Hiking Despite Osteoarthritis in Barefoot Shoes

Hiking Despite Osteoarthritis in Barefoot Shoes

I recently got the above photo from Ron. Ron is a 60+ guy who was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in one knee—after some 32 years of running.

What follows is his story about what the doc's had to say about how he should handle the news, and as you might guess, some FiveFingers came into the picture:

I call this my victory photo.

Last year, at age 60, and after 32 years of running, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the left knee. It hurt to walk, let alone, run. My general practitioner doctor suggested minimalist footwear as part of a program that included stretching and strengthening. [Meanwhile, both the] knee specialist and the physical therapist said to back off and use orthotics.

I took my general practitioner's advice.

Well, here I am a year later, relaxing at over 14,000 feet on the top of Mount Bierstadt in the Rocky Mountains. This was just one of several hikes I took during a 6-day vacation. I totalled nearly 35 miles of hiking and every step in my Vibram KSO Treks.

I proved to myself that I wasn't too old to make such a big change after 32 years of walking and running in the most expensive and most cushioned shoes. Of course, I still have osteoarthritis in the knee, but I am back at it, thanks to the therapeutic value stretching, strengthening, and minimalist footwear.

(I go barefoot alot, too!)

Ron A.

Fantastic to hear, Ron! And kudos for following your intuition and having success despite adverse conditions.

Hope you have many more successful hikes!

Joshua wears VFFs pre-race, runs 5K barefoot

LEFT: Joshua wore his black and orange KSO Five Fingers before taking them off (RIGHT) to run the Jingle Bell 5k.  Note the ankle bells!
LEFT: Joshua wore his black and orange KSO Five Fingers before taking them off (RIGHT) to run the Jingle Bell 5k. Note the ankle bells!

Joshua recently ran the Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell Run 5k — barefoot — as in, without his black and orange KSO Five Fingers, which were relegated to the position of pre-race warm-up attire.

Here's Josh on the event:

Wore my VFFs so they'd let me into the hospital before the race for packet pickup. Ran in my birthday shoes for the actual race despite temps being in the mid 30's. Don't even want to think about what the ground temperature was. Random cheers of "GO BAREFOOT GUY!!!" gave me an extra push in my kick to finish strong. Another PR to end the season!

Thanks for such a great site and keep up the great work!


Mid-30s (Fahrenheit) and naked feet must have made for a chilly run! Glad you got some support from the crowd!

And those bells on your ankles could set a new VFF trend for the winter . . . :P

Feeling Fitness Deep Down In My Sole

by Tim Donahey NASM CPT, Guest Contributor

As a competitive raw powerlifter, when I'm getting prepared for an upcoming meet the majority of my training is strength-oriented and focused on optimal performance in three lifts: the barbell squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. As I've transitioned from traditional footwear to weightlifting-specific footwear and now to Vibram FiveFingers, I have both increased the efficacy of these barbell movements and also greatly increased the efficacy of my overall foot performance in day-to-day life.

V5Fs and Powerlifting

Tim gets ready to deadlift in his blue camo KSO Five Fingers.
Tim gets ready to deadlift in his blue camo KSO Five Fingers.

I'm an unequipped powerlifter which means I wear no performance enhancing gear, only a belt and loose fitting knee sleeves are allowed by my federation -- USA Powerlifting. Given those minimalistic restrictions, my FiveFingers are an asset in optimally performing all three of my contested lifts in general and essential to the back squat in particular.

Due to the squat's complexity, extreme range of motion, the numerous joints acting as movers, and the degree of stabilization necessary to support a weight on the upper back, optimal foot recruitment is crucial to perfecting this movement. Even before the weight is ever squatted, simply stepping backwards out of the power rack with upwards of 400 lbs resting on my back can be almost as much of a challenge as the actual squat movement itself. It's essential that I have full command of my feet at this point since every step I take to get myself into position demands energy -- energy best reserved for the squat itself. Taking any more than two steps back becomes exhausting and risks a failed attempt. Wearing my FiveFingers I am able to ensure each step is surefooted and precise. The lack of heel on the V5Fs allows me to keep my feet closer to the ground with each step, keeping my center of gravity lower and avoiding sway from one side or the other. The adherence of the heel to my foot also allows a graceful transition of the full weight of my body to the ground from toe to heel, and the razor-siped soles prevent slippage and keep my feet firmly glued to the platform.

Tim demonstrates a squat in his Vibram Five Fingers.
Tim demonstrates a squat in his Vibram Five Fingers.

