That Does What?!: Vibram FiveFingers
What are they? Vibram FiveFingers are minimalist athletic shoes that look almost sock-like and have individual compartments for each toe. The interesting looking footwear is designed to mimic the feel of training barefoot, allowing for better contact with the ground, yet also protecting your feet from abrasion with a thin rubber sole.
Where you may have seen them You’ve likely seen people sporting Vibram FiveFingers while strength training in the gym, running outdoors or even casually walking through the airport, mall or grocery store.
How to use them Vibram FiveFingers can be worn while performing a variety of activities, from running to water sports. There are a number of different models offered for specific athletic pursuits, along with a variety of multi-use styles for those who tend to favor a cross-training shoe.
Are they worth it? Ranging in price from $75.00 to $150.00, and with styles designed for a variety of activities, from casual wear to fitness to multi-use models, Vibram FiveFingers are on par with most other athletic shoes from a cost prospective. They're also versatile from a cross-training standpoint. Because of their flexible design, stretch mesh, and antimicrobial microfiber, these shoes are both water-resistant and machine washable, making it easy to keep them looking (and smelling) like new.
However, one downside is that it takes time to get acclimated to wearing minimalist shoes, especially while running. An ACE-sponsored study that looked at one of the running specific models, Vibram FiveFingers' Bikila, found that even with detailed instruction and practice, many subjects struggled to adopt the appropriate running style (running with more of a forefoot strike) while wearing the Vibrams. Study subjects continued utilizing a rear-foot strike, which results in a higher rate of loading due to the lack of heel cushioning. Researchers also noted that while running in these sheos, individuals tended to show greater pronation in the ankle, which can potentially lead to some overuse injuries.
On a positive note, the same study found that individuals who switched to a forefoot strike while wearing Vibrams (as well as while running barefoot) exhibited greater flexion at the ankle, allowing for better absorption of the impact forces of running. Also, while wearing these shoes and also when barefoot, all subjects exhibited less knee flexion while running, which is associated with lower injury rates.
Overall the best piece of advice for those planning to run in Vibram FiveFingers or other minimalist shoes is to start by first walking in the shoes. This will allow your body time to get acclimated. From there, gradually ease into running, focusing on landing lightly on the forefoot. Also try wearing FiveFingers while performing other activities, like strength training orrunning errands, while your feet get used to the feel.
For more tips on how to safely and effectively wear barefoot-style shoes and to see Vibram FiveFingers in action, check out this ACE video!
Jessica Matthews is an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. As a contributor to The Juice Bar, she'll be giving you the scoop on the latest fitness classes, decoding newfangled gym equipment, debunking exercise myths, and more.
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