In 2001, Vibram Inc. initiated the investigation and analysis of a new idea in Milan, Italy. The result was an industry-changing novelty: a sole and shoe that permitted the foot to function and move as nature intended, i.e. barefoot. Five years later, Vibram FiveFingers footwear was released into the fitness market. Vibram FiveFingers therefore defies the model of orthodox footwear. The thin, elastic sole lets the foot curl and flex without obstruction. It literally serves as a ‘second skin’ for your foot. Because of this, every step taken in is an experience in touch, temperature, and biomechanics (as the foot is one of the most sensitive appendages the body possesses).

Since its inception, a lot has transpired in an effort to convey the notion of minimalist running into mainstream culture, like the release of the New York Times bestselling ‘Born to Run’. Such efforts have encouraged many to try these products on and move. 

Certain authorities, like the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary, assert that wearing trainers causes the minute muscles of the feet to weaken, which ultimately influences our normal biomechanics and may make a contribution to knee and hip discomfort. They believe that by reinforcing the musculature of the foot, one can develop one’s natural biomechanics. Even though there isn’t much evidence to suggest that running trainers have enhanced sports performance or decreased rates of injury, there is likewise little indication that running barefoot or in minimalist footwear offers any significant compensations.

Still, growing research indicates that it might be a good idea to give it a try, as people have reported such things as: fewer incidences of periodic ankle sprains, chronic foot damage (like plantar fasciitis), superior agility, less malformed toes, enriched balance (which has facilitated the prevention of other injuries), deterrence of the appearance of varicose veins (due to augmented blood flow in the feet), enhances running technique, stronger foot musculature, and the list goes on.

 

While the thought of minimalist running may be alluring, there are several practical deliberations to make before changing over to Vibram FiveFingers. Here are certain key points to consider:

Take it easy at first, as one’s feet will have become used to typical trainers, arch supports, and cushioning. Because of this, slow adjustments will be necessary to be able to run without these features (and without pain!).
Adding onto the previous point, it may be necessary to build up foot strength, as the flexors and extensors of the feet may be weak from disuse. One ideal way to do this is to walk around the house barefoot, while simultaneously ‘moving’ the toes, feet, ankles. It may be best to start on soft surfaces before attempting to run on something as hard as solid concrete!
As a matter of fact, the manufacturers of Vibram FiveFingers have a five-step programme for making the jump to minimalist-style running that is both educational and fun.
It is also important to note that there are benefits to running with trainers that cannot be found without them, namely: the avoidance of injuries from treading on glass, rocks and sharp objects, striding on sewage, animal waste, and the like, and it is still more socially

conventional to walk in public with footwear rather than without them.

Although minimalist, barefoot running cannot address the benefits just mentioned of typical trainer use, there can be some paybacks to using Vibram FiveFingers. Many of the injuries caused by restriction of movement from trainers are eliminated by their use, while also encouraging proper running technique. One last point to make before deciding to make your first purchase is that you must try them on first, as the size will impact the efficacy of the movement as well as the comfort of use. Either way, if you are looking to add some diversity to your running training, then adding minimalist footwear to your arsenal of running trainers is a great way to accomplish this, and provides an entirely new dynamic to the art of running!

 

Bibliography

Barefoot Running Shoes — Research and Learn about Barefoot Running Shoes.” Barefoot Running Shoes — Research and Learn about Barefoot Running Shoes. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://barefootrunningshoes.org/>.

McDougall, Christopher. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. New York: Vintage, 2011.

Nigg, Benno M. Barefoot Shoes; Energy Return & Future Shoe Development. Footwear Science, 1942-4299, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Supplement 1, 01 June 2009, 80-82. 

Reuter, Ben. Developing Endurance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2012. 67-75.

“Vibram FiveFingers: Barefoot Running Benefits: Pain From Running.” Vibram FiveFingers: Barefoot Sports Shoes: Toe Shoes & Minimalist Shoes. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/barefoot-sports/barefoot_running.htm>.