Home » Blog » Barefoot Running – Vibram Five Fingers Are Worth It

Barefoot Running – Vibram Five Fingers Are Worth It

Vibram FiveFinger "Sprint's"

I’ve been a runner for the past 15 years. Over this time I’ve suffered countless injuries. Training for marathons and Ironman Triathlons can be tough on your body!

Shin splints. Stress fractures. IT band issues. Knee issues.  Plantar fascia issues. I’ve suffered through it all. I can run injury-free as long as keep my mileage fairly low, around 30 miles a week. If I get above 40-50 miles a week for a month or longer – I tend to develop issues. My easy response to this is just to keep my mileage low and cross-train heavily.

There must be a better way to stay healthy while training – without having to cut back on mileage.

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about barefoot running. The benefits of ditching traditional shoes have been discussed in Men’s Health, bestselling books like “Born to Run” and by popular blogger Tim Ferriss. Running and walking barefoot is what we were built to do as human beings. Ditching heels and overly cushioned trainers are said to be a huge help in curing lower-leg and back injuries as well.

I always enjoyed running around in my yard barefoot when I was a kid, but hardly ever do so nowadays. I spend my work-days in an aweful pair of dress shoes, train in standard running shoes and only walk around barefoot in my home and during my yoga practice. It makes sense that spending more time barefoot is a good thing for lower leg and foot health, so lately I’ve made it a point of doing so as much as possible.

In fact, last month I ordered a pair of Vibram FiveFingers running shoes. They are basically a glorified sock with a 2mm tough rubber sole. Here is what Vibram says about their shoes:

The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.

That’s why we recommend wearing FiveFingers for exercise, play, and for fun. Stimulating the muscles in your feet and lower legs will not only make you stronger and healthier, it improves your balance, agility and proprioception.

What’s my verdict? I am now a total convert. The shoes feel incredible, and though I am still “breaking them in” and getting used to running with hardly any padding, I definitely feel better running in them.

I feel more connected with the ground when I run. There is less jarring in my joints since my stride is shortened and quickened. I feel more agile as I run. Running just feels more fun in these barefoot shoes.  Just a few hundred yards in these and my stride began to compensate. I can no longer get away with pounding and heel-striking my way through a run. I have naturally shifted to a more mid to fore-foot strike. This results in far less stress on my joints and is overall a more efficient way to run.

I’ve worn the Vibram FiveFingers for about a half-dozen runs and a bunch of walks around town. Already my feet feel stronger. I’ve also worn them in the gym, and I feel much more in control and powerful when lifting – particularly squatting and lunging. I also think that running around in these shoes is helping my balance in yoga practice, so much of balance depends on foot, ankle and toe strength and control.

If you are a casual or serious runner, I highly recommend checking out these shoes. If you are lucky to live in a place where you run around grassy fields barefoot, that is ideal. Otherwise, the Vibram FiveFingers will keep your feet safe and give you all the benefits.

If you are planning to get a pair of these, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll probably need to get at least 1 size smaller than normal for a good fit.
  • Fit for these shoes is super important. Try to go to a retail store that carries them to make sure you have a snug fit. The heel should feel snug. If you can’t find a local retailer with them, make sure they fit well before running in them – and be prepared to return them for the proper size if they don’t! I ordered mind through Vibram’s website, ran 100 yards on clean black pavement – realized I had the wrong size and sent them back for the correct size. They processed the return in about a week.
  • I like the Classic variety (open-top), but there are several other types. I haven’t run in the others, but I like the minimalist look of the classics.
  • Expect to get a lot of looks from people. These are great conversation starters! Really though, expect to stand out in a crowd for these. I have gotten plenty of looks from people trying to figure out what I was wearing, particularly in the gym! The black color is the most inconspicuous (the kind I have) if you don’t want to be the center of attention wherever you go.
  • When starting out, just plan on running a mile or so at a time. Give your feet some time to adjust gradually. Wear them for walks around town to break into them.
  • If you experience any rubbing on your Achilles (like I do) – put a small strip of medical tape on your tendon and you will be fine. I am hoping this friction will go away once the shoes have broken in more (or my skin toughens up).

Are you a barefoot runner? Do you run in the Vibram FiveFingers? How do they feel? Please post a comment and let me know what you think.


  1. tony says:

    I just got the Trek Sport model and love them! I am curious though, what does one do in the winter? Do they make a winterized version for cold weather?

