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Adrienne So's "Barefoot Nation"

Adrienne So over at Willamette Week Online has published a new article titled Barefoot Nation. It's primarily about the barefoot running movement, but also talks about Chris McDougall's upcoming book and lobs out a couple of solid critiques of Nike (As well as Nike's "barefoot" tennis shoe, the Nike Free).

Though the article is primarily about running, it also gives a shout-out to FiveFingers. Here's Adrienne talking about her VFFs:

I can’t stop laughing.

The salesman at REI looks at me skeptically, as if he and everyone he knows already own shoes that make them look like they have Muppet feet. But come on. These are ridiculous. These Vibram Five Fingers “barefoot” running shoes look like dorky rubber toe socks. It takes 10 minutes to sort my digits into each toe pocket.

Why am I puttering around in these crazy things? ...

Which brings me back to my peculiar footwear. I requested a pair of Five Fingers to try out a few weeks ago, and started wearing them to run errands in the afternoons. I can already feel the difference (and I’ve been getting a lot of thumbs-up in the street, too). I strike the ground with my fleshy forefoot as I instinctively try to lessen the impact on my bony heels. Even when carrying groceries, my steps are lighter and more delicate.

After a week of barefooting in the afternoons, I took my show into the backyard. The dog looked at me curiously as I ran through a few drills—grapevines, ladders and three sets of two-legged and one-legged hops. After five minutes, I kicked off the shoes and wriggled my liberated tootsies in the grass. The afternoon sun felt good on my shoulders, and the breeze smelled like honeysuckle.

Isn't that a common experience? It is with me. Workouts in my "birthday shoes" become more like play when my feet have the freedom to do as they please.

Once Adrienne gets some more VFF time in, I've no doubt she'll become a pro at putting them on quickly. These days, I'm able to put my Classics on without using my hands! The KSOs have become much easier to put on as well (Yay for velcro!).

Here's a nice quote from Chris McDougall making a fairly salient critique of the Nike Free:

“The problem with the Free is that it allows a kind of running that’s not like barefoot running,” McDougall says. “It has a heel, arch support, padding. If you try to run in a Free, you’re going to run like you’re in running shoes. With bare feet, you can’t overstride ... and you can’t overtrain. Your feet will be tender.” ...

I couldn't agree more. Thanks for the great article! It's always encouraging to see more and more barefoot (and effectively barefoot) awareness, whether it's running specific or otherwise.

Finally, I'll include my comment about the article, which should show up over at wweek.com soon (I hope!):

Nice write-up. The barefooting movement isn't limited to just running. Whether it's traditional weight lifting (even Olympic lifting), kettlebells, CrossFit, hiking, kayaking, ultimate frisbee, grocery shopping, or just going for a walk, you'll find barefooting enthusiasts.

It seems the greatest deterrent to going barefoot is not only that the world has become concrete, hard, trashed, and dangerous to our exposed skin, but that it's also culturally unacceptable to not wear shoes, despite it being completely legal to be barefoot in public places in all 50 states (and even driving).

This is why fivefingers are a great product: they provide just enough protection from the sharp and dangerous concrete jungle while still being shoe-like enough to pass as weird-looking, but socially acceptable -- even cool.

Fivefingers are so enthusiastically endorsed by wearers (I have two pairs) that I founded a fivefingers fan site for people to talk about sizing, fit, uses, etc. (You can find the site at birthday shoes dot com - just google birthday shoes -- forgive the plug, but the site is a budding and fun community!).

One gripe I have with the authorities is their skepticism about going barefoot (or effectively so as with five fingers):

"Mainstream docs are not convinced of the benefits of bare feet, either. 'There’s been increasing interest in the past five years, but not a lot of conclusive studies [on barefoot training],' stresses Colin Hoobler"

What a funny statement. Why do we need conclusive studies to tell us that being barefoot is acceptable? Human feet were engineered by blind evolutionary trial and error to be unshod! We need more trials and studies to tell us something that nature provides instinctively? I'd recommend Colin observe a toddler walking barefoot -- it's midfoot first.

Having said that, since most of us have lived the majority of our lives engaging in any sort of activity in more conventional footwear, foot atrophy is to be expected, which is to say that some level of rehabilitation is to be expected. So take it easy, and ease into dumping your arch support (The most powerful arch support, of course, is that which comes from the arches in your feet!).

