This week, we take a moment to review a pair of Vibram’s FiveFinger Speed.
Item: Vibram FiveFinger Speed
Price: $99 USD
With all the hype surrounding the barefoot movement I thought it was time The Rx Review entered into the discussion with an informed review. So this week I decided I would give you my thoughts and opinion of the Vibram FiveFinger Speed.
I should begin by first declaring that I was dubious of the barefoot movement mainly because I have flat feet (thanks mum) and have been told by doctors, podiatrists and shoe salesmen that I need all the support I can get when it comes to runners. Adding to my skepticism was the fact that the barefoot shoe made by the Italian company Vibram wasn’t exactly aesthetically appealing to me. Setting aside my suspicion I tried Vibram’s earlier model of their barefoot collection in early 2010 and I have to report that I was less than impressed.
When Vibram released the Sprint edition of their FiveFinger range I was open to the idea of wearing them strictly in the gym. I wasn’t too concerned about being fashion conscious because at the time I was training at an underground gym, being a CrossFit box. So the point is I was happy to get my hands (or in this case my feet) dirty and sport the barefoot shoe.
On the instruction of my trainer I alternated the days I wore the FiveFingers. I did this after being warned that the muscles and tendons in my feet and ankles would be in agony as a result of the barefoot shoe. Now, I have to admit I was also doubtful of this grand claim that my feet would ache, the pain would shoot up into my calves and I would struggle to walk blah blah blah. You see my feet have become accustomed to abuse over the years and I have a high pain threshold, especially in the feet. After forcing them into dance shoes that cause colossal blisters, being crammed into stilettos that are too high and walking seemingly endless kilometers in flat shoes that are about to fall apart (or worse walking in heels for hours) I thought I had endured every form of pain possible in the feet.
Ok so I was truly humbled after wearing Vibram’s Fivefinger Sprints. Yes I experienced pain in my feet. Pain everyone told me was good because it was a sign that the muscles in my feet were strengthening, ultimately allowing the toes to function as nature had intended, like individual limbs. So despite the pain I did what women do in the name of fashion and continued to wear the barefoot shoe until the abominable happened.
Just like any other ordinary morning at 7am on a weekday I was working out at my local box sporting my new Sprints. The warm-up passed without a hitch and I seemed to be skipping with ease in this new barefoot shoe. To my surprise I felt far more stable and grounded when completing that morning’s Olympic weightlifting exercise and it too passed seamlessly. It wasn’t until the workout that things started to take a turn. After completing the first round of the WOD I was ready to dive into the second round and perform the second set of jumping pull-ups. Ignoring that fatigue was setting in I decided to do all pull-ups unbroken. Although I was losing grip I decided to jump into my second last rep until I lost hold altogether, plunging on top of the very box I was standing upright on only moments ago. At the time it seemed my shins took the brunt of the fall and despite the blood that cascaded down my legs I launched myself back onto the box without thinking.
It wasn’t until after the WOD that I realised how much pain I was actually disguising. Tracking my awkward movements I discovered that somehow I tried to prevent the fall by clenching my toes to the edge of the box, of course failing and scraping my shins on the way down (leaving a permanent scar). Assessing the damage after the fact wasn’t pretty. I managed to doctor my legs and stop the bleeding but I couldn’t help but notice the pain in my left foot. Eager to investigate I took off my left shoe and was wincing as each toe was released from their pockets. The shoe was wet and filled with blood and as I drew the foot out I saw my big toe exposed and without nail (ah yes the picture just got prettier). Needless to say my investigating stopped there as I wasn’t too keen on the idea of searching around in the shoe for the missing nail.
Little did I know at the time but it was goodbye thongs (a.k.a flipflops) and cute open toe heels and hello boots, sneakers and closed toe flats for the next twelve months.
This is where my desire to persist with Vibram’s FiveFingers ceased in spite of their promising claim to strengthen the feet. Not only was my nail ripped from its bed but each of my toes grew unsightly, purple bruises days after the fall. I was emotionally scarred from Vibram’s barefoot shoe and I still believe today that if I’d been wearing any other ordinary running shoe my toenail would have been spared and the bruises well, non-existent.
Now that was quite a lengthy introduction and at the beginning of this piece I wasn’t going to mention my first encounter with Vibram but as my thoughts evolved I thought it was necessary. I know that the barefoot movement has been gaining traction in the media and especially among CrossFitters so I wanted to show that I was cynical at first about the whole barefoot gig and I wasn’t blindly following some bizarre trend like a teenage girl.
Given my bitter experience with Vibram I then decided to switch to the Nike Free’s in late 2010. I was wearing the Nike Free 5.0, which is the thickest shoe of Nike’s minimalist range before moving to the 3.0, the thinnest sole. Initially, I have to admit I was quite pleased with the look and feel of the shoe. I was wearing the Free for a little under a year but couldn’t help but notice that in moments of intense exercise the arch of my foot would cramp and ache to the point where I would have to remove my shoes mid-workout. Initially, I thought this was just one of the repercussions of being severely flat footed and wearing a low profile shoe but to my surprise I’d heard others at my box complain of the same thing. By 2011 it seemed Vibram were in the process of perfecting the fit of their FiveFingers and they had introduced many different designs. However, it wasn’t until Vibram released the Speed edition of their FiveFingers that I warmed to the idea of testing them again, toenails at stake and all.
