with my flat footedness. Conventional wisdom. Conventional medicine. Like I said though, this time around I was going to try something new.

Minimalist Shoes and the Hype

Back to present day: When I decided that it was time to do better, it wasn’t a whim that lead me to the notion of going with barefoot running and minimalist running shoes. I’d heard about VFF’s, as they’re called by the minimalist faithful, roughly two years earlier and had been following the research and headlines off and on since then. They looked pretty cool (I have a thing for camo) and at the time I first found them I was looking for water shoes not knowing that Vibrams were so much more than that. So, the day I decided I was getting back into shape I immediately ran out to REI and picked up a pair of Vibram Five Fingers’ TrekSports. It was love at first run! My calves were sore but I could feel them getting stronger and as an added bonus, I could actually see them getting stronger. There was just one nagging concern in the back of my head… hype. One of the claims of the barefoot and minimalist running evangelists is that running shoes actually weaken arches and the supporting muscles in your feet and by running the way that nature intended, you will actually strengthen those atrophied muscles. A large part of my decision to go the minimalist route was various posts I’d read by large guys like myself who were now running without shin splits or knee or hip pain, thanks to Vibrams. I was 250lbs and figured that if other 250 or 300lb guys were seeing results then it was probably not too far fetched that I could as well.

Vibram Five Fingers and the Foot Scanner

Being the nerd I am, anecdotal evidence wasn’t enough for me. I decided that around the 3 or 4 month mark I would have my feet rescanned to see if my new running posture (I’ve been using the Pose method), which I attribute to the wearing of the VFFs, had yet effected the muscles in my feet for the better. That meant that I should also see an improvement in my arches. During this time I also wore my VFFs at work, for short walks around the neighborhood and to work out in. In other words, I practically lived in them. They’re so comfortable that I wanted to wear them all the time! The only time I didn’t wear them was when summer got into full swing and I started wearing flip flops. This week, I went and had my feet rescanned, the results of that scan are below, along with my baseline scan which shows how my feet looked prior to wearing VFFs.

The scan above is my baseline scan. This is what my feet looked like after having worn prescription orthotics. I wish I had scans from before I began wearing the orthotics, but I don’t. The right side of the page shows what healthy feet should look like and the left are mine.The dark areas of my foot are where the most pressure is being placed on the contact surface. Notice how different the arch on my right foot looks than the left? My right arch is pretty collapsed, which means the left side of my body is doing more work. This can lead to lower back pain (and it has), very tight thigh muscles (IT band issues) and sore, tired feet. I’ve experienced all of the above.

This scan shows my feet today. Notice how balanced my arches are now? That’s because my right foot actually has an arch now! I thought it was a pretty dramatic difference myself. I could’ve had the doc send my scans to the lab to have them pour over them with precision and give me hard data for the improvements in my arch, but I figured I’d save the doc and myself the expense since the pictures are fairly striking. I can tell you that I’ve been running now for four months, averaging 3-5 miles a week, and have had no shin splits, no lower back pain and no running associated knee pain (they’ve been a little tender but that’s because I’ve also been doing a lot of squats).

So, there you have it! Let me make one thing clear though. I’m always asked by people, “how do you like your Five Fingers?” I tell them that I love them and how much better I “feel” having worn them but I’m also careful to let them know that the shoes themselves aren’t a “magic bullet.” Vibram Five Fingers didn’t do this to my feet, running with no cushion, on the balls of my feet like a sprinter did this to my feet. Walking around in them all the time, did this to my feet. Not pushing myself too hard and injuring my feet (people are seeing instances of plantar fascitis and top of foot injuries from overuse) did this. The shoes, as awesome as they are, were the catalyst for all of this though. If I hadn’t stumbled upon the site while looking for water shoes years ago, I may not have stumbled upon the barefoot and minimalist running movement and added one of the most important tools in my fitness journey to my toolbox.

About Tshaka Armstrong

Tshaka Armstrong is the husband to one awesome wife, dad to three awesome children. On any given day you may find him posting internet & tech family safety info here and on his personal blog, or chatting with his tweeps when he's not dadvocating here. Join in the conversation, drop a line, share a joke and join him in encouraging each other to be awesome!