“What are you wearing? Some kind of aqua shoes?”
That’s a common reaction I get to my Vibram Five Fingers. Others include, “Hey can you run in those?” (Yes). Or, “Do they feel weird? Is it hard to adjust to them?” (Not really and No — its like being barefoot!). And of course, “What are those? And where can I get them?”
Five Fingers are shoes. Or slippers. Or socks with flexible Vibram rubber soles on the bottom. Or go simpler: they’re “Toe Shoes.” They have five toe cutouts (or pockets) and absolutely no arch support or traditional foam padding in the soles. They come in a few varieties (some providing more foot coverage, one intended for aquatic uses, a couple with straps, or the simplest, the “classic”, which has a bungie type operation that keeps them from falling off when used in more engaging activities (Update: Now there are 8 Five Fingers models available with a ninth VFF Trek variety on the way any day now).
I’ve been using my Five Fingers for about three months now. So far, I’ve used them for:
Five Fingers have helped me be a kid again: as a kid, I never wore shoes, preferring always to be barefoot everywhere. Even today, I rarely wear shoes, preferring Birkenstock sandals in the summer or clogs in the winter (or just wearing flip-flops). Five Fingers are great in that they allow me to do all sorts of active things outside, no matter what the surface while still protecting my feet against wayward sharp objects on the ground.
Five Fingers take my feet back to basics. I wasn’t born with shoes on my feet. From an evolutionary perspective, human beings existed for countless millenia hunting and gathering, running from prey, lifting and carrying loads — all without the latest brand of Nike’s. It stands to reason that our feet evolved over time to withstand the freedoms (both good and bad) that result from going barefoot everywhere.
Our ancient ancestors likely had tough, calloused feet, ready to withstand sprints (or walking) across all sorts of terrain. Furthermore, they likely ran lightly on their feet (and almost certainly had little reason to ever “go for a jog”). Shoeless running would necessarily minimize contact between the foot and the ground. Just imagine a cat or dog sprinting and you get the idea. Contrast running on the balls of your feet with the pervasive long-stride, heel-striking (inherently inefficient), sneaker-clad foot-roll. This style is clumsy, and the by-product of the thick-soles of modern sneakers, which mute important feedback between foot and ground (See You Walk Wrong, referenced below).
Vibram Five Fingers minimize feedback-interference by having an almost insignifnicant rubber sole. When I wear my Five Fingers outside, I feel the curvature of the grass-covered ground. I feel rocks under my heels and get a real sense of the varying textures beneath me.
When I do olympic-lifts, I feel all the stabilizers in my feet activate (Like you might encounter in CrossFit). I feel reconnected to the ground, an empowering feeling when you’re trying to squat 275 pounds or stabilize whilst doing 1.5 pood kettlebell swings. For more on weight lifting, read this fans account of powerlifting in Vibram FiveFingers.
When I do hill sprints in my Five Fingers, I am considerably less likely to roll my ankle upon hitting a dip in the ground — meanwhile, it feels fantastic to be so light on your feet as you fly (sprint) up a hill or across a field!
Going about “virtually barefoot” may seem odd to our sneaker-crazed modern world, but why not take a break from restrictive, clunky shoes and sneakers and traverse the earth as evolution intended (Well, as close as you can get while still maintaining some protection!)? Plus, being active and “barefoot” will build stronger ankles and leg muscles and improve your agility.
Mind, the day after running “barefoot” for the first time (virtually so with Five Fingers), you’re bound to be sore in all sorts of previously forgotten ankle, foot and calve muscles. So be prepared. However, this general foot/ankle weakness should tell you something about how much your regular footwear has been subsidizing your strength.
The bottom line: if you like being active and barefoot, you’re almost certainly going to like Five Fingers.
Finally, there are a few other benefits of Five Fingers I thought I’d share:
Okay, you’ve sold me. So what now?
If you’re interested in picking up a pair, I’ve got some good news and some bad news and they’re both the same: there are a ton of models to choose from — 20+! That makes for a lot of options, which is great, but also means you could get a little overwhelmed trying to pick a style. Go with your instinct and just have fun (don’t get overwhelmed).
Otherwise, you could end up like me: in the 3+ years since I first wrote this review, I’ve dived feet-first into the whole barefoot-style footwear thing by founding a blog dedicated to this emerging way to reconnect with our humanity — it’s called BirthdayShoes.com and has received over 2 million unique visitors. I’ve now tried and reviewed virtually every Vibram model out there as well as all the other new minimalist/barefoot shoes. That’s over 50 other shoe models (I’ve lost count, honestly). Go check out just how many options in the world of barefoot/birthday shoes there really are!
