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Vibram Foot Gloves Any Good for Running?

Updated on August 20, 2010
Flickr user Liz Romero show off her new kicks.
Flickr user Liz Romero show off her new kicks.

A growing group believes that our ancient ancestors were better off barefoot.

In ancient Greece, footwear was viewed as unattractive and unnecessary. Contenders in the Olympic Games ran barefoot, and in the nude.

The Kalenjin tribe (of Kenya) now known for their unbelievable athletic prowess began that tradition long before the invention of running shoes. Traditional attire included animal furs and hoop earrings. Certainly nothing was needed to adorn the foot besides a thick, callused sole. Scientists speculate that they had a greater need to run quickly in order to survive in comparison to other cultures. Through natural selection, this may have resulted in genetically superior running ability.

In more recent times, world-record holders Zola Budd and Abebe Bikila have amazed audiences around the world. These long distance runners have opted to go barefoot to compete against others equipped with the finest Nike Air shoes. Many egos have been tested after suffering losses to barefoot champions.

Clearly, it’s the runner that matters, not the shoes. Before 1972, runners didn’t have the thick, synthetic soles that are the norm today.

Vibram: Barefoot Running for Wimps

Although we might fancy the idea of getting in touch with our primitive ancestors, building up the callused sole required to run barefoot isn’t for the weak at heart. The vast majority want to feel the thrill of barefoot athletics without experiencing the pain. Certainly no city-dweller wants to sport hardened feet, right?

This is where Vibram Five Fingers comes into the picture. These gloves for the feet are promised to get you more in-tune with your environment. Vibram claims it opens up an entirely new dimension of touch and balance that your entire body can benefit from. I find the experience is hardly “new” because you experience it every day around the house before you put your shoes on. On a positive note, it is pretty awesome to get that “barefoot slacker” sensation out in public.

With traditional sneakers your feet stay relatively static as you run or walk as for the most part the heel pushes each step forward. Running barefoot or with foot gloves relies on the front of your foot much more. The muscles in your feet are exercised and used at their full potential.

The nerve endings in the body end at the feet. Vibram argues that wearing their product stimulates neural receptor, providing valuable information about the terrain to the brain. Your feet are allowed to interact with 3D environments outdoors for the first time, and it feels pretty darn good.

Natural Environments, Not Concrete

Bloggers have noted that celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum and Thomas Jane like wearing Vibram Five Fingers at publicity events or to the beach. Personally, I find it not only tacky but completely missing the point when stars wear Vibram’s in urban environments. Why sport footwear that allows you to appreciate 3D surfaces when you are on steamroller-flat concrete?

Getting back to running, taking a jog on concrete with Vibram’s is nearly a criminal offense. You’re regular sneakers are still the right choice in these scenarios. However, a pair of Five Fingers for a run along the beach is incomparable. That bit of “give” present in the sand, along dirt trails and on grassy plains minimizes shocks to the joints, allowing you to run like cave-dwellers did. Running on hard surfaces is too tough on the joints without some thick padding somewhere in the middle. As a rule of thumb, a synthetic shoe is created for a synthetic environment.

Everything has its place.
Everything has its place.

Barefoot is Better Debate

Skeptics and barefoot advocates will likely go on forever debating about whether running barefoot is better for your health. Personally, I take on a skeptical view. Podcaster Brian Dunning talks about the issue in his 185 episode entitled “Is Barefoot Better?” It is highly recommended listening as he is one of the few people not trying to push product.

Running naturally requires a natural environment, not asphalt. A writer at Wired Magazine found this out the hard way when he tore his fourth toe and spent the rest of the day bleeding into his sock. Don’t buy into the hype.

Vibram Five Fingers isn’t a replacement for your running shoe. It’s a specialty product, great for jogging at the beach, the trail or other soft surfaces. I’m sure many folks will buy a pair focused on the idea of running a marathon, ironically to find it’s what they wear when lounging on the beach. Such is life.

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