  2. Pingback: Barefoot running
  3. John A says:


    Thanks for posting and spreading the word. I have had my VFFs for ~13 months. I learned of them when I signed in for the Ridgecrest 50k and saw their little card in the swag bag; as soon as I returned from the race I went shopping and picked up a pair of KSOs, and started doing runs varying from 5-10 miles on rocky trails & the beautiful SoCal Beaches without any injurys.

    I wanted to share this because my personal experience shows that it is not imperative to gradually increase distance – the key is to be relaxed while running.

    The switch to minimalist footwear was easier for me because I already ran with a mid/fore foot strike and my I was in great shape – my core was strong, I was relaxed, I trained within my limits to ensure that I didn’t need to take drugs for pain, and I finished each run with a bigger smile on my face than I started.

    You don’t need to be a long term runner to accomplish this quick switch – I started running seriously in May 2008 – and I was not comfortable at all. In November 08 I did a trail marathon and a 50k trail run in early December 08; the key for me was listening to my body and understanding when to train based on data that I knew related to my body (morning pulse, energy, mood, etc).

    Of course after going injury free while training for my runs in running shoes and then immediately switching to VFFs I managed to injure myself this past May when I went for a 5 mile run in running shoes, and it was all my fault. I just wasn’t comfortable that day and was too stubborn to relax and run ‘shod’. Thus I’ve had to take a few months off, but now I’m about to start another training cycle and I’m going to start by running completely barefoot to get my form locked in.

    That’s right – barefoot and on asphalt!

    Why – because I’ll get better feedback on my efficiency from the bottom of my bare foot than I would if I started running in VFFs – think about it, any inefficiencies will quickly show up as blisters. (you may blister even if you are efficient based on the ruggedness of your feet too!)

    For those looking to learn more feel free to jump on http://groups.google.com/group/huaraches to read and ask questions about minimalist running. BareFoot Ted (the one from Born to Run) started the group and I’ve found it to be a wealth of information.

    Happy running!
    Twitter: @jxa

  4. Mongo Rabinowitz says:

    I’ve been running in Vibrams for about 11 weeks. I’m a convert and have been evangelizing friends about this, since I know so many ex-runners in my age group or even younger (I’m 52) who had to give up running because of pain/injuries. My plantar fasciitis has disappeared and I feel less “beat up” the day after running…sore knees, stiff muscles etc. I had virtually given up summer running but was able to finish my runs in the DC-Metro August swelter.

    I have a couple of issues that I wonder if anyone could address. The first is pain in the balls of my feet. This is mainly what has prevented me from going beyond my usual 4 mile run, because I’m noticeably less tired at this distance than I was when shod running. I feel it when walking around the house barefoot, or set out for a run, although it isn’t enough that I notice it in normal day-to-day shod walking or playing tennis. I’m a low-mileage runner – 4 miles 2 or 3 times a week.

    The other problem is calf pain. About 7 weeks ago I got a run-stopping cramp in my calf at about 2.5 miles. I know about stretching, hydration, potasium, etc. I got back to it about a week later and everything was fine until about a week ago. It didn’t cramp again, but at about 3 miles it starting getting sore in the same, spot, building gradually until it was painful enough to turn my run into a walk at 3.5. I didn’t run for a week (did do some tennis and weight workouts), stretching daily, but yesterday, the pain returned at about one mile and I had to run/walk the rest of the way.

    Does anyone know what’s up with this? This is exasperating, because I thought I was well beyond the initial calf and lower leg stiffness that I had early on, and I had done the necessary muscle maintenance. Could it be cooler weather? It’s been around 50 degrees and I’ve recently switched from shorts to long tights.

    • Brad says:

      I have the exact same problem. My distances are getting shorter and shorter because of the cramps in my mid calf. Does anyone have any good advice on this.

      • Ravi Raman says:

        @Brad: Make sure to stretch often. I practice yoga and that helps a ton. Also, go slow….I now regularly run 4-5 miles in my VFF’s but it’s taken 6 months to get to this point.

      • Mongo Rabinowitz says:

        @ Brad

        Pleased to report I’ve made progress since my earlier post. The calves haven’t been cramping lately. On the advice of a more experienced friend, I started doing daily shorter runs, less than 2 miles. This seemed to condition my calves pretty well and now I’m back to my 4-milers and planning to start increasing, although I don’t aspire to anything more than a 10K. I also got one of those massage sticks which I use regularly and, of course, stretching stretching stretching, even on the days I don’t run.