If you’re planning on buying online, you need to read this. I’m afraid to say that a rash of fake Five Fingers have shown up on the internet (and in Google search results). By “rash,” I mean there are over 600 fake fivefingers online retailers masquerading as the real deal. You can learn more about this unfortunate phenomenon here. The gist is that if you’re on a site with “vibram” or “fivefingers” or some variant thereof that claims crazy discounts (60% off!) and isn’t vibramfivefingers.com — or if you’re looking on ebay (not a good sign) — you very well could be looking at a fakes retailer.
I’ve done my best to take some of the pain out of finding legit online retailers by creating listing many (but not all) of the fake sites (here) as well as creating a “store” that has authentic online retailers. The store also has info regarding free shipping policies, customer reviews, etc., and one store offers 7% off via a BirthdayShoes-exclusive discount code (it’s listed at http://birthdayshoes.com/store/).
On style and sizing — Back in 2008 when I got my first pair of Vibrams, I figured I’d start simply so I just got the simplest model available, the Classic; I bought two sizes that were the closest to my measurements and just returned the wrong size. Simple enough. The thing is that sizing Vibrams is confusing because the FiveFingers sizing doesn’t (necessarily) correlate to any standard sizes (American or European). By pure chance, my FiveFingers size happens to be the same as my Birkenstocks size (European 43 — I’m a 10.5 US size). To really get a handle on sizing, you should see this wiki on Vibram Five Fingers sizing.
Update February 2012: One last note on the above-mentioned likelihood of getting Overwhelmed by just how many options there are. These days, I now have probably 40 or more pairs of FiveFingers including all the newest/hottest models with the fancier soles and uppers; however, I still go back to my Classic FiveFingers as a “go to” pair assuming the weather permits. That’s because they’re just that comfortable. However, if you’re just going to get one pair for all occasions, I might recommend the KSO if you want to kick it “old school” in one of the original, most popular Vibrams; or if you want something more recent, go with the KomodoSport LS or Bikila LS as both are exceptionally comfort and fit the widest range of feet due to the laced uppers. Ahh there are pros and cons to all of them and it’s not easy to decide on “just one pair!” I don’t envy your position. Truth be told, you should know that there’s a high likelihood your first pair of toe shoes won’t be your last; I can’t tell you how many folks I know who now have multiple pairs (like 5+) of FiveFingers. Seriously.
Buyer beware: friends and family might chide your weird-looking footwear, but don’t be surprised when they order their own pair shortly thereafter (To date: I know two CrossFitters who are looking to buy them after seeing me use them, and one CrossFitter who has already taken the plunge).
If you have any questions about anything I didn’t cover, let me know!
Since this post, I’ve blogged on Vibram Five Fingers and what users are doing in them hundreds of times. As a result, I’ve created a beginner’s guide to Vibram Five Fingers that tackles the most common “newbie” questions. The guide gets over 100 downloads a day and it’s a huge knowledge dump about Vibrams geared specifically towards first-timers — check it out!
Look, it?s not your fault. It’s your shoes. Shoes are bad. I don?t just mean stiletto heels, or cowboy boots, or tottering espadrilles, or any of the other fairly obvious foot-torture devices into which we wincingly jam our feet. I mean all shoes. Shoes hurt your feet. They change how you walk. In fact, your feet?your poor, tender, abused, ignored, maligned, misunderstood feet?are getting trounced in a war that?s been raging for roughly a thousand years: the battle of shoes versus feet.
Check out my new “Workout Blog” here. This is mostly just to track progress with individual workouts as well as CrossFit. We’ll see how long I can keep it up. I’ve got a sidebar widget dedicated to listing the last ten posts. Might be good for any of you who are looking for workout ideas. Otherwise, you just ignore it! :p
Word is there’s going to be a meteor shower in the early morning hours of August 12th. So says NASA:
The 2008 Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and it should be a good show.
see caption”The time to look is during the dark hours before dawn on Tuesday, August 12th,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center. “There should be plenty of meteors–perhaps one or two every minute.” …
The source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is far away, currently located beyond the orbit of Uranus, a trail of debris from the comet stretches all the way back to Earth. Crossing the trail in August, Earth will be pelted by specks of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a flimsy speck of dust makes a vivid streak of light when it disintegrates–a meteor! Because, Swift-Tuttle’s meteors streak out of the constellation Perseus, they are called “Perseids.”
