July 24, 2009 - 4:54 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
Comments Off on Unshod

So, exactly a month ago I announced my latest experiment, which has been going around either barefoot or the next closest thing- the Vibram Five Fingers that I’d just bought. I also said I’d post a review in a month’s time stating how they were working out. This is that review.

Adjustment period: I had already been padding around the house barefoot whenever possible for two months prior to getting the shoes, so this wasn’t exactly a from-nothing proposition. The only time I percieved any “overuse” pain was after the first of the prescribed workouts that happened to include running, which was a little over a kilometer total; neither my feet nor any of my joints hurt, but I was sure as hell feeling it in my calves and my achilles’ tendons. This is fine; I prefer muscle and connective tissue pain over bone and joint- those tissues adapt faster than bone. This issue did not recur as running-involved WODS recurred- the adaptation was pretty fast. Do bear in mind, though, that I wasn’t running for real distance- I’m still transitioning off “only run when chased or chasing”, and the only “distance” one that came around did so on a day when I was feeling seriously beat up and like I needed more recovery time in general. Pain in all joints has been entirely absent- not that it was really a problem before.

Ironically, the only problematic adjustment for me was just to wearing skin-tight shoes that involved straps and did not involve socks. I got a blister on the back of my heel on the first day of real wear, and had to work around that with moleskin and band-aids while the skin on my heels and ankle toughened up. (Which it now has.) The other problematic part was just getting the things on- this turned out to be a more technically complex skill than it first appeared. I’m at the point where I no longer need to set aside ten minutes to put my “shoes” on, but it still takes me a little longer than lacing up a boot or sneaker would. I expect the gap to narrow over time.

Shoe quality: The soles are *great*- nice and grippy. When I went back over the website and read that the original product conception was for water sports like kayaking, to give people more stability when walking over things like rocky riverbeds, this made sense. They give me a nice launch out of a standing start, too. Don’t drop anything on your feet while wearing these, though- the idea is to give the overall foot more sensitivity and flexibility, and this goal is achieved. If your planned task is often done while wearing steel-toes, wear those instead. The things are designed to be very breatheable, so however the ambient temperature is, that’s how your foot will feel- if it’s hot out, your feet will be warm, and if it’s cold, so will your foot be. Vibram does sell an insulated version if that’s what you want, though.

Claimed benefits: The basic claims that Vibram makes about the benefits of near-barefoot- as the barefoot runners make about completely barefoot- boil down to better balance, more agility/coordination, better proprioception (your sense of where your body is in space), and a better running stride informed by those improvements.

Proprioception- oh god, YES. It’s a minor revelation to have the full sensory feedback from my feet back when I’m out and about and not on carpet. It immediately changed the way I moved, and over the month having my toes regain their individual flexibility and strength instead of functioning more or less as a single stiff unit was new and for the better, too.

Balance: also yes. I’m no gymnast- in fact I’ve always been a fantastic and epic klutz- but there’s been a significant uptick, at least going by the “stand on one leg and hold” test, as well as just whether I need to brace myself to accomplish some chore requiring minor contortions.

Agility/coordination: …Maybe. It’s kind of hard to tell, because of the aforementioned “epic klutz” condition; if much has changed, it’s kind of hard to tell just because the distinction between “horrible” and “awful” isn’t an easy one to perceive, if an improvement from one to the other exists. I will say that I can account for each and every bruise I currently have, which hasn’t always been true in the past, and that I have not tripped over my own feet since wearing them.

Running: I think so. This is again a case of theoretically going from “horrible” to “awful”, but by times I’m faster than I used to be, and I’m also not experiencing any of the pain in my shins, knees, and hips after running days that I used to expect as a matter of course when I was more intensively trying to get good at it. (Before the light dawned on me that I would *always* hate running, and getting better at it would just mean doing something I hated for longer periods over longer distances.) Someone who was *actually* a runner, as opposed to someone who just whined their way out the door to do it when ordered, would be able to give much better data here.

Overall: I love these things, and I wear them everywhere I can socially get away with. Aside from any physical improvement, they’re just plain fun to wear, and that alone would make them keepers for me. I’ll probably buy another pair when these wear out, and may get some of the insulated version if winter proves too chilly for my KSOs. Recommended.

No Responses to “Unshod”

  1. Jim Says:

    I’m glad to learn that they’re working well for you. I have a devil of a time finding a pair that fit – M38 KSOs, might as well ask for a 3 ounce left-threaded jar of pickled chicken lips – but sooner or later I should stumble onto them. Heh.


  2. Dano Says:

    For balance do the following check…

    1) Stand up
    2) Close your eyes
    3) Lift one leg

    You’ll know the answer.

  3. Kristopher Says:

    So … you’re spending more time barefoot and in the kitchen.

  4. Breda Says:

    What if you have a freakishly long second toe? Or only one foot? Also, do you wear toe socks in the winter?

  5. Miz Minka Says:

    I’d love to try these, but my left foot is a half inch longer than my right one, and the Vibran web site warned that it’ll be hard to find a size that fits. No shit, Sherlock.

    Hey Breda, what size is your foot? Maybe I could buy two different sizes and sell you half of one pair. 😉

  6. LabRat Says:

    Let’s see if it will let me enter a comment…

    Breda: the site just says if your second toe is more than 1/6 of an inch longer than your big toe it will be “difficult to get a good fit”, which is the same thing they say for differently sized feet.

    I HAVE a pair of toe socks, but ran into the same difficulty as I did with the shoes initially, which is that apparently my toes are proportionately short- the extra length on the toe sock toes got wadded up in the extra length in the toes and made things uncomfortable.

    I’ll say that for me and apparently others having them be a little too big isn’t really a big deal…

  7. Strings Says:

    Heh… seems the KSOs are the prefered model.

    I have to agree with your assesssment, LabRat: I lurv my Vibrams. I even ignore “socially acceptable”: I’m usually wearing mine, if I’m not on the bike. Yes, even at work…

    I tried a pair of regular toesocks: wasn’t impressed. I ordered a couple pair of the Injinji socks they mention on the Vibram site: they are worth a look. Go to their website (www.injinji.com) for deals…

    Last note: there was a sort of “Five Finger boot” available for awhile, called the Surge. Might be worth looking on Evilbay for (they show up in women’s sizes quite regularly)

  8. Eric Hammer Says:

    I haven’t been following your exercise posts as closely as I could (I hate running too, much less reading about it), so if this has already been addressed, I appologize.

    If you are having pain in your shins, knees and hips while running, it can be caused by the rotation of your feet during the process. A running shoe designed to correct for this can go a very long way to correct the problem, including removing it entirely.
    I had similar issues back when I bothered to run, and while my father was coaching cross country he found that injuries were reduced by a significant percentage (over half) after he arranged for proper fittings for his runners. Around here, a proper fitting meant getting with Terry at Rapid Transit in State College Pa for a fitting, as opposed to wearing whatever Nike or New Balance things people owned at the time.

    I just though I would toss that out there in case you decide those shoes do not do what you want over all.

  9. Caleb Says:

    Man, I want a pair of these so bad. It’s like the perfect IPSC shoe.

  10. Chris Byrne Says:

    Damn… I was hoping these would be a good solution for a sailing/boating/beach shoe, but my second toe is about 1/2″ longer than my big toe.