Anyway, great article!

Are VFFs any different between gender styles? What about wide feet? [FAQ]

It's a common question: for the same size foot (measured in inches or whatever), if you grab the correct numerical size to fit that foot in both women's and men's Vibram Five Fingers (assuming a size exists for both genders — there is some overlap), is there a difference between genders?

The answer is "yes." And don't take my word for it, this is what Vibram said about it directly to one member of the VFF fan community:

[T]he woman’s shoe have a more narrow fit in the heel and the ball of the foot. The men’s widths are wider.

Original post with updates:

[Updated at 3:50 pm] I received the following question from a member of the facebook birthday shoes / Vibram fivefingers fan group:

I wish i could help but i do not have VFF's yet. I do have a question about size though...

I measure at 10 1/4 in. I really had my heart set on the womens clasicVFF's but they don't go big enough for my big feet! :)

My question is should I get the mens? I am worried that they will be to wide for me. Any thoughts?

Thanks so much!

An interesting question, here was my response:

Kristi,

Hey - I have a couple thoughts about this:

1) I talked to a couple where both have sprints. Based on the girl's eyeballing the two pairs of Sprints, the men's appear no wider than the women's.

2) There are no "wide" versions of VFFs. Vibram has said (though I can't put my finger on where) that people with wide feet should have no problem wearing regular VFFs b/c the way fivefingers are made allows them to expand widthwise without problem. About 40% of those who have responded to my survey (so far - if you haven't already, please take the fivefingers sizing/fit survey here! Only takes about five minutes.) have wide feed, and none of them cite it as a problem.

Update 3:50 pm: Per Seret's comment below, women's VFFs may indeed be more narrow than men's:

Although they had the Men's size in stock, my husband prefered the Women's KSOs. He has narrow feet. So the oppisite can be true for Kristi. Try the Men's! They look the same, except when it comes to color in different styles. Right now, my husband and I now have matching blue KSO Ninja Feet!

So the jury is still out (or maybe in?).

Admin note: I got the grey KSOs, but secretly want the crazy blue ones!

FiveFingers in Jamaica? No problem, mon!

FiveFingers in Jamaica? No problem, mon!

You might have noticed it was fairly quiet around here over the past week. That's because I was in Jamaica. My wife and I were celebrating our "babymoon:" this is the last ditch pre-first-child vacation for expecting parents. Yes, I think "babymoon" is a goofy sounding name for a vacation. Some people think it sounds "cute."

The only footwear I brought along for the trip were my Classics, KSOs, and Chacos. I wear my Chacos less and less these days as they just feel increasingly heavy and clumsy. I wonder why. I normally would have brought along some flip-flops, but I couldn't find mine.

Beach Impressions: My Classics served as my all-purpose footwear and I wore them throughout the resort with the exception of dinnertime when I needed to wear more acceptable footwear. As it went, the 5 finger Classics worked exceedingly well for time by the pool, gallivanting about the resort, and for brief walks across the beach (Normally, I took them off for beach-time!).

I was surprised to find that the gaping open-topped Classics allowed very little sand into the shoe. My hunch is that, unlike "flip"-flops, the integrated foot/sole design of VFFs reduces the flipping of sand particles into the air (and thereby into the footbed). Don't hear this as saying you won't get any sand in your fivefingers at the beach, and furthermore, you shouldn't be wearing your fivefingers on most beaches, anyway (excepting cases of overly shelly beaches or in times of beach sprints): beach time should be 100% barefoot time! Take advantage!

Other notes from the trip: virtually no one remarked on my fivefingers. This was a break from the gawking norm, and I can only assume it was due to the prevalence of traditional water shoes (Most people likely just assumed I had eccentric taste in water shoes).

I also got busted by the resort fitness director for being in the gym in my Classics, which weren't "proper footwear." I attempted to explain to him that I lift in my VFFs all the time, and that sneakers aren't going to protect your feet much from the crushing force of falling iron. It didn't work (And I had just finished my brief 50 pull-up workout, so I didn't press the issue) and I went to the pool.

Shortly thereafter, he sought me out and we had a very long conversation about fitness and I learned about his five year stint as a Jamaican cage fighter. And he acceded my point and said I could still workout in them. CYA is the same in Jamaica as anywhere else, I suppose.