        That bruised feeling on the balls of my feet has been getting better to. This is partly from conditioning, and just recently I’ve started using INJINJI socks – toe socks thin enough to wear with your Vibrams – and they’ve helped too. So if you’re using Vibrams and having that problem too you might give them a try.

        Just for comparison’s sake, I’m in pretty good shape for 53 and have been at this for about six months. Looking forward to see how I’ll be holding up during the summer.

    • Jerry says:

      Background info: I started out with the New Balance Minimus for 2-3 months and recently switched to the VFF Bikila LS 3 weeks ago.
      I have not experienced any foot pain (just calf soreness), but I have only run 3.5 miles max on dirt trails. I have heard from others that asphalt might cause pain in the balls of your feet. My calf soreness was severe the first week I ran in the Minimus, but now I just get minor soreness nearly every time I run. I read that letting your heels softly/naturally kiss the ground and not focusing too much on striking on the balls of your feet might alleviate some of the calf soreness. I think the point is to relax your calf a bit after you strike midfoot to alleviate some of the tension. If you don’t let your heels touch the ground or if you excessively fight their natural fall to the ground this can overwork your calves. I think this might be my problem. Time will tell; just wanted to pass on the tip.

  5. Leon says:

    You said it! I’ve had my KSOs now for 3 weeks. I’m not yet fully adjusted — I’m sure I’m going too far in them every time I run — but I just want to keep going, I can’t help it.

    I, too, have had the calf soreness but am excited that I’m probably working out my skinny calves like never before! And… I feel like I’m running faster.

    • Leon says:

      I wanted to follow up on my enthusiastic post from 5 months ago. I’ve had to go back to my standard running shoes with my custom orthotic inserts. After a month of running in the Vibrams (probably too far too soon), my plantar fasciitis came back after not having any trouble since I got the orthotics over 6 years ago. My goal at this point is to keep running in my “old configuration” until all symptoms are gone, and then start slowly back into the Vibrams. I miss running in them.

      • Ben says:

        Were you not running with your orthotics in your VFFs? Their website states that if you typically wear an orthotic insert then you should wear it in your VFFs as well.

  6. Toby E says:

    I bought the classics about 18 months ago. I measured my feet with my heels against the wall as suggested on the VFF website and the ordered pair were a perfect fit. I like the drawstring on the classics as it works very well for me.
    After my first run on grass of just 300m I had some pain on the underside of my feet, as those muscles hadn’t been used to intensively before. Running on your toes is pretty much a no-brainer with them and you get used to it fast.
    After a break of a few days I ran again and then a few runs later the pain went away to be replaced with a pain in my lower calfs – it felt very tight and lasted about a month or so, though it felt like a good pain, which eventually subsided as the muscles built up. I just balanced these issues by not using the VFFs all the time and taking it a bit easy.
    I pretty much run in them all the time now, but here in NZ I mostly run on forest paths or tracks and stay off the tarmac. I did a half marathon on the road in normal running shoes and hated it – got blisters and really sore knees and hips.
    The thing I like about VFFs and the forefoot running style (my heels hardly touch the ground) is that you use your feet’s muscles to cushion your fall and you can control this and do it differently on different surfaces. Stones still hurt, and you do have to look down a lot more to see what’s coming up, but having said that its a lot of fun being connected to the ground and you feel a stronger bond and interactivity with surroundings. I believe balance improves too, and on especially uneven surfaces it’s quite a lot of fun as you have to use your centre of balance a lot more as you sacrifice some grip. They’re pretty rubbish in mud, but the challenge of sliding sure keeps you on your toes 🙂

    Well recommended – and the whole stlye of running keeps me outdoors a lot more.

  7. Ravi Raman says:

    Liz, yeah – thanks for the pointer…I fixed the text. Yes folks…the VFF’s classics tend to run a little larger….for me, 1 size smaller than normal is a good fit.

    Also, another thing I’ve noticed is that the classic’s have a rubber tab on the heel up top (where you slip into the shoe), that causes chafing for me when worn for more than a mile or two of walking/running. This darn heel tab rubs against my achilles tendon and is very irritating! Anyone else have this issue?

    I’m going to get a pair of KSOs and see if they feel better. Will let you all know how that goes.

  8. Liz says:

    “The sizing runs small, so you’ll probably need to get at least 1 size smaller than normal.”

    Ummm…if the sizing runs small, then wouldn’t that mean that you should get a size larger?

    Anyhow, I love my VFF Sprints. Best shoes I ever bought!