The moon will set around two AM on the 12th, which will make seeing the meteors much easier. I’ve yet to experience a really great meteor shower, and since I’m currently living in a less urban area, it should be easy to find somewhere with low light-pollution in order to observe the show.
For those of you who aren’t into astronomy 1, Grier’s Field is where Robert Grier, of Grier’s Almanac fame (yeah I had never heard of it either), grew up. A bit more on Grier:
An amateur astronomer and accomplished mathematician, Grier put his knowledge to good use by publishing an almanac predicting sunrises and sunsets, lunar eclipses and phases, plus general weather trends. So accurate and popular was his almanac that it became an annual publication until Grier’s death, at which point another publisher took the reigns, and then another. Grier’s Almanac has now been published annually for over two hundred years. First published in 1807 as “The Georgia and South Carolina Almanack,” the almanac made Robert Grier’s name a household word in the nation until his death in 1848.
Hip to Grier, some nerdelicious astronomers from Atlanta created a dark sky community2 called the Deerlick Astronomy Village, which saddles up to Grier’s Field. Awesome!
So I’m thinking — why not drive to Grier’s Field on the 11th and set up shop for this meteor shower? Sure, I don’t have a telescope, but hey, maybe there’d be a generous nerd or two who would let me have a peep through their scope. Maybe I’d get lucky.
Anyone up for the trip?
1 For the record, I’m not. However, those rare occurrences when I’ve been able to see the Milky Way are some of the most existential and awe-inspiring of my life.
2 I’m not big into the green movement. I’m not going to go into why here (maybe one day). However, I do have a general problem with pollution, where pollution is of the negative externality variety. Most specifically, I have a strong distaste for light pollution — not because its a waste of energy (not an externality – cost born by user), but because it blocks my view of the night sky. Sigh.
Traveling has an uncanny tendency to thwart healthy routines. It is difficult both to make time for exercise and to eat healthy amidst the bevy of fast food restaurants, hotels, free food, abundant spirits and people who eat differently than me. How do you navigate these health obstructions while on the road?
I’m hardly an expert, but here is how I’m managing to maintain a low-carb diet replete with activity while being away from home:
On the road, it can be difficult to do this with limited equipment. I like having a kettlebell around, but if you’re flying, you can forget about taking a 35 lb. or 53 lb. kettlebell along for the ride.
This means you have to improvise. Good ways I’ve found to improvise include running sprints, doing push-ups, and air squats. I’m still trying to find a good pull-up substitute that can be performed with everyday furniture (Any ideas?).
So that is what I’ve come up with so far. I’m interested to hear any ideas from any readers regarding other ways to be healthy “on the road”. Please comment if you think of something you’d like to share!
Finally, one of the hardest parts about breaking routines is getting back on track after the traveling is over. That topic remains a discussion for another day: though I will say that I’ve found fasting to be an excellent way to “re-rail” post-vacation.
Last week was my pseudo-vacation with my family at Lake Oconee (so-blogged: 1 2). Good times were had by all though my vacation was accompanied by a normal workweek thanks to the lakehouse’s wifi (Thus, the “psuedo-vacation”).
I returned to Augusta this past Saturday, and on Monday I joined my adopted family for a road trip to Michigan — we have a wedding to attend this Saturday.
Unlike the last, I don’t consider this week vacation and am having a fairly reasonable time staying connected and on top of work. I also don’t feel the stress of making an attempt at vacation and work (Balancing the two is an exercise in futility — I suppose that should have been obvious!).
Working from the road can be frustrating due to the unavoidable connectivity hindrances, but even with these speedbumps, that I am able to have a normal workweek while being completely away from the home office is a testament to the mobility afforded by abundant technology.
And thanks to the packability (driving anyway) of kettlebells and Vibram five fingers, I’ve got my exercise covered, too. Speaking of exercise … off to check out the gym here at the Holiday Inn Express!
Here was our lake front CrossFit-worthy workout today:
2 minute plank
50 53 lb. kettlebell swings
2 minute plank
2 minute plank
2 minute plank
Time: 21 minutes
My sister managed to capture the photo below where my wife and I were momentarily synchronized in our burpees (the jump part). And even more, the picture documents that I was at least a few inches off the ground on my jump!
Note the Five Fingers! I’ve learned this week that they make great lake footwear (Deck, boat, etc.).
The workout was tough and I immediately jumped in the lake upon completion.
I’m currently on a bit of family vacation at Lake Oconee (midway between Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia). We’re staying at a family friend’s lakehouse.
