DISCLAIMER: I have not been paid to endorse Vibram Five Fingers shoes. Nor have I received any free shoes to review. Though I probably should have — as I’m certain that I’ve helped Vibram sell more than 50 pair of their barefoot/minimalist running shoes since I started wearing them 4 months ago.
About four months ago, fed up with expensive running shoes that made my legs and feet hurt more than my own bare feet did…and fed up with living with the severe chronic knee pain that’s plagued me since being medically boarded out of the US Army with shredded knees nearly 17 years ago…I purchased my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) running shoes, the KSO (Keeps Stuff Out). In four short months, without exaggeration or hyperbole, I can honestly tell you that these shoes have changed my life. I was skeptical at first when I saw person-after-person at my CrossFit gym show up wearing these ninja shoes (or gorilla shoes, as my wife called my first pair of black VFF KSOs). But, the more elite athletes I saw killing every type of workout wearing these crazy shoes, the more intrigued I became.
About Vibram Five Fingers
VFFs are like a glove for your your feet. A thin soled, toe-pocket shoe that mimics being barefooted. These shoes allow your feet to flex and roll the way nature intended them. VFFs enhance natural balance and agility, while helping to strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves. There has been a resurgence over the last several years in barefoot running (especially since the publication of Chris McDougal’s recent best seller, Born to Run), and a lot of scientific evidence to support the benefits of running barefooted. Man was and is designed to run long distances. And we were designed to do so barefooted. Born to Run is a must read for anybody interested in barefoot running.
- Check out Chris’ site for a lot of great information and videos on barefoot running.
- Check out Birthday Shoes for the best resource on the Web for information about Vibram Five Fingers (to include numerous reviews and user testimonials, as well as a busy Message Board.
My Bad Knees
According to my orthopedic surgeon, my right knee is already ready for knee replacement surgery, but he’s hesitant to perform the surgery due to my (relatively) young age. About a year ago, I had to take 2 months off from CrossFit because the pain in my right knee was so bad, that I was having a hard time walking. I hadn’t run at all in more than three years (during CrossFit WoDs, I would sub rowing for running), and didn’t believe that I would ever run again. Until I found these shoes.
My First Pair of VFFs
I spend most of my time around the house barefooted, because I’ve found that my knees, feet, and legs seemed to hurt and bother me less the more time I spent out of shoes.
With nothing to lose, I purchased my first pair of VFFs — black KSOs — from Whole Earth Provisions in Austin. I loved them the first time I put them on my feet. Exceptionally comfortable, I still felt barefooted, but with the assurance of a sole to protect my feet from sharp sticks, rocks, glass, and scalding hot pavement. I started wearing them for all of my CrossFit WoDs, taking the place of my beloved Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. After a few weeks of wearing them, my calves were still adjusting and were usually pretty sore the next day. I wore my KSOs to San Diego for two weeks in June, wearing them everyday (to the office, then right to the beach). A nice bonus was not having to take them off to go through airport security), and my feet, legs, and ankles started getting stronger and stronger.
(AIRPORT UPDATE – Feb 23, 2011) — I’ve now worn my VFFs through security at airports in Austin, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Denver, all without having to remove them to go through security.) After a few weeks, I hit PRs on my 1 Rep Max for all three lifts of the CrossFit Total workout: Dead Lift (465 lbs) Back Squat (410 lbs) and Shoulder Press (210 lbs). The shoes made a huge and noticeable difference.
A Transformative Change
After about 3 months of wearing my VFFs everyday, every where I went (I wear my motorcycle boots to ride in, but as soon as I get to the office, I switch into my VFF Smartwool Classics), I realized that my knees didn’t hurt anymore. At all. Typically, the first few steps after getting out of bed every morning were like Frankenstein trying to take his first painful and uncertain steps. Same for getting up from my desk chair after sitting for any period of time. But the pain seemed to be gone. So I thought I’d try giving running a chance again. Just a short 1.5 mile trail run out behind our house. It wasn’t fast, but I made it through my run with no pain in my knees while running. But the real test was the following morning — I got up from bed and walked to the shower. It wasn’t until I was half way through shaving my face that I realized that my legs felt just fine. Not even a hint of the pain that’s plagues me for so long. Since then, I’ve purchased 3 more pairs of VFFs:
- My first pair of Classics, which I wear for trips to the store, barefoot running through the streets of our neighborhood, and around the house.
- My Smartwool Classics, which I wear around the office.
- My KSO Sport Treks, which I use solely for trail running.
- And of course my original pair of KSOs, which I still use for all of my CrossFit WoDs and some running.
One month after starting to run again, I am building up my endurance and distance, and have done so without a single moment of knee pain. This is nothing short of miraculous. I’m running again and enjoying running — I feel like a kid out there running around the trails behind the house barefooted. In fact, I’m planning on competing in a tri-athalon early next year, running the Army 10 Mile run the following year, and — I’m going to go ahead and put this out there now — I’m going to run a marathon within three years. Barefooted. Yes, I know how ridiculous they look. But I’m living pain free and feeling fitter, faster, and stronger than I have in more than 10 years. Not only have these shoes changed my life…but they’ve saved it, too. I’ll be writing some individual reviews later for each model that I’ve been wearing for anybody who is interested in finding out more about these shoes. Oh, and to the Folks at Vibrams — if you ARE interested in sending me one of your new pairs to review (such as the new Komodo Sport), I wear a 40 KSO and a 41 Classic (/hint).