Derrick Price, MS, CPT, CES, PES
In Part I, we explored the pros and cons of the FiveFinger’s foot support. It can be great for some people to regain the dynamic mobility that the foot is designed to have, but may be overwhelming for those who are accustomed to highly supportive footwear. In Part II, we’ll examine how well FiveFingers protect the feet and how comfortable they really are – compared to traditional footwear.
Whether it’s braving the weather or the ability to walk on rough surfaces such as asphalt, protecting the soles of the feet is a must for many of us who were born with shoes on. It’s important to compare the traditional shoes to the Fivefingers in terms of thickness and levelness of soles from heel to toe – as each have their pros and cons.
Fivefingers have a very thin and flexible sole (roughly 4 mm) that is leveled evenly from heel to toe. This characteristic awakens receptors in the foot and can result in changes in normal walking/running patterns – which, due to the thick soles and heel lifts, you will not find in traditional shoes. When running in Fivefingers, you’ll quickly learn that landing on your bony heels can be uncomfortable. This discovery may cause your foot to switch its landing to the area where the midfoot and heel meet. This switch may help you take advantage of the spring-like nature of the foot; which was designed to allow for minimal energy expenditure and improve gait efficiency. However, your foot is most likely not conditioned to walk or run on pebbles, rock, glass, hard dirt, concrete, etc. Be prepared to feel EVERY single step you take. Also, one must be cautious of stepping on sharp surfaces that may penetrate the shoe. Our friends, over at the American Council on Exercise, recently published an article that discussed how most people actually need to re-learn how to walk/run in Fivefingers. Simply putting a pair on will not automatically cause you to move better – it must be a conscious change.
In comparison, traditional athletic shoes come with heavily padded heels. So much so, that the heel rests about 1-2 inches above the toes. This has a dramatic influence on how we move and carry our posture. Try this: Stand up, lift your heels up off the floor just 1-2 inches, and balance there. What did you notice? What did your knees, hips, and/or torso do? More than likely, you had to flex your knees, shift or tilt your pelvis forward, and/or lean your torso forward to maintain your center of gravity. Even a slight heel lift in your shoe, changes your center of gravity resulting in a change in postural alignment. Over time, these changes can be disadvantageous because it is energy expensive to maintain the unnatural posture. It also stresses numerous tissues and joints that are commonly painful or sore in many people; such as, the knees, low back, upper back, shoulders, and neck.
To sum up, the Fivefingers may not protect the soles of the feet as well as traditional shoes, but they may do a better job of protecting one’s posture from deteriorating. If you choose to wear Fivefingers, it may be best to start with walking and strength-training – and then gradually progressing to running and more athletic movement. If you enjoy running in Fivefingers, I would recommend sticking to “real” surfaces only (e.g., grass, dirt, sand), as opposed to concrete. This helps avoid, not only the hard impact, but also the repetitiveness of a flat surface.
Let me be completely honest here. Putting on FiveFingers for the first time was a big pain in my gluteus maximus! It took me over 20 minutes to put my first pair on and I was sweating bullets. Putting on, what is essentially a glove for your foot, and trying to wiggle your toes into the correct holes is no easy task – especially considering what poor control most of us have over moving our toes and feet. But with more practice, I can now slip them on and off in seconds.
So a common question I get is, “Are they comfortable?” ABSOLUTELY! If you can find the right size and you don’t have a funky shaped foot, there’s a good chance you’ll be calling these your most comfortable pair of shoes in your closet and wearing them around town every chance you get. Plus, they come in many styles, although some styles may be more comfortable than others (which I’ll talk more about in part III). Heck, they even have a casual FiveFingers that is soon to be released. But beyond the physical comfort, they may actually be mentally uncomfortable for some. Again, these shoes are not the most attractive on the market and they definitely make you stand out. Beware of people staring, pointing, talking behind your back, or stopping you in your tracks to discuss your footwear. On the other hand, this may be a great way to help you become more social!
A last note on the comfort level of the FiveFingers, I must address the “stank” factor. Yes, your feet and FiveFingers will stink up the joint after a few wears. The nice thing is you can throw them in with your laundry every week (and then air dried). Baby powder and wearing special toe socks can also help keep the stank factor down. Ultimately, I just wanted to give you a quick heads up of what’s to come.
In Part 3, we’ll look at the many styles of the FiveFingers, along with some other Minimalist Shoes that have recently hit the market to give you a better idea of what may best suit your needs and desires.
Derrick Price MS, CPT, PES, CES has been active on many levels in the fitness industry for over 8 years. He holds a MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion with an emphasis on injury prevention and performance enhancement from the California University of Pennsylvania where he has also spent time as an Adjunct Faculty member teaching courses in Exercise Program Design. Aside from personal training 20 hours a week, Derrick also is a Master Trainer for ViPR and PowerPlate. He began his educational career as a Master Instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and has since moved on to become a Faculty Member for the Personal Training Academy Global. To inquire about personal training, Derrick can be reached at email@example.com.