So far, we have tubed, cooked out on the grill/smoker, played a good bit of Wii Mario Kart, coerced my five month old nephew into laughter (and a few tears), had some fun discussions on expatriation, indulged in ice cream and even had a Crossfit-esque workout (3 rounds of 20 pushups, kettlebell swings – 1.5 pood, 20 double-unders). And we still have the better part of a week left!
The only drawback is that I’m still “plugged in” to my business, which never sleeps — the demands of website maintenace/management never subside. Anyway, I’m doing my best to batch process work and enjoy myself. It’s working out okay.
I’m also mildly happy that I extricated myself last week from my bearish plays on the market (though shocked to see the market still diving — the pain of missed profits!). Being short or long right now would be quite stressful.
Quick update on CrossFit progress before I sack out for the night.
Been about a month since switching from my homemade workouts to CrossFit. Since starting, I’ve completed four to five workouts a week. For the past two weeks (approx.), I have been practicing daily eating-window-style fasts1. Over that same two-week time period, I’ve also cut back on alcohol consumption on days I worked out. Even still, there was a glutinous July 4th last weekend, where I managed to scarf down three DQ blizzards over four nights with a monster bowl of ice cream the night in the middle. I slipped up. It happens. It’s okay!
The alcohol-fasting is just an experiment to ensure that I don’t down-regulate testosterone, or increase cortisol, thereby maximizing post-workout gene expression.
If you’re wondering, I consider four to five highly-intense workouts a week to be too much to maintain indefinitely2; however, I’ve been driving myself harder in anticipation of achieving the desired results faster.
Some five months since embarking on this lifestyle-shift, I’m happy to say that the combo has been a resounding success so far and I believe will prove out to be a success indefinitely. My goal is to publish my before shot from February and an after shot in August (Just a guesstimate. The goal is satisfaction with with my leaning out, which is equivalent to achieving some optimal vasculature and probably means reaching around 7% body fat).
Until then, I’ve decided to publish some interim before and after voyeurism. I submit the following self-taken camera phone pictures, taken four weeks apart on June 12 and July 9, 2008, from left to right.
Believe it or not, I’m flexing my midsection in both photos. What’s making up the change? A bit more muscle combined with a bit less adiposity. I’m 27, 5’10.5″ and around 168 in both photos. I’m happy to say that I’m currently more lean and defined than I’ve been since I was less than ten years old. Prior to a few months ago, I had given up on leaning out. Just didn’t think it was in my genes.
I was most happily wrong.
Regarding CrossFit, I did the “Nasty Girls” workout today, subbing out pull-ups and dips at a ratio of 3:1 for the normally prescribed seven muscle ups. This made for three rounds of:
I managed to complete it in 19:56, which is incredibly slow relative to CrossFit vets; however, I was happy with my time — likely because I thought I was about to die at the end, and I managed to rock out all 63 pull-ups and dips.
I could not have accomplished this without practicing insulin control. That is, without a doubt, the secret ingredient to maximizing my health.
1 Whereby I compress my eating window to about eight hours — usually noon or 1 pm to 9 pm though its just a target. My workouts tend to fall in the middle. This is (intended to be) similar to the Lean Gains Intermittent Fasting approach (Martin Berkhan).
2 No reason to put your body through that much chronic stress.
Via the IF Life comes a smattering of quotes from Dr. Ron Rosedale on sugar, insulin, glucose, carbohydrates, aging, disease, etc. In short, they are all about the importance of insulin control for your health! Here’s one particularly insightful quote:
We only have one hormone that lowers sugar, and that?s insulin. Its primary use was never to lower sugar. We?ve got a bunch of hormones that raise sugar, cortisone being one and growth hormone another, and epinephrine, and glucagon.
Our primary evolutionary problem was to raise blood sugar to give your brain enough and your nerves enough and primarily red blood cells, which require glucose. So from an evolutionary sense if something is important we have redundant mechanisms. The fact that we only have one hormone that lowers sugar tells us that it was never something important in the past.
Okay, one more:
What they are finding on these major centenarian studies is that there is hardly anything in common among them. They have high cholesterol and low cholesterol, some exercise and some don?t, some smoke, some don?t. Some are nasty as can be and some nice and calm and nice. Some are ornery, but they all [have] low sugar, relatively for their age. They all have low triglycerides for their age.
And they all have relatively low insulin. Insulin is the common denominator in everything I?ve just talked about. They way to treat cardiovascular disease and the way I treated my stepfather, the way I treated the high risk cancer patient, and osteoporosis, high blood pressure, the way to treat virtually all the so-called chronic diseases of aging is to treat insulin itself.
For the full Rosedale lecture, go here.