I receive a lot of questions on barefoot running and Vibram Five Fingers (besides why I like to wear shorts in 30 degree weather :)). In fact, I've written on it before. You can read about it here. However, today, I was responding to an e-mail and thought the information would be useful with you too. I am going to attempt to make you think. I am not saying barefoot is wrong. Nor am I saying it's right. I'm simply presenting some facts for you to consider before you jump in head-over-heels. #1) WHY? Why do you want to go barefoot or wear Vibram Five Fingers? Is it become closer to the earth (no pun intended)? Because the book is a best seller? Is it because your friend is? What's the purpose? Also, are you going to be running or walking in them?
#2) Location! For the majority that are reading this, we live in America, Canada, Europe, not Africa or Mexico where the primary surface is dirt/trails. We live on blacktop and concrete. Running barefoot on the later surfaces will ruin your body and at some point in time could possibly break some ligament. If you want to run barefoot, do so on trails or grass.
#3) Lifestyle! Its important to not just run/walk barefoot but to make a lifestyle of it. This means no flipflops, boots, shoes, etc. When people hear that, they usually say, hell no, I just want to run barefoot. I don't want to walk around in the rain, snow, heat or rice paddy's (kidding). But let's face, how many people are willing to do that? But what good is it to just run (or walk) barefoot for an hour an day then go right into dress shoes that will KILL your feet and body? In fact flip flops and dress shoes and high heels are horrible for your entire body. I encourage you to not just go barefoot, but to actually live free. Perhaps this means treating others with kindness and not judging. Or eating fruits and veggies like you know you should. Drinking water. Cutting back on coffee, wine and beer. Or helping someone in need- BEFORE they ask. Yep, its lot easier to spend up to $125.99 on foot gear because that is convenient for us. We know how to spend money. We don't how to be use our head.
#4) Not So Fast! Wearing Vibram Five Fingers is not going to make you an overnight speedster. Sorry to break the news to you. Some people think that by ditching the shoe, it will make them faster. Not so fast Joe & Jane (no pun intended). Yes, its true that if you aren't wearing a pound on your feet you might be a tad faster. But remember, speed comes through diet, speed training and consistent training. And genetics.
#5) Not An RX! Wearing VFF's or going barefoot will not instantly cure injury's. If you have an injury, its important to identify it, find the root of the problem (which may take time) and use body work (massage, MAT, ART, chiropractor), rest, strengthening exercises and a perhaps a lighter shoe to start with. Notice I said a lighter shoe. For some people reading this, you might be in a high stability shoe, which means switching to a more neutral shoe or a shoe with mild support (I'll cover this in the next article). Also, take note that I said "strengthening". People actually believe that wearing VFF's or going barefoot will strengthen their feet. You need to strengthen your feet regardless what you wear. By not wearing shoes yes, your feet, calf's and legs will be stronger just because you switched the platform your feet/body are used to. NOTE: most (if not all) people will experience shin splints, tight calf's, and other issues. The key is to work on making these muscles strong regardless of what you wear.
#6) We all are different! It simply is not safe for an overweight person to go from a stable shoe to bare feet. Perhaps with time, yes, but the first order of business is to lose weight. FIRST.
#7) Age. The other factor in the whole "debate" that people forget about is we have been in shoes, our WHOLE life. For a 25, 40, or 61 year old person to go from being in a shoe 24/7 to no shoe, their body is going to be in shock. Remember we don't live in a remote country! Am I saying to never explore barefeet/VFF's? Not at all. I'm simply reminding you to remember how you have lived the past __ (fill in the blank) of years.
My challenge to you is to make an intelligent choice. Really think why you want to go barefoot. Please, don't do it because you think its going to magically cure everything, make you closer to God, or solve all your running problems.
I would rather you get active, eat right, drink water (in case you didn't get the hint before) and be aware of others around you then changing your footwear because that's the "thing to do".
This is the right foot, next time the left foot will share, AKA, part one of two. Next we'll cover moving from a running shoe (high stability) to neutral or VFF's. Don't miss it. Come with socks. And clean feet.
Sarah Stanley is an professional endurance athlete who loves going barefoot- on grass or dirt. Preferably farm fields. She prefers a running shoe for running. Stay in touch here.
Photo by Muffet