Series Content

  1. Barefoot Training, Vibram Five Fingers and the Evils of Strength Sucking Modern Shoes
  2. Barefoot Training Part I: Fitness Fad or Great Training Method?
  3. Barefoot Training Part II: The Role of Footwear on Injury Development

Barefoot Training, Vibram Five Fingers and the Evils of Strength-Sucking Modern Shoes: Your complete barefoot training reference

The post I did the other day (below) sparked some great comments and wonderful emails, so I am going to finally post this one about barefoot training, Vibrams and much more. My goal is to make this a great resource for all your questions on this topic.

Video Product Review of Vibram Five Finger Barefoot Shoe Testing in Mexico

I was going to split this one up into a a whole series as I did more and more research; but I will leave it as one now for an easy to find and skim reference post.  Tons and tons of info here, but feel free to post comments on anything that I missed!

I like to wear my Vibram Five Fingers and I always get comments like:

  • What the heck are those on your feet?
  • It looks like you dip your feet in polyurethane
  • Why are your feet blue it is not that cold out?
  • What the heck are those things

Those are just a few of the comments I get when I wear my Vibram five finger shoes out in public.  Jodie actually calls them monkey feet.  While the Nike frees look more like a normal shoe, the Vibram five fingers definitely get a lot of stares.

Believe it or not, I actually do all my training in them; despite claims that I will destroy myself without some precious padding under my feet.  I call BS to that.

Are they the next revolution in athletic performance?

In short, Yes!  Not so much a revolution, but more a movement (ahhaha, pun intended) back to how our foot SHOULD function.

According to Dr. Ivo Waerlop of the Vibram Biomechanics Advisory Board,

Running in Five Fingers improves agility, strength, and equilibrium, plus it delivers sensory feedback that allows runners to make immediate corrections in their form. This greatly improves running efficiency.

Heck, the power lifting association USAPL actually BANNED Vibrams for competition!  I found out first hand at my last meet, so good thing I brought some other minimal, flat shoes instead.

Vibram Five Fingers Barefoot Running

There is a revolution coming and it is fast upon us.

The days of very supportive stiff shoes are fast on the way out if you have not read the book yet Born to Run by Christopher McDougall I would highly highly recommend that I picked it up on, It is excellent and was my favorite book of this entire past year.  Tons of details on the history of shoes and ancient lost tribe of Indians that do ultra marathon distances.  The book builds up to one of the greatest races to occur that no one has ever heard of, plus an excellent background on shoes and running exercise.  Awesome book!

In his book “Take Off Your Shoes and Walk” foot Doctor Simon J. Wikler D.S.C., states that,

“Practically all shoes worn daily by men and women in our Western civilization have little relation to the shape of the human foot – Most adults’ foot trouble would either not exist or would be much less bothersome if properly-shaped shoes had been worn during childhood or, better yet, if those people had gone barefoot

Look back at old pictures of Arnold and friends squatting without shoes.

Smart Shoes =  Dumb Feet

Smarter the shoe, dumber the foot. Messed up feet = messed up hips due to the arthrokinetic reflex which roughly translated is code jammed joints equal muscular weakness quote.

Jammed Joint Video and Instant Strength!

Jammed Cuboid = Weak Glute Med (Butt Muscles)

You Are Survival Based

The body is trying to protect the joints since it cares more about survival than performance.  I know the first time I heard that from Dr. Cobb of Z-Health, I was pissed, it makes sense.

If your ankle is all goofed up and highly immobile, the body will start to shut down the main muscles of the hips (glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, etc) to limit the amount of force that will go through the ankle and the foot, thus protecting the foot and ankle. The downside however is a decrease in performance. Not good for setting more PRs in the gym.

If bad ankles equal bad hips, good ankles must then equal good hips and mooooo poooooowwwwwwa. The take away is to do mobility work on your feet and ankles to see an increase in performance, especially in the main muscles in the hips.  More weight lifted = bigger and stronger muscles.

Other Tidbits

• Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.

• Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.

• Running in bare feet reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent. Competitive running performance should therefore improve by a similar amount, but there has been no published research comparing the effect of barefoot and shod running on simulated or real competitive running performance.