I was toying with the idea of buying Vibram’s Speed for a couple of months and finally took the plunge mid-way through 2011. So why the Speed? Well, in part I liked the fact that unlike any other FiveFingers this one had laces, which meant the width was adjustable but mostly I’ll admit it was the retro style that pushed me over the edge. It’s no secret then my initial attraction to the shoe was purely based on aesthetics but this alone has not kept me in them. So without further delay it’s time to jump to the review (ahhh yes finally).
• As obvious as it sounds my feet feel free and can quickly adapt to any exercise. The toe pockets are the perfect fit and the sole is the perfect thickness, which makes it easy to transition from running to weightlifting.
• The mesh material surrounding the external surface of the shoe allows the feet to breathe.
• At the heel of the shoe there is a cup design and unlike other FiveFingers it doesn’t have the hook and loop. Ultimately, this means the Speed don’t rub on the heels making them more comfortable and contoured.
• For those who already sport Vibram FiveFingers: the Speed have better ground feel because unlike other models it doesn’t have the extra 3mm polyutherane inside, at the forefoot.
• I have never been so glad that a sports shoe comes with a padded tongue. For most this is probably not a big deal but it was for me. The first time I slipped into the Speeds all of my built up my anxiety disappeared because of that soft tongue. The main reason being that the tongue gives a more shoe like feel, creating the illusion that my toes weren’t going to slide around and try anything heroic like support my whole body weight in a fall.
• The shoe is machine washable, which may not seem like much of a benefit but trust me is a complete necessity. The dirt that gets collected along with the smell that loiters makes this a welcomed feature.
• As mentioned the Speed have a lace-up design, which adds to the physical appeal of the shoe and also means the width is adjustable, providing a custom-fit.
• Style, Style, Style. So the Speed are the best looking FiveFingers out there or at least I think so. They have a retro design and a sneaker like finish, guaranteed to attract a few stares.
• Welcome to the developing world of barefoot shoes where they still haven’t figured out a way to prevent the great stench that lingers beneath the laces. I don’t care how much Vibram try to promote their FiveFingers as having stench free material it is a downright lie. Yes they smell. Oh they smell so bad that you’ll be looking to buy odour-absorbing liquids, powders and sprays in bulk.
• The colour: now this really only applies to women. When I was buying the Speed they only came in two colours. The selection for women was limited to white with a blue stripe or bright blue with a white stripe, so I bought both. I guess it goes without saying but the white are now an interesting shade of off white, almost grey. The mesh material means dirt sticks to the white fabric leaving stains even after washing. The bright blue are just that… bright! They are bold and beaming so if you want to enter into Vibrams barefoot world subtly this is definitely not the shoe. The mens Speed come in a more reasonable black and white, which is ideal for working out because the dirt is not as noticeable. In my opinion Vibram should have made the black Speed unisex.
• I developed blisters on my feet the first few times I wore the Speed. Knowing that my feet would eventually adjust I kept wearing them and now they are the perfect fit. However, I thought it was worth noting that I did experience some teething problems.
• I have spoken to some people who feel that the lace-up design takes away from the whole barefoot experience. While I disagree I acknowledge that this may apply to some.
• I will say the Speed are anything but easy to put on. As mentioned most FiveFingers have the hook and loop design at the tail, which mean the shoe goes on quickly and doesn’t require much feeling around for the toes to separate into each pocket. Putting on the Speed does take some practice to perfect but I say persist in the name of fashion.
• They take some getting used to. As with any model of Vibram’s FiveFingers if you wear them for fifty minutes or for five days your feet are going to hurt, ache and throb. If you persevere past the pain the payoff will be worth it in the end (or so we’re told).
• Price oh how it pains me to talk about price. There is no polite way to put it; here in Australia we get ripped off when it comes to Vibrams and all other things. The price in the good old land of OZ is almost more than double that of America and if it’s not? Beware it’s probably fake. US consumers will pay around US$100 for Vibram FiveFingers, which is still expensive for sports shoes in comparison to other brands in the US, nevertheless it is a price that can be justified. In Australia you can pay anywhere upwards of $200 for the latest and greatest pair. Something I should point out is that Vibram’s Classics are on sale in Australia at the moment for $99 but my advice is avoid these if you like your toenails.
After a lengthy introduction and my murderous use of bullet points I have to add that the switch to Vibram’s FiveFingers has undoubtedly been a big adjustment for me. I feel as though the journey has been worth it as the barefoot shoes are doing their intended job and saving me from injury. I used to fall forward on my toes during squats and was quite unbalanced doing most weightlifting exercises in regular runners but since wearing the Speed I have been able to correct my form. I have also learnt to land softly when doing box jumps and while running, preventing damage to major joints, no doubt.
I have been wearing the Speed for around eight months and I will admit I have experienced pain in my (fallen) arch as well as surrounding areas, notably the ankles, but it does leave me hopeful that my feet are strengthening. I’ve had some subtle signs that lead me to believe the strengthening process has begun. In the short space I have been wearing FiveFingers I’ve noticed that each of my toes has greater dexterity as I’m able to move them more freely. I have also observed my feet when they are relaxed (weird I know) and noticed that my toes tend to have more space between them than what they did before my barefoot venture begun, a good sign I’m sure.
All in all I have converted to the toe shoe! I’m now a true supporter of the barefoot movement and I have to say the Vibram FiveFinger Speed make the perfect addition to my training wardrobe both for function and style.