  9. Clynton says:

    Great write up! I read Born to Run and, to put it conservatively, it completely changed my life! I bought a pair of VFF KSOs a few weeks ago and have been walking in them every chance I get. I will begin running in them as soon as I get the green light from my surgeon and physical therapist (just had back surgery for a herniated disc). I love how natural they feel – I am much more in touch with my environment. The most important thing is to begin slowly, as there are so many muscles that will become active which have been dormant. Good luck and thanks for sharing your experience!

  10. Thanks for your review! It helped me make the decision to purchase a pair of KSOs (along with reading Born to Run). I’m so glad I did.

    It really brings a whole new level to running. I love feeling the grass under my feet. It helps to focus more on the run now rather than trying to block everything out.

    If you’re interested, you can read my full 2 cents on getting started running barefoot with the KSOs.

  11. Suzy says:

    I have been using Vibram Five Finger in the Phoenix, AZ area and they have galvanized my walking, soon to be running, program. I had collected stacks of running shoes (now at Goodwill) trying to prevent a multitude of injuries . It was so bad I have given up on walking all together and started biking instead.

    Going completly barefoot in the desert is risky business with so many cacti lying around. But I read “Born to Run” – an amazing book about the Tarahumara – the “running indians” from Northern Mexico. They routinely have ultra-marathons, young and old (almost barefoot) and it motivated me to try the shoes. I started out slow, kept waiting for some injury to happen (not) and now 4 months later all is wonderful. I hike on rocky terrain and the only caution, especially in the desert, is that if you get off the trail and step on a piece of jumping cholla or other catcus, you need to remember that the fabric on the sides of the toe is a thinner material, unlike the firm soles and are not protected from the spines. (Learned that one the hard way). But there is so much more flexibility and stability going up the rocky inclines. I’m thrilled to have all of these activities back thanks to Vibram. They are getting deluged (Aug 2009) with orders by the way, I’ve been waiting two weeks for a pair of the ever popular “black classic” but it’s worth the wait.

    If you don’t like dirty feet try the five finger “yoga socks” from ebay, with little grips, to wear around the house inbetween activities.

    • Scott says:

      I’m also rockin’ VFF in phoenix. I ran up south mountain in them; also hiked down bright angel trail into Grand Canyon wearing the VFF. I’ve been pleased with their desert performance.

  12. artistscientist says:

    I work in health care and am on my feet all day every day (today is my first day off in two weeks). I suffer from low back pain and plantar fasciitis. I have decided to get some Vibram Five Fingers to wear at work but have yet to find my size anywhere. I told my colleagues that I would be wearing these soon and although they think I am crazy, no one objected. They look at my shoes every day when I come in waiting to see what they will look like. Hopefully I will be able to find some soon.

    Caesar Gonzales

  13. Joel says:

    I am having terrible calf muscle pain when I run with my VFF’s. My back and knee pain has completely subsided. Any ideas on how to eliminate the calf pain?

    • Ravi Raman says:

      Try just walking in them first to get your legs used to them. I had serious calf soreness after a hard 4 miler last week….took a few days but the pain went away. Go easy and short first and build slowly.

  14. rebecca says:

    I wear the Vibram FiveFingers Sprint as i find they give me a little more support when running and cross training because of the strap.

    Like you i love them and have become a complete barefoot convert! I’m not lucky enough to live by grassy meadows so being to scared to cut my feet on the roads near my house the FiveFingers are perfect! And they seem to have healed my hip and heel pain!

    @ Will – Maybe you could try out the Vivo Barefoot shoes? they mimick the action of walking barefoot but they are more of a regular shoe – they are super comfy! I wear them when i’m not in my FiveFingers!

  15. HeardAboutChi says:

    hi all,

    I am not a runner, but I have read up on Chi Running. Danny Dreyer runs extreme marathons — 100 miles plus.

    The testimonials present folks who have had injury problems that are able to run using the Chi method and not have pain. Workshops are given in larger cities and there are DVDs available.

    I am not affiliated with them. Just interested in healthier living and found out about them and found your site about eating better. Saw the cool shoes and had to read about them.

  16. Will says:


    I’ve been following barefoot running since my knees started giving me problems a few months ago. I tried using the KSO’s, but I have freakishly long toes, meaning that any fivefingers models are out of the question. Any recommendations for other footwear that can encourage me towards a more natural stride?

    • Will says:

      Update: my search for good barefoot-mimicking running shoes has been long. I’m posting this in hopes someone can benefit.

