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How To Use FiveFinger Shoes To Hurt Yourself

by Tyler Hurst » on Jun 01, 2011 11

No matter how good something new can be for us, humans always find a way to screw things up. Our cars are “safe”, yet we still run into each other. Planes are “safe” too, “thanks” to the TSA. Normal running shoes “protect” us from the dangers of barefoot running, as they are designed to block impact and somehow correct our natural running motion.

Like anything new, Five Fingers take getting used to. It took me nearly a year before I was able to run as fast or faster than I did shoed, albeit with far less pain in my joints and feet. Taking it very, very slow saved me a ton of hurt. Studying proper running form certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Who wants to bet Keith Olbermann didn’t do these things? His recent admission of a stress fracture in his feet caused by running too far, too fast has podiatrists buzzing about the dangers of minimalist shoes.

They’re not entirely wrong.

Weight makes a difference

I’ve been somewhere between 214 and 235 pounds since I’ve owned Vibrams. As I’m not quite 6’1″, my body doesn’t conform to the typical long, lithe figure I see in most running magazines. As such, I know for certain that I need to take extra precautions when trying out any new physical activity.

But isn’t that the same for everyone? Keith Olbermann quoted a doctor that said something about 175 lbs being the cut off for safe minimalist running. Isn’t being fat dangerous for ANY runner? I can’t name a shoe that has ever been able to offset extra weight and my FiveFingers are no different.

Form Matters

I’m guessing here, but I assume that Olbermann is not a long-time runner. Not that he’s never been athletic, but I’m going to assume that running is more of a hobby, rather than something he’s devoted himself to. This means that form is extremely important and without close attention paid, the likelihood of getting hurt increases.

Olbermann likely made the same initial mistake that I did, which was trying to run too much on my forefoot. Thankfully my Sprints didn’t allow me to get away with that, as I’d get hot spots and eventually blisters on my big toes or the balls of my feet if I did that for too long. I fear people that choose thicker soles likely did not get this feedback and pushed themselves too far, too fast.

Fitness Matters

Couch to 5k is tough. Couch to 5k while trying to learn a completely new way to run is impossible to accomplish quickly. An established runner switching to FiveFingers expecting to keep mileage up is absolutely ludicrous, yet it happens way more often than you’d think.

Start slow, run slow and stretch slow. You’ll thank me.

Submitted Comments

  1. Robinson says:

    Its very easy to get injured as you switch over. Lets face it – we wouldn’t be long distance runners if we weren’t used to “pushing” how far to run. I know I found out hte hard way that this is NOT a great idea in Vibrams.

    I spent two months with near-crippling pain in my right calf, and when I finally got past that, I was running 7-8 miles in them with no problems (on the flat). Then I added a LONG hill – up and down. My other calf is now recuperating from the damage caused going down hill.

    I mention it – to point out that any big change must be worked into – if you go from flat to hills in your VFF, start with little hills. Just having the distance under your belt doesn’t mean your calves are used to different angles/weight distribution!

  2. Kristen says:

    “I can’t name a shoe that has ever been able to offset extra weight and my FiveFingers are no different.”

    This is gold.

    I’m also a heavy runner, and also flat-footed, so I went into wearing VFFs for running very cautiously. And if you are making an informed decision about using these shoes (and believe me, I was–I have had many foot problems, so I didn’t want to make those worse through a bad decision about this), almost any place you look is going to warn you to take your time getting used to them. There is no big secret that the change to running in minimalist shoes should be made gradually, and if you have made yourself even slightly informed, you have instead been bombarded with such warnings. In my case, at first I just went for long walks with my dogs while wearing them, occasionally doing a short sprint just to see how it felt. But aside from short runs for fun, I wore these periodically from October to January just to get my foot accustomed to them and then switched to only wearing VFFs or being barefoot in January. And I just now (back at the start of May) began working my way through Couch to 5k (still cautiously). Any pain that feels like more than just “hey, I used the muscles” soreness, I give extra recovery time to. And the result has been that I am running with far less pain than I ever did in the past wearing traditional running shoes, including the motion control ones that are supposed to be good for people with flat feet. Because your feet are much more exposed to injury in VFFs, you have to be more cautious, sure, but blaming the shoes when you don’t take that caution is dumb, and then extends to unfair when you start publicly blaming the shoes instead of yourself. These shoes have enabled me to get back into running after about a ten-year break, and it infuriates me that someone spreading misinformation about them, based on his own unwillingness to inform himself, infuriates me because I’m sure that there are many others out there who could benefit from these but will probably now not try them because of this clown spouting off about them (rather than his negligence) being responsible for his injury.