• Research is needed to establish why runners choose not to run barefoot. Concern about puncture wounds, bruising, thermal injury, and overuse injury during the adaptation period are possibilities (wearing Vibrams should help a bit)

FAQ about Barefoot Training, Vibrams, Goofy Shoes and More

What do you recommend as foot ware?

–the most mobile shoe you can find! Nike Frees are ok, Vibram Five Fingers are better, some Asics Tai Chai shoes are good.

What are the qualities in foot ware you are looking for and which are the best ones on the market?

–flexible at the toe area and heel. Grab the ball of the shoe and the heel with your other hand and twist–they should move! Most are ok at the toe area, but suck near the arch/heel (very stiff). MC has posted info below on this

Do your shoes pass the twist test?

Do you advocate the negative heel technology or more neutral foot alignment?

No, negative heel technology is not “normal”. Stay away from them. Do lots of mobility work, then get out of the way and let your foot/ankle do what it is supposed to do —find the most minimal shoe possible.  Doing correct lifting in minimal to no shoes is best.

I hear you need to put a big spring in the heel for extra boost.  What do you think of this?

See above, putting a spring in a heel is a stupid idea. I would like to get a pair with super huge springs though to bounce down the street like a freaking kangaroo for fun though! Hehehe.

This still makes me laugh!

I have never tried spring boost but it that much alteration of your movement is a bad idea.

MBTs, the Anti Shoe = the Anti Solution?

MBTs the Anti Shoe

My experience is that I am NOT a fan of the MBTs. I spent about 45 minutes at their booth at the ACSM conference 2 years ago chatting with them and trying the shoes out.  While they were very nice people and I got a cool gait assessment via force read out in real time to see the difference, I think the foot should have a 3D motion and with the MBTs it is pretty straight through the foot (not natural).

My stride length also decreased (I had on a pair of Nike frees, trying to blend in there since I was presenting).  I also had much less movement at my hips with the MBTs.

From the people that I saw there that had them on, none of them moved well in my opinion. The MBTs are actually VERY stiff and I feel promote an unnatural gait. They even had me walk backwards at one point with them on so that my body could adjust to the wacky shoes. What? I need to learn how to  walk again? That sounds like a bad idea. They are also stupid expensive at about $250 a pair. I have an idea, pay me for a one session and buy a pair of Nike Frees, Vibrams etc and I will have you moving better guaranteed and it will STILL be cheaper.

If you refuse to do mobility work and continue to have stiff feet, they may be an option for you, but this is like putting a helmet on so that you can keep beating your head against the wall.

What about arch support?

Look at an arch structure. It is designed to support a crap ton of weight on the top by dispersing it to the “sides” of the arch. If you support an arch under the keystone (the center stone), it actually destroys the integrity of the structure.

Do you ever see any arches anywhere that have a big metal support rod in the middle of the arch? No, because it will destroy the arch!

Look Mom, No Middle Support

I think by always supporting the arch of the foot, we are actually making it piss WEAK.

Look at the amazing design of the human foot an ankle. I don’t think we can design it any better, but it adapts in the wrong direction by the stupid stuff we do (bad shoes, heels, etc)

What exercise can I do in barefoot shoes?

TONS!  I would recommend the same shoes for most. The Nike Frees (other than the 7.0s) are not very good for directional changes as your foot will slide a bit. I do all my sprint work, tire pulls, tire flips, KB work, etc in my Vibrams.

The catch with long distance runners is that most have TERRIBLE mobility and they move very poorly. Adding a ton of force (6-10 xs BW on each strike) to them in that condition is not good. I have them do lots of mobility work, teach them to sprint fast, and then back off to run distances. Quality over Quantity first. Better is better. Better is more.

What about barefoot shoes and vertical jumping?  I want to get some mad ups!

Mark Small speaks:


My thought of what you said in my opinion is you are RIGHT ON!!! It is also consistent with other “radicals” who are thinking for themselves and don’t allow the shoe industry dictate our thinking. I have been looking into the barefoot running philosophy for the past year which makes a lot of sense. I have been saying all the things you did in your response however most people just look confused especially shoe salesmen.

