I hear 'em whispering when I walk by
March 28, 2012 6:38 PM   Subscribe

What's the right way to walk in Vibram Five Fingers?

So I finally bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers today and walked about three miles around town in them. They felt great in the store but after a mile or two I felt like I was walking through a few inches of molasses. It slowed my pace quite a bit, which surprised me because I am generally quick on bare feet. I also felt strain on my calves, which I'm told is normal as you're getting used to them.

I have pretty high arches and my normal step in VFF and barefoot feels almost cyclical: heel-bridge-ball-toe, heel-bridge-ball-toe, with weight distributing on those areas as they connect with the ground. My plan was to use the VFFs for walks in cities, parks, hilly neighborhoods, some trails. My normal walks run anywhere from five to twelve miles. I'm not a runner at this point, but hopefully soon. I'm told that some VFF wearers walk on the balls of their feet, but that feels strange at walking speed.

VFF wearers, do you walk differently in your VFFs? How much strain is normal? Did you have to break them in?
posted by mochapickle to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I spent about 6 months transitioning to my first pair of VFFs.

I started out with short (~12 block) walks around my neighborhood walking on a mix of grass and concrete and I slowly went incrementally further and further as I got comfortable with the necessary changes in walking and running gait.

There were many small adjustments that I needed to make and new muscles that I needed to develop so I took it as slowly as possible.

Good luck,

Carl C-M
posted by ccoryell at 7:07 PM on March 28, 2012

You'll learn to walk more flat-footed instead of with the hard heel-strike that normal shoes encourage. I bought a pair of Fila Skeletoes last year and adjusted quickly. I can't wait for the weather to warm up so I can wear them again.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:19 PM on March 28, 2012

I'm trying to think of a way to describe how I walk in mine and the best I can come up with is that I kind of prance? A little? It's a little more about the balls of my feet than the heel, which is how I walk barefoot too so it doesn't feel strange to me.

I would imagine that however you walk barefoot is how you should be walking in your VFF, but if you aren't used to walking barefoot often, your body might tell you that a gait adjustment is needed. Not the calf strain necessarily--I noticed that too, when wearing them on pavement, on which I'm not used to walking barefoot.

I bought mine mainly for sailing and for climbing but I do try to take them for a walk once in a while to stay used to them.
posted by padraigin at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2012

I have a midfoot strike when walking in them. I only roll up onto the ball of my foot when I'm walking so fast it's almost a jog. I, too, heard people walk on the balls of their feet, and tried to make myself do that until my boyfriend asked why I was walking weird. I also found walking on cement or hard floors to be more tiring than grass or unpaved trails during the adjustment period, so I would start out in a park while you work out your stride.
posted by syanna at 7:55 PM on March 28, 2012

My housemate's boyfriend wears them and he says you're meant to walk toe-first. It's a bit awkward but it gets better.
posted by divabat at 8:13 PM on March 28, 2012

One thing about walking on the balls of your feet instead of the heels is that it might require you to shorten your stride. You can still walk at the same speed, but you'll be taking frequent short steps instead of a few giant ones, and keeping your feet closer under your body instead of sticking them way out front with each step you take.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:41 PM on March 28, 2012

> I'm told that some VFF wearers walk on the balls of their feet, but that feels strange at walking speed.

For many people, that seems strange at any speed. There's a fallacy about VFFs--that you've got to run or walk on your toes to use them correctly. A forefoot plant works for some people, but others land lightly on the heel after contacting with the toes; still others use a midfoot (or, more correctly, fullfoot) plant. About the only incorrect technique is landing on the heel.

>VFF wearers, do you walk differently in your VFFs? How much strain is normal? Did you have to break them in?

Break-in time is zero for me, and I walk as I would with a thin-soled deck shoe--I don't think about it. However, since you're looking towards running in the future, don't be an asswipe like me, and ignore stretching and exercising the calfs.

When transitioning from a conventional, thick-soled running shoe, Vibrams basically transfer a lot of the work that's done by the quads and hams to the calfs. Your calfs are your new engine for running, an you've got to stretch and strengthen that muscle. Search Google for exercises (with weights or without) for the calfs, and stretching routines for them. Make them loose, large, and fucking rock hard; work out until you actually see them increase slightly in size.

