It’s not a cut and dry answer
The big shoe news this week is that Vibram has settled a lawsuit that will amount to refunds for some people; Vibram Five Fingers wearers who believe they were deceived by the company’s advertising can file a claim and get some money back.
Since this news appeared on everyone and their mother’s Facebook feed, I’ve seen many people confused and fearing the worst; that their favorite shoes have been shown to be unhealthy, but that is not what the suit was about. The suit was about false advertising.
Vibram claimed that their shoes would increase foot strength and reduce running injuries, and they didn’t have enough data to back that up, so…
Does this mean the Vibram Five Finger shoe, or the minimal shoe period, is a bad idea?
In short, no. …but the answer is really not that simple, either.
Go back in time and never put on shoes; everything would change
But we have worn shoes since childhood; overbuilt, overly supportive, stiff shoes, often with elevated heels. We learned to walk and we learned to run; both in these shoes.
Our feet have grown up in shoes, and like the root of a plant growing to fill the space available, so went our feet.
Our own feet have grown to fill the shoes we’ve worn, just like these roots have grown to fill their pot.
with that in mind…
WTF with minimal shoes?
1. Minimal shoes can be great for some people. They seem to have done me a lot of good (although I don’t run in them, nor do I run, period). I walk in them and work in them. I exercise in them, and I even hike in them. I have worn them for over four years, and things are going great.
2. For others, they can be great eventually. Given time, and a gradual transition, they can be a part of these people’s footwear collection. It took me several months, and a pair of transition shoes (Nike Free 5.0), which I wore for a while before finally wearing my daily (and all day) Vibram Five Fingers/New Balance Minimus shoes.
3. For others, whose feet are very adapted to modern footwear, minimal shoes can be bad. Yes, for some people, some support is necessary, simply because they don’t currently have the feet for them. Can this change? Maybe. Probably. Given time, exercise, and work. But today is not that day.
No matter which of the three categories you fall into, keep in mind that…
transitioning from regular running shoes to minimalist shoes takes time
Do not go out and buy any minimal shoe and just start running with them, whether they have toes or fingers or look like normal running shoes, but with a flat heel. Keep in mind that even shoes we consider to not have heels, often do have heels.
Whether you are an experience runner or a newbie to running, your feet need time, strides, strikes, and steps to adjust to anything new like this.
If you don’t take enough time, you will hurt yourself.
Do you remember buying a new pair of regular shoes for work or school? By the end of the first day you’d have a blister. I used to keep a couple of band-aids in my pocket for the first week or two, just to stick on the hot spots whenever I got new shoes.
After a day or two, the shoe (or my foot) was ‘broken in.’ The same goes with minimal shoes, only it’s IS your foot you’re breaking in, and it’s not just a blister you’re worried about. In this case, it’s your long term foot, muscle, tendon, and bone health.
Take it slow!
I do believe:
there are benefits to minimal shoes (I’m not sold on the toes, but go ahead if you like them).
there are benefits to working toward more minimal shoes, even if you can’t wear them exclusively.
there are benefits to going barefoot more, even if you have to work up to it.
there’s no need to be perfect. You might not be able to wear totally flat shoes, and that’s okay. We all do the best we can.
Do not let lack of perfection stand in the way of your progress
…or your health