Yesterday I did a leg workout in my brand new Vibram five finger shoes. For those of you who don’t know, they look like this:
They are these funky glove-like shoes that allow full mobility of your foot and simulate barefoot running with a little extra protection on the sole and some added warmth. My dad made fun of me saying this was just the next yuppy fad… which it is, but it also makes sense. After all, running shoes have only been around for about 40 years in their current cushy incarnation. Humans have been running barefoot forever.
I did some research and found that barefoot running has some really positive effects on your body such as, improved balance and stability, decreased back and foot pain, decreased injury from sports and running, and improved foot posture.
One of the main differences between running shoes and barefoot runners is that a typical running shoe has a 12mm difference from heel to toe vs. 2 mm in the Vibrams. Having your foot on an incline surrounded by cushion allows you to “heel strike” (land with your heel running heel to toe) each stride. This is hard on your knees and Achilles tendon and will eventually wear down your heel. When you run barefoot (or close to) you can’t do this (it will hurt) and you instead land on the ball of your foot. This landing allows all the ligaments, tendons and bones in the arch and toes to cushion the impact and spring back instead of having the full impact carried through your knees and into your hips.
Alright, well in theory this sounds fabulous. A little more reading told me that trying them out would cause pain the first few times and I should work up to running in them slowly… that sounds familiar. That’s the same approach to working out I recommend, so that makes sense to me. So I decided to take the plunge.
I did a 5 min run on the treadmill to warm up (after fighting with my feet to get all the toes in the right holes) and OMG it was so much fun! I wasn’t heel striking and because of that it kind of felt like I was bouncing each stride. I could definitely see how that would be easier on your body. I can also tell you that my calves are the most sore they have been in a while because of that action.
Next up was my leg workout. A major reason I wanted to try these is because during leg workouts I like to do exercises that involve balance and if you are barefoot you can engage different muscles/more muscles than you can in shoes, however going barefoot in a gym is frowned upon and potentially dangerous. I did some variations on deadlifts which I noticed I was more stable during; my weight was definitely more in the centre of my foot. Then I did some one-legged exercises. This is where I noticed the most difference. I was able to grip and adjust to keep my balance, I spread my toes to improve my stability, and muscles were firing left right and centre that I normally don’t feel at all! Success – this is what I was after!
On to cardio, I opted for the elliptical as it is low impact and might help me get used to the Vibrams. I noticed almost no difference on this as you don’t really move your feet much. I have always liked the elliptical because it was easy on my joint so one of the main benefits of the Vibrams is already happening on this machine.
This morning I ran to the gym in my normal shoes because my calves and feet were kind of sore and I thought I’d let them recover before I tried the Vibrams again. The whole run I was so aware of how much cushion was around my feet and when I was heel striking and when I wasn’t. Yesterday’s short experience really showed me a different way to use my feet and I loved it.
I will be trying them again soon with different types of cardio and I will let you know how it goes.
As a follow up to yesterday’s post; yes, I did go to the gym this morning. I woke up groggily at 5:39 (after one snooze), ate some breakfast and ran to the gym. I did shoulders and abs, which is my favourite split to work and was back at my house by 7:15. Goal achieved!