I really like this one:

” Look at the amazing design of the human foot and ankle. I don’t think we can design it any better, but it adapts in the wrong direction by the stupid stuff we do (bad shoes, heels, etc” –Mike T Nelson

and this one

“Look at an arch structure. It is designed to support a crap ton of weight on the top by dispersing it to the “sides” of the arch. If you support an arch under the keystone, it actually destroys the integrity of the structure. You don’t see any arches anywhere that have a big metal support rod in the middle of the arch! I think by always supporting the arch of the foot, we are actually making it piss WEAK.”

(Editor’s note: ok, so I love Mark because he quotes me-hahaha!  Now my secret is out)

Okay now that I am looking back on your response I’ll just end up copying and pasting the whole thing. You get my point. The last part of your quote is potentially a major cause of many knee, hip, back pain and injuries. Great stuff.

My wife said she wouldn’t be seen with me in the Vibram Five Finger shoes although I could definitely train in them I also like the separation of the toes. One issue I seem to have is most shoes seem to have a narrow toe box. I have a normal width foot but many shoes seem to narrow. I have been trying some indoor soccer shoes as some of them are minimal shoes but also very narrow, ouch. Do you know how the Asics Tai Chai fit in that area?

(Editors note: I am not sure about those shoes in that regard, so you will have to try them out yourself)

Someone directed me to the company Springboost. They don’t actually put springs in their shoes as I know some do and I agree with what you said about those that do put springs in shoes. This company does however use different insoles to provide a neutral and negative heel. I also agree with you about this as well although they are at least thinking unconventionally and bringing the heel down instead of being elevated (how stupid) it’s not the natural position of the foot. But as you said it may be okay for those who are so messed up to spend some time in the shoe. Attached is a website.

(editors note: see the FAQ section for my answer around the kangaroo picture)

For speed, agility, jump training, weight lifting I agree on the most minimal shoe and am actually trying to find one that fits me without restricting me. An argument for more cushioned running shoes is that we live in a world of concrete and that we need some shock absorption from our shoes in our society. (I bet you can’t wait to talk about that.)

As an advocate of barefoot running you know studies have been able to show that when running in the grass barefoot and in shoes the barefoot runner experiences less shock than the one using shoes as landing mechanics change naturally taking full advantage of the foots design. (cool stuff) So would you recommend distance runners ware the same minimal shoes they do for speed, agility, jump training, and weight lifting?

(editor’s note: See above, in short, yes I have them work into barefoot shoes)

Best Regards,

Mark Small

(editor’s note, I initially got my wires crossed and cited this as Jack Woodrup of Vertical –oops, even though Jack has great stuff on his site, so check it out)

Thanks to Mark for the kind words and the great thoughts. It is awesome to know that I am not the only one having similar thoughts and seeing the same results.

Video Comparison: Vibrams vs Normal Running Shoes

Website Resources

Aaron Schwenzfeier on Running: Excellent post by my buddy Aaron

Great resource for all thing Vibram at Birthday Shoes

The Science of Sport: Running Shoes : these guys do their homework!

MC has a great review of the vibrams and injinjis socks with tons of detail:

Fitting Vibram Five Fingers And Injinji Socks – Review

Running in Vibrams, first person review from Keith

Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants

The official Vibrams Site

Nick Tumminello weighs in on Barefoot Training: Good or Bad?

Vibrams store locator

Carson Boddicker has done a great series on the biomechanics of barefoot  running that you must check out below:
Barefoot Running: Anatomy
Barefoot vs Shod Running
Running Economy and Barefoot vs Shod Footstrike
Normal Gait Mechanics
The Big Toe and Windlass Mechanism
Mobilizing the Big Toe
Afferent Control and Running
Irradiation, Concurrent Activation Potentiation, and the Feet
Shoelessness and Injuries

In-Depth Reviews/Opinions

Wired Magazine: To Run Better, Start by Ditching Your Nikes

(summary: barefoot running is good, look into Vibram)