Don't start they day before your first run. Start now.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:38 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

they day > the day.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:41 AM on March 29, 2012

I try to put the rear of my forefoot down first, and for some reason it helps imagine that I'm dragging my foot back along the ground (though it is in fact firmly in contact and not sliding) so that when I put my heel down, it comes down softly.

Don't overthink. In fact, if you don't think about it at all, you'll just bruise up your heels and learn not to heelstrike to avoid the pain. :)

Work up slowly, though, don't just switch from shoes to VFFs. I was running fairly long distances when I switched, so I actually would bring both my running shoes and my VFFs on the run, warm up in regular shoes, switch to VFFs for a 1/2 mile, then go back to the running shoes, and increased the distance slowly.
posted by BrashTech at 5:59 AM on March 29, 2012

Takes time to train your muscles to do what other kinds of shoes prevent them from doing -- acting like the feet God gave you.

I walk with a mid-strike ("flat-footed") and move to a front-strike, when I walk faster or run. Your leg-knee-ankle-foot system is, among other things, a giant shock absorber. Front-strike uses the full shock absorption qualities of your leg joints. It's the only way I can run and not have knee pain later,
posted by cross_impact at 6:13 AM on March 29, 2012

I don't wear VFFs but I am a Merrell Barefoot devotee, and I find I use kind of a midfoot strike when I walk in them on pavement - I hit with the outside of the middle of my foot, basically. Hiking on trails and running, I'm much more up on my toes, though not all the way to a sprinting kind of position.

I have always been some degree of toe-walker, and I found I had to ease into the barefoot shoes a little bit, but for me that meant starting out with 1-2 mile hikes and working my way up to 12-15 miles over the course of the summer. My feet were so sore after those first few hikes! Actually I guess they still get sore after intense hikes, but no sorer than my quads, etc. It's just still a bit unfamiliar to actually be using muscles in my feet.
posted by mskyle at 6:44 AM on March 29, 2012

It took me several months before I was comfortable walking for more than a couple hundred yards in my pair but I really like them now. I do not notice any difference in my stepping practice which is (very slightly) heel first.
posted by bukvich at 6:51 AM on March 29, 2012

While forefoot strike may be preferable for a running gait, analysis of barefoot walkers seems to show the heel-striking is OK when you're walking. Heel-striking only becomes an issue when you're running.

The issue might be your back/pelvis positioning. Most types of normal shoes have a slightly elevated heel. That helps keep your pelvis tucked under your ribcage, which has the side effect of making your chest stick out.

Esther Gokhale has some great videos on YouTube showing the distinctly different mode of standing and walking which is employed in cultures where shoes are minimal. She's very popular in the barefoot/paleo subculture.

When I walk in Vibrams, I find my tailbone sticks out more, and that my spine is "pitched forward" more than in regular shoes. This matches up with the examples Gokhale shows. My glutes are activated much more, and my core is engaged more. Those muscular/spinal things are more significant to my barefoot gait than how my foot lands.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:09 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I run distances in vibrams and walk barefoot for transportation whenever feasible. Barring fairly extreme gait anomalies, that high arch is likely the sign of a healthy foot, especially since you seem to indicate that you go barefoot with some regularity. That arch is a shock absorber. It stores energy when you put your foot down and releases it as it comes up. That happens most efficiently with a mid-foot strike, your heel and ball contacting the ground more or less at the same time.

I'm a little confused about all this talk of forefoot striking. Nothing I've ever heard of indicates that that's a good idea for a normal gait, so I'm guessing that it's sometimes described that way because stiff-soled shoes encourage heel-striking and coming away from that it feels at first like you're using the front of your foot. I say more or less because walking, you'll naturally strike slightly to the heel, and running a little forward, but a full on heel strike is making your calves do all of the work with little help from your feet.

The best way I've been able to describe how it feels to move like this is that it's kind of like how an old man walks, taking shorter steps and keeping your feet under your body. I'm also conscious of maintaining a feeling of my spine sort of balancing straight up from the bottom, instead of leaning forward as people seem to normally do. Skimming that Esther Gokhale video, she seems to be explaining this much more thoroughly than I can. I even caught the phrase, "stacking your bones."
posted by cmoj at 10:58 AM on March 29, 2012

Wow, thanks for all the tips so far! You are the best. I'm going to try these suggestions out and I'll check back in.
posted by mochapickle at 12:38 PM on March 29, 2012

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