Once in position I have a much greater (excuse the pun) grasp of the squat movement itself. The heightened sensitivity of my feet against the floor allows greater awareness of my body's center of balance. It's critical that the weight of the barbell be evenly distributed across the mid-foot region. The increased mobility of my toes allows them to literally grip the floor -- much as my hands grip the barbell -- further increasing my base of stabilization. An added benefit to the FiveFingers over being completely barefooted (aside from the fact that sport regulations ban any such lack of attire) is the considerable traction they provide against the ground. The combination of sweaty feet, a flush lifting platform, and hundreds of pounds teetering precariously on my shoulders could well be a disastrous one, so the “grippyness” of my Vibes is a welcome benefit to ensuring a stable foundation.

Another critical function that the V5Fs provide is that their lack of cushioning allows optimal force transfer to the ground. Imagine what squatting a heavy weight on a mattress would look like and you can get some idea of what it's like to squat in a pair of heavily cushioned sneakers. A portion of the force generated by the body against the ground is absorbed by the shoe which diffuses it instead of transmitting it directly to the ground. An unabated transmission of force from the barbell to the feet to the ground increases stability and efficiency, ensuring that energy is preserved for a successful squat attempt.

Of course, all of my training is not limited to powerlifting, I draw upon a wide array of modalities to better sustain a broad-based fitness. My FiveFingers have been equally beneficial in those pursuits, including dynamic training movements like power cleans, box jumps, and kettlebell work. Remember what I said before about how squatting on a cushioned shoe (the mattress) absorbs the force/energy transmission to the ground? That is even more so the case when it comes to jumping or speed movements and training in Vibes optimizes that force transmission better than anything else short of being barefoot. In other words, Vibes will literally make you jump higher and run faster!

Tim demonstrates some plyometric box jumping in his KSO VFFs — Rising to the challenge!
Tim demonstrates box jumping in his KSO VFFs: Rising to the challenge!

How the benefits of resistance training extend to everyday life

I've explained how V5Fs have increased the strength and efficiency of my sport, but even more important is how my sport, with the assistance of my FiveFingers, has increased the strength of my feet in more conventional settings. We know that once you take away the structure of traditional shoes that the burden of support is shifted from the shoe back to the foot where it rightly belongs. We also know that introducing a stress to the feet, say in the form of a support deficit, creates a stress adaptation to compensate for that deficit, hence making the foot stronger and more able to deal with the demands that are randomly placed on it. By increasing those demands to an even greater degree through the addition of external resistance, such as with strength (powerlifting/barbells/kettlebells), power (Olympic weightlifting/kettlebells/plyometrics), or speed training (sprints/hill running/plyometrics), we can also increase the fitness of our feet through all walks of life (again with the puns!).

It is essential for the foot to support itself under it's own bodyweight, but by increasing the body's overall load to one greater than the amount of one's bodyweight we are able to proportionally increase the strength of the foot, ankle, and calf for all life's demands -- whether they be walking, running, jumping or any other kind of footwork.

In case you're wondering to yourself, why in the world would I ever need my feet to sustain a weight more than that of my own body-weight, consider this analogy. Imagine you're driving your car, which happens to weigh exactly 1,000 lbs with you in it, along a deep canyon which you must cross and you arrive at two bridges spanning the gulf. The first bridge has a maximum capacity of 1,001 lbs and the second bridge has a maximum capacity of 10,001. Even though both bridges are strong enough to support the weight of you and your vehicle, which one are you more confident to drive across? Call me crazy, but I don't think we should consider the support capacity of our feet any differently. Life is random and unpredictable, and no matter what challenge may arise, a stronger foot is more capable of rising to any challenge. That ability will build the foundation for a stronger life well lived.


We are all already aware of the immense benefits of replicating barefootedness; increased foot, ankle, and calf mobility and stability; muscle, tendon, and ligament strength; and proprioception to the ground, flexibility, and balance. In my own training I've found that added resistance in the form of a weighted barbell or dynamic power and speed movement only adds to these benefits. This not only has applications for training inside the gym environment, but it also has legitimate carryover in the “real” world, even when in the absence of an external resistance because a stronger foot is a better functioning, more versatile foot.

Vibram FiveFingers have definitely helped me to bridge the gap between the exercises I perform everyday in the gym and the more traditional, but sometimes unpredictable, activities that I perform everyday outside the gym, too (e.g. scaling a wall, climbing a tree, changing a tire, moving furniture, or escaping from the police). By getting me closer to barefoot my FiveFingers have helped me take my fitness level from the ground up and I hope it can yours as well.