      Here’s what I was looking for:
      1. Thin sole for maximum feel of the ground
      2. No support whatsoever – pure barefoot running mechanics…
      3. …yet, well-secured onto my foot, for sprinting and play

      Here’s what I tried:
      -VFF KSO’s – My foot shape and toe length are fairly abnormal. Still, I tried these. After walking (not running!) about a half-mile in them, my knees ached and I returned them immediately.

      -Nike Free 3.0’s. These are advertised as being a 3.0 on the scale from 1.0 (pure barefoot) to 10 (standard supported running sneaker). From my own experience, that’s misleading. As far as a running shoe goes, they have a very flexible and thin sole and are comfortable. Surprisingly, they have significant arch support and heel build-up. They are designed for forefoot striking, but I didn’t have any sense of agility and ground-connectedness because it still felt like a shoe.

      -SoftStar RunAmok Lite’s. I was turned onto these by this post: http://freetheanimal.com/2010/06/out-with-the-vibram-five-fingers-and-in-with-the-soft-star-runamoc.html. They’re basically a thin-soled running moccasin. The appeal was that they didn’t have toe articulations and would custom make to fit, nullifying my foot shape weirdness. I got a pair and ran in them for a few weeks. They’re great, thin-soled, comfy. Then I tried to run sprints… and my feet swam around inside the shoe. Total deal-breaker, and I should’ve seen it coming.

      -VFF KSO’s. Yep! The tight fit and ability to sprint was the clincher. My initial problem with these was that I didn’t know how to walk barefoot. Now, months later, I do. They fit all my criteria: I have significant ground feeling, I have almost identical mechanics to pure barefoot, and they fit so comfortably and snugly that I don’t use my house slippers anymore! I’d concur with Ravi – my balance and stability during free weight lifting has improved, especially with squats and deadlifts.

      To sum it up, I have weird feet — narrow, with long toes. With some tinkering (try them on in a store!!!!), I can do sublime and blissful barefoot running anywhere.

  17. Zog says:

    I’m no marathon runner, but I’m a total convert as well. I heard about these from Tim Ferris as well, and now I’m wearing them everywhere, mostly just because I think they are really fun to wear.

    I’ve noticed improvements in my balance, put on a lot of calf muscle, and discovered muscles I didn’t know I had in my feet. I’ve tried on several sizes, and maybe it’s just because I have the KSO with a strap instead of the stretchy classics, but I was comfortable in several sizes, and commonly run in two sizes now. I prefer my smallest pair too.

    I’d start out with about a quarter mile the first day rather than a mile. I know it seems like nothing, but it beats bruises and blisters for those who are used to cushy shoes, and your feet will adjust fast.

    Like Alex, I’ve gotten some stern looks from the management at work, but so far they’ve relented.

    I’ve got a review of the Fivefinger KSO here.

  18. Alex says:


    I love Vibrams! I’ve been wearing them for a couple of months now and I couldn’t imagine a better shoe. Unfortunately, the people at work don’t agree so I’m forced to shoe my feet when I go into the office. It’s amazing how quickly my feet are unlearning the common practice of wearing shoes.



  19. Ravi Raman says:

    @ Andrew: Thanks your comment. You have a great point in that increasing mileage gradually is so important.

    @ Chris: Which marathon are you training for?

  20. Chris says:

    This was very cool. My cousin sent me the link to your blog. Since I am in training to complete my first marathon (and have been blogging about it), I used the ‘Share’ feature to post it to my blog. I am sure my followers and readers will enjoy it. Hope you get some traffic back to your blog

  21. Andrew Cox says:

    I’ve had the Vibram Five Finger KSO model for about 3 weeks now and am using them to learn a more natural barefoot-style running form. Although some braver souls run barefoot even on concrete and asphalt, I think the VFFs are excellent alternatives to complete barefoot running.

    I’ve been building my mileage up very slowly (the most I’ve run in them so far is 5 miles, but it was at a pretty slow pace; most of my runs are only 2-3 miles right now) and so far I am completely injury free. I’ve been trying to be very sensitive to any kinds of aches or pains so I know when to back off.

    My wife, on the other hand, went for an up-tempo short run in hers (VFF Sprint model) and had some foot pain the next time she tried to go out for a run. She’s now back to her regular running shoes and continuing to add mileage to her training. As a result, she now thinks she might be developing shin splints – perhaps due to compensation from her foot pain.

    So, the moral of the story is to be very patient with increasing your mileage and listen to your body.

Comments are closed.