Adjusting to Vibram FiveFingers

The post below, from Vagabond,  is an honest portrayal of an active person getting into his Vibram FiveFingers for the first time. Call it a review. Call it a journal. Call it whatever you want, but it’s worth the read. Share your thoughts or differences in the comments. - Tony

Barely any padding, Velcro straps, and five little toe-pods, I have never worn anything like my Vibram FiveFingers, and, unless you’re a fan of athletic mittens, it’s more than likely you haven’t worn anything quite like these either.

But, you have heard of them.

Since buying my pair, I’ve learned that everyone has heard of the FiveFingers. In fact, I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this article has heard about these shoes in conjunction with their myriad of somewhat mythical body benefits.  These magical powers are what drew me into buying my own pair of Bikila Vibram FiveFingers.  Specifically, what most interested me was the effects these shoes were said to have on the way I am able to use my body and muscles, restructuring usage of the leg and correcting bad posture.  Before buying them, I learned as much as I could about the shoes, but the reality was different than even I expected.

I was warned about the first adjustment, the physical adjustment.  Before buying them, I read the FAQs and tips for wearing FiveFingers, and, as I slipped them on for the first time, I was prepared to have my feet and legs kill after just a little bit of exercise.  This was not the case. The first week with my shoes was spent stand-up paddleboarding, using them mainly to paddle out over the rocks and to stand on the board, not very strenuous.  I didn’t have a single problem with the shoes, my legs, or really anything for that entire week.

Using my own “I wear sandals, so my feet must already be adjusted” reasoning, when we returned from our trip I took the shoes to do a real workout routine for the first time without thinking twice about letting my feet and legs adjust.  To put if frankly, the feeling of working out in them was fantastic; my feet felt lighter, more bouncy, and overall there was a new ease to running.  I’m not going to lie, I don’t enjoy running and that day I loved running.  I stretched a bit afterwards, but otherwise felt fine.

The next day, walking was a challenge.  The statistics about Vibram shoes enabling the calf and lower leg to work more naturally while taking pressure of the thigh are totally true, and so my calves felt like Neo just released from the Matrix.  It took two days for the pain to totally subside, just in time for another workout.  I would say that it was after a week and a half of pretty steady usage that my body became accustom to the shoes.  According to Vibram, this adjustment time period has a wild fluctuation rate from a week to years.  Based on my experience, I think a large part of this can be contributed to the consistency of wear.  When I take a few days off from working out, I feel a small strain in my legs as they readjust to the muscle usage.  So, I think it’s important, when first adjusting, to not let the leg strain slow you down, work out through the ache or your legs won’t become accustomed to working the new way.  However, Vibram does warn that you should not put undue stress on yourself and even lighten your average workout as you adjust.

I do want to note that I have only felt a strong ache or pain after working out in the shoes.  When simply hiking, surfing, or playing any leisurely sport, I haven’t had trouble at all.

However, the second adjustment, the biggest adjustment, doesn’t have any thing to do with the physics of the shoe or muscle usage.  It’s the fact that every time you wear FiveFingers out of the house, you will be transformed into a social butterfly.  Really, these are the best icebreakers ever invented.  In fact, my Bikila’s are the most social thing I’ve ever been around.  Every time I wear them I end up in at least one conversation, and we don’t talk much about the shoes.  Wearing these shoes becomes an invitation to everyone who sees them to discuss their athletic feats.  At first I was hesitant to embrace this side of wearing the shoes, but now, whenever I see someone stare at the shoes and not say anything, I start up a conversation.  Even with people who have their own pair, they want to hear about what I think about mine.  ’Do you have any tips?’  ’What did you think when you put them on for the first time?’  It’s a really unique situation to be in.

Learned From Experience:

There is really only one problem with these shoes, they smell horrible.  I wore clogs throughout high school, and this smell decimates what those smelled like.  Luckily, FiveFingers are all washable (drip dry*).  I’ve washed them once, and the odor quickly returned, so the smell is something you have to stay on top of.  This is less of a problem is you have a washer at your house and more of a problem if you live in a LA apartment.

An issue with the shoes that is entirely user based is that these shoes can go anywhere, but not all at the same time.  For instance, one day I took them hiking, we did a bit of rock climbing, and then walked through a pond, the shoe was great for everything but the hike out.  They shoes are made for water, but aren’t quick drying.  Even though the shoe is design to fit like a glove, walking in them wet is not a great experience.  While I didn’t end up with blisters or anything like that, it wasn’t the most comfortable walk ever.

Finally, the first time and the tenth time you put these shoes on, it can take a second to get each toe in the right hole. One tip I have is to stand and lightly press down on your foot, this causes the toes to naturally spread out.  Don’t get me wrong, there might still be a bit of toe fishing to be done, but this helps a lot.

My current Vibram FiveFingers are the first shoes I ever bought, and are probably the coolest shoes I will ever own.  Athletically, Socially, and Style-y, this shoe has out performed all my expectations.

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