When wearing the FiveFingers shoes by Vibram in public you have to be willing to tolerate some strange looks. They look bizarre on your feet and pretty much categorize you as a weirdo not unlike those who wear Google Glass also unaffectionately referred to as “Glassholes.”
Vibram, the company behind FiveFingers has gotten into some trouble recently.
FiveFingers are a minimalist shoes that had a rather big surge in popularity in recent years with claims that they’ll strengthen your feet and actually prevent injuries.
They never really hit the mainstream success like Nike Frees, but they did develop their own niche of fitness enthusiasts who wore them with pride.
Just recently a lawsuit was settled with the Vibram, which ended with the company agreeing to pay back the 3.75 million people who have bought FiveFingers in the past 5 years.
The lawsuit was over the unsubstantiated claims Vibram made in their advertising that the FiveFingers strengthened muscles and prevented injuries. Even though Vibram agreed to settle they still refuse to admit FiveFingers are a complete ripoff.
So are those who bought FiveFingers complete schmucks who got ripped off?
My Mixed Experience with FiveFingers
I’ve had some back pain along with some occasional knee pain before I ever wore the FiveFingers. Knowing the benefits of barefoot training I was instantly intrigued with them and purchased my first pair about 5 years ago.
One of the reasons our bodies get aches and pains in certain areas such as the back, knee, shoulders and neck is because our bodies are out of balance.
We sit way more than we should when our bodies were designed to move. The study published in the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery in 1905 claims shoes have contorted our feet into unnatural positions leading to unbalanced postures.
I’ve experienced the ups and downs with the FiveFinger shoes, and I’ve found myself gradually wearing them less and less over the years. FiveFingers definitely have their purpose, but there are certain things you should know before wearing them.
First off, you can’t expect to start wearing FiveFingers right off the bat and go for a run or start jumping all over the place.
When you think about it your feet including all the tendons, muscles and ligaments have adapted to wearing big bulky shoes.
This means going from one extreme to the other is going to actually cause you to get injured. In fact, I know one guy who actually tore his achilles wearing a similar shoe for the first time when he attempted to do box jumps.
The key starting off is to break your feet into them gradually by walking and maybe some weight lifting. I’ve noticed when I try to run in them I don’t strike my heel, but the impact of my foot hitting the concrete in just those shoes causes a lot of uncomfortable pain that immediately caused me to stop running with them.
There are some who have built up to running in them, but I’m a rather large guy at 6’3″ and 220 pounds and that isn’t something I’m willing to work up to.
I have realized they are very beneficial when I do lower body weightlifting such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. My knee and back pain pretty much goes away as my feet aren’t contorted in some weird unnatural way.
With the FiveFingers my feet are allowed to lay flat and my toes can fan out. Otherwise, when I’m wearing shoes my feet tend to rotate outwards leading to a good amount of knee, hip and back pain.
The biggest problem I’ve found with the FiveFingers is they can absolutely stink like death after a while of use. Like stink so bad you’ll think Jabba the Hut was sitting on them.
Throwing them in the washing machine doesn’t work very well neither. The trick is the toss them in a bucket of water and throw a couple Efferdent pills in. Let them soak then air dry.
Who FiveFingers Are For, And Who they Aren’t For
For the average person looking to soak up the benefits of wearing FiveFingers I wouldn’t recommend running in them unless you’re will to do a lot of work building up to do so.
Most people should use them for low impact activities such as walking and some weightlifting. I wouldn’t recommend them for high impact movements such as plyometrics or Olympic weightlifting.
Those who are heel strikers will also see the benefits because the FiveFingers force you to walk flat footed otherwise your heel will start to ache rather quickly. Walking and running flat footed is the way our bodies are designed to move the most efficiently. The thick-soled heels in traditional sneakers allow us to heel strike leading to a lot of impact related lower body injuries.
Now let’s discuss the elephant in the room…
I don’t know about you but the FiveFingers are too embarrassing to wear in public. It’s just a fashion nightmare.
You won’t see me featured in GQ magazine anytime soon, but I also would prefer retain some sense of style.
I usually wear Nike Frees around town when I go running as well as to the gym most times. They’re comfortable, minimalist shoes and look quite snazzy.
So are FiveFingers a total ripoff?
Vibram shouldn’t have made those claims that they strengthen muscles and prevent injuries without proof to back them up. FiveFingers have their benefits but they’re also not going to work wonders for you.
To me, I usually like to wear them with my lower body workouts and sometimes when I walk the dog. They aren’t a ripoff unless you believed they were going to do miracles for you.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few snarky written headlines on the web about Vibram and their recent settlement. They’re making people who bought them feel like absolutely fools who got hustled into buying snake oil.
You have to know your uses for them and in my opinion they aren’t something that most people are going to wear a lot. But just by going more barefoot you can help to gradually reduce some of the negative impacts of wearing those big bulky shoes.
I do recommend wearing a thin soled shoe such as Nike Frees for most people but you also shouldn’t freak out if you’re a woman who wants to wear heels every now and then. Everything in moderation.
With that being said I will not be asking for a refund from Vibram and I still wear mine on occasion. To me they can be a hassle to wear since my feet still aren’t comfortable even walking on concrete with them. I’m sure I could work up to it but I’m not willing to put in that kinda work when I can get similar benefits from wearing Nike Frees.
Along with the stink factor I’m usually most likely to leave them at home, but in no way do I feel ripped off by Vibram.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.