  3. StudentRunner123 says:

    You know, I like that this is being addressed. It is a totally different shoe, people don’t have the patience or knowledge to take their time to become adjusted to these shoes. It is a whole different way of running. There is the lack of education and hopefully there aren’t a ton of attempted lawsuits. Do your research if you want to buy a pair. Listen. Take your time!

  4. BigRalph73 says:

    I took a year on moco shoes 2 go from couch potato to 8k. Finished my first ever road race n 42 min. I was over zealous w my kso and ramped 2 3 miles n 3 weeks. As a result, i am returning to running after 3.5 down due to a heel stress fracture. I LOVED running and walking n my kso but now i am apprehensive about returninf to them. Question: how do maintain mileage, prepare for a half marathon and transition, properly, to minimalist running? Thanks.

  5. Kai says:

    I hope that you’re trying to run mid-foot or forefoot. The stress fracture of the heel sounds like that you went heel-to-toe in VFF’s. That should be considered a big no-no.

    Read up on ; he is VERY knowledgable about all kinds of running techniques. Even better, get the book. I read it, I follow it. I am running better than ever. From couch to … I dunno, haven’t found my limits yet.

    Enjoy and good luck with your foot!


  6. admin says:

    Just saw that Keith Olbermann commented back about this blog post via Twitter:

  7. Milo says:

    Way too much “guessing” (assuming the worst) about things you know nothing about. At best that makes you an appologist, at worst someone who goes in for character assassination.

  8. jonathon says:

    I love ffs . I don’t run every day but these shoes have me looking forward to running more. i avoid running on the road are sidewalks . i run in abandoned florida rock mine near my town. i run down into the pits and climb the walls out . the second time i ran there i got caught by the cops ha . i love them cant wait to get another pair .thanks for the info tyler hurst.

  9. Thedrake says:

    What a pleasant fellow he is…and to think that I have been operating under the misconception that walking and running are quite different.

  10. Brian says:

    I’m almost 41 and just started running for the first time in my life a little over a year ago after losing more than 70 lbs at the time. I started walking and slowly graduated to running in conventional running shoes, but I was running into major problems with my knees, feet and hips.

    Not wanting to give in, I read a lot about FiveFingers and slowly worked my way over to fully transitioning and ran in them without a modicum of pain for months (after the initial soreness subsided). I did a really stupid thing one day, however, and instead of running my usual 5 miles, I ran twice that day (for a total of ten). Two days later I was out of commission and I’ve been plagued with problems ever since.

    First my feet were blown. I found out I have plantar fasciitis and a bone spur on my heal, so I started running 100% on the balls of my feet, but soon developed shin splints that took me out of commission for two months (micro-fractures). I finally rehabilitated myself to running pain-free 5ks again every other day, but ran two days in a row and injured my calf this time. Obviously, I’m hurting myself in these moments where I up my distance more than I should (I’ve got to stick to the 10% rule).

    Here’s my comment: Because we’ve been padding our feet and heal striking for so long, I feel we really need to practice walking on the balls of our feet whenever possible, especially when recovering from an injury. Its weird walking on the balls of my feet though—it looks like I’m walking on high heels (and that’s not something I want to do in front of people).

    I started walking this way around the house, however, and really hope this helps my recovery. Without doing that, I fear the muscles I use running on the balls of my feet atrophy and aren’t ready to take on running again even if I feel 100%. Does anyone else practice walking on the balls of their feet? Small children often naturally walk this way—I wonder if that’s our natural inclination—it’s quieter anyway.

    Side note: Another advantage to walking on the balls of your feet is that it burns 52% more calories than using the traditional heal strike.

  11. Theron Ninth says:

    Thanks for the new homonym pair–I’d not yet included it in my Homonym Hell handbook. Heal, Heel. (your “heal strike”–maybe a freudian slip–parapraxis–to boot.

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