About Tim

Tim Donahey is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and competitive raw powerlifter in USAPL. Currently he works as a sustainable fitness coach and owner of Sustainably Fit in Columbus, Ohio where he resides and you can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Tim is also the brains behind the KSO Trek for women and small-footed men petition and is a regular at the BirthdayShoes Forums (He goes by the moniker "Bango Skank"). Tim was also recently chosen as a winner of Vibram's Facebook photo contest for his plyometric box jump photo. In short, Tim is staying busy and has done a lot to not only further VFF awareness but also teach others about being healthier and more fit — sustainably fit as it were.

Roll Tide at the SEC Championship in VFFs

Roll Tide at the SEC Championship in VFFs
LEFT: "Here I am wearing my two week old black KSOs right before kickoff of the Southeastern Conference Championship game in Atlanta on Saturday December 5, 2009!" RIGHT: "Here's my black KSOs during the awarding of the SEC Championship Trophy to the game winning Alabama Crimson Tide!"

For some reason I had a feeling there would be at least one person at this past weekend's SEC Championship sporting VFFs — lo and behold James emailed me a couple photos he snapped while at the game as he cheered on the Alabama Crimson Tide to victory over the Florida Gators:

I absolutely love my shoes, and my shoes absolutely love my feet-and we both love our team, The Alabama Crimson Tide! These shoes kept my feet comfortable and warm while hiking around frigid downtown Atlanta. Also, while I was in Atlanta for the championship weekend I purchased my second pair of FF-the hard to find brown KSO Treks!

I'm going to the National Champonship Game against Texas at the Rose Bowl after the New Year, and will send a pic of my newly purchased brown KSO Treks at the game! I love these shoes! Roll Tide!

Glad to hear you're getting such good use out of your VFFs, James! Nothing like being able to kick back at a big football game with full foot freedom a la Five Fingers!

Incidentally, though I'm a University of Georgia alum, I was rooting for Alabama to win the SEC Championship — I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for around four years as a kid — right down the street from Tommy Bowden, who was then an assistant coach at Alabama.

Bob runs the Cal Poly Midnight 5K in Black KSO VFFs

Bob passes another runner in this 5K.  Note the stark contrast between the form of Bob and the heel-striking fellow to his left.
Bob passes another runner in this 5K. Note the stark contrast between the form of Bob and the heel-striking fellow to his left.
Here Bob is at the finish line about to apply the VFF brakes!  Well done, Bob!
Here Bob is at the finish line about to apply the VFF brakes! Well done, Bob!

Bob recently completed his first 5K in KSO Five Fingers — the Cal Poly Midnight 5K:

Ran [the Cal Poly Midnight 5K] a couple of weeks ago ... Have had my VFF KOS for about six months and have gone exclusive with them as footwear for all things (besides dress shoes for work) for about three months. This was my first race in them.

I was a little nervous about doing 3 miles of racing on pavement and asphalt, but had a great race. Started slow, finished hard, and had a time on par with one of my fastest 5ks.

Future plans for my VFF: 25k trail race at Montana de Oro in February and Wildflower Half Ironman in May.

Bob in Santa Maria, CA

No doubt you'll have your training cut out for you for these future races! Best of luck to you.

So when are you going to go full-VFF, even at work? Dress shoes are so overrated!

Ascending the Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado in VFF KSOs

Steve emailed me about a video he recently put together that shows off a couple pairs of KSO Five Fingers as they trek up the Incline, a stepped and steep hike in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Here's the video:


I asked Steve if he could tell me a bit more about the Incline as well as how he primarily uses his VFFs. Here's what he had to say:

We use our VFF KSOs for almost all of our outdoor activities: running, hiking, climbing, and fine dining (ha-ha).

The Incline is an intense “hike” that takes you straight up the side of a mountain in Colorado with approx. 3,000 railroad ties embedded on the trail as steps. Wearing our KSOs made this grueling trek easier and more interesting as they gave us a better sense of the ground we were travelling over, plus anything that takes off weight is a huge bonus on this trail!


Thanks for sharing, Steve! And fancy footwork on those steep steps!

Cody Gets Snow between his VFF Classic-Clad Toes

Cody Gets Snow between his VFF Classic-Clad Toes

In the mailbag came this note from Cody who decided to trek through snow in his Classic Vibram Five Fingers to harvest a Christmas tree:

so i decided against all advice to go into the mountains ( mt.baker national forest) to harvest a christmas tree, and to make things even more interesting, i wore classics, in the snow! needless to say it was one of the most amazing experiences i have ever had in them, i could climb icy slopes and downed tress with ease unlike my friends and family in boots :) i recommend people try their fivefingers in the snow if they can handle the temperatures and snow between their toes! i loved it! thanks cody!

I don't know whether to call Cody brave or crazy — but I do know he has some stout feet to handle snow 'tween his minimally clad toes!

Hope you found a good tree, Cody! If nothing else, sounds like you had a great experience!