More TSA experiences with birthday shoes socks! Egged on by a new fivefingers friend, "MC" over at begin2dig.com, who has yet to be asked to remove his VFFs (Flows, I believe) while proceeding through airport security, and wanting to see if I got a repeat performance of TSA stink eye, I wore mine through all security checkpoints on the return to the states. As you might expect, there was "No problem, mon!" in Jamaica — not even a pause from their security. After proceeding through U.S. customs at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, you're required to go through TSA security. I did, and here's what transpired:

TSA Lady: [Waves me to proceed through metal detector]
[With a chuckle ...] "I have never seen anything like that!"
[Holds up her hand to halt anyone from following me through]
Me: [Unsure if she's also wanting me to stop] "They're called five fingers"
TSA Lady: "No, they're called socks!"

And that was that. She loved my birthday shoes ... er ... socks!

Stay tuned! I got to test out my KSOs on Jamaica's Dunn's River Falls (Wiki), which is a large waterfall that flows into the ocean. Visitors get to climb up the falls directly in the water, on the rocks. I wore my KSOs and my wife, who opted to pass on the experience, took a few shots. So I'll be blogging a review of the wet ware use of KSOs soon!

Ryan's Dog and Dogs [Kickin' Vibram Five Fingers Classics]

Ryan's Dog and Dogs [Kickin' Vibram Five Fingers Classics]
Ryan's Dog and Dogs [Kickin' Vibram Five Fingers Classics]

Ryan from Arizona (You might remember him from this post) has sent in some updated shots showing off his Vibram Five Fingers Classics as well as his dog. Ryan writes about the photos and his favorite Vibrams, the Classics:

Hey!

As promised here are some takes while kickin' it in the Classics with the dog and family. These are my favorite out of all models. I hit the trails this morning on the mountain behind my house in the KSOs and then live the day in these. It seems they are gaining in popularity which usually equates to social acceptance. I never like being mainstream, but seriously, I get tired of the looks and having to give the five minute pitch Tim Ferris speaks about. I'm to the point that I "smile and wave boys." I dig 'em and enjoy wearing them everywhere. I like the simplicity of the Classics and the ease of use.

Life is good.

I've had the chance to correspond a good bit with Ryan over the past week. Among other things, I've further realized how Vibram Five Fingers wearers seem to share many common traits -- strongly individualistic, intelligent, driven, into living healthy lifestyles, etc. It is strange to observe a piece of footwear bringing similar types of people together, but yet it is happening with fivefingers.

I'd also like to note that I have the same color-combo of VFFs, but mine are (I think) first generation as they lack the "Vibram" stitching on the top of the left shoe (see here).

Jason Tree-Climbing in Colorodo in his Black KSO Vibram Five Fingers

Jason hanging from a tree in his black KSO Vibram FiveFingers in Colorodo
Jason hanging from a tree in his black KSO Vibram FiveFingers in Colorodo.

This just in the mailbag from Vibram Five Fingers KSO fan Jason:

Love your website, Vibrams and real feet are great, aren't they? This shot is on the top of Mount Cutler in Cheyenne Canyon, Colorado. Actually just up the ridge from the actual summit near a steep drop off.

Love this shot as it just seems so human (in a fundamentally natural kind of way)! And yeah, real feet and Vibrams are great! Would you ever consider doing something like this while wearing conventional footwear? Full-fledged barefootedness for those with soles of steel or pseudo-barefootedness (as with fivefingers) is a confidence inpsiring thing, and it provokes outlandishly fun behavior like hanging from trees as Jason demonstrates here.

Thanks for stopping by, Jason!

Mark Sisson does Beach Sprints in Vibram Five Fingers (video)

Mark Sisson — athlete, primal blueprint architect, health expert, and awesomely fit at 50-something blogger at MarksDailyApple.com — has informed countless numbers of people about how to have a healthier, happier lifestyle. He's also informed more people about Vibram FiveFingers than virtually anyone via his informative video on beach sprints and "indigenous people squats:"

[video:youtube:kWiE0CNpoEk]

It goes without saying that Mark is on the short list of people I'd like to complete the birthday shoes interview. And if you're looking for other barefoot alternatives (other than VFFs, that is), be sure to check out Mark's most recent post on that subject.