Wired Product Reviews: Vibram

FiveFingers KSO and Classic Running Shoes

(7/10, surprisingly comfortable, but ugly) Review:Vibram FiveFingers Classic

(5/10, look better than they feel)

Timothy Ferris: Vibram

Five Fingers Shoes: The Barefoot Alternative

(10 years of lower back pain disappeared) My Bare Feet. Vibram Five Fingers Review

(if you like being barefoot you’ll like Vibram)

Ryan Kano: Got Toes? The Vibram FiveFingers Review

(surprisngly comfortable, but did develop blisters)

GadgetReview: Vibram 5 Fingers Flow BareFoot Shoes

(solid build and quality, pain to get on at first) Gear Review: Vibram Five Fingers

(hip/IT-Band injury is now almost history)

GearJunkie: Vibram Five Fingers Running Shoes

(100 miles ran and a Vibram convert)

Technical Review: Barefoot Running :

Michael Warburton

Gateway Physiotherapy, Capalaba, Queensland, Australia 4157.

Running barefoot is associated with a substantially lower prevalence of acute injuries of the ankle and chronic injuries of the lower leg in developing countries, but well-designed studies of the effects of barefoot and shod running on injury are lacking. Laboratory studies show that the energy cost of running is reduced by about 4% when the feet are not shod. In spite of these apparent benefits, barefoot running is rare in competition, and there are no published controlled trials of the effects of running barefoot on simulated or real competitive performance.


Strength Coach Podcast

Episode #40


Eric Orton

Endurance Training Coach

Learn about

  • His work with Chris McDougall for the book Born to Run
  • Warm-Ups for the Runner
  • Strength Training for Endurance Athletes
  • “Training, not Straining”
  • Much More…

Highlights of Episode 38

Special Interview with Christopher McDougall of Born to Run

Christopher McDougall

Author of

Born To Run, A Hidden Tribe, Super athletes and The Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen



  • How His Injuries Led Him to Write This Book
  • How The Modern Running Shoe is Causing Injuries in Running
  • The Transition to Barefoot
  • What to Expect When We Go Barefoot
  • Much More…

Published Literature References

American College of Sports Medicine and American Diabetes Association (1997). Diabetes mellitus and exercise: joint position statement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 29(12), i-vi

American College of Sports Medicine (2000). ACSM position stand on exercise and Type 2 diabetes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32, 1345-1360

Anthony RJ (1987). The functional anatomy of the running training shoe. Chiropodist, December, 451-459

Bergmann G, Kniggendorf H, Graichen F, Rohlmann A (1995). Influence of shoes and heel strike on the loading of the hip joint. Journal of Biomechanics 28, 817-827

Burkett LN, Kohrt M, Buchbinder R (1985). Effects of shoes and foot orthotics on VO2 and selected frontal plane kinematics. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 17, 158-163

Clarke TE, Frederick EC, Cooper LB (1983). Effects of shoe cushioning upon ground reaction forces in running. International Journal of Sports Medicine 4, 247-251.

Flaherty RF (1994). Running economy and kinematic differences among running with the foot shod, with the foot bare, and with the bare foot equated for weight. Microform Publications, International Institute for Sport and Human Performance, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon

Frederick EC (1986). Kinematically mediated effects of sports shoe design: a review. Journal of Sports Sciences 4, 169-184

Hafner J, Burg G (1999). Dermatological aspects in prevention and treatment of the diabetic foot syndrome. Schweizerische Rundschau fur Medizin Praxis 88, 1170-1177

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ (1990). Athletic footwear and chronic overloading: a brief review. Sports Medicine 9, 76-85

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ (1991). Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 23, 217-224

Robbins S, Gouw G, McClaran J, Waked E (1993). Protective sensation of the plantar aspect of the foot. Foot and Ankle 14, 347-352

Robbins SE, Gouw GJ, Hanna AM (1989). Running-related injury prevention through innate impact-moderating behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 21, 130-139

Robbins SE, Hanna AM (1987). Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 19, 148-156

Robbins SE, Waked E, Rappel R (1995). Ankle taping improves proprioception before and after exercise in young men. British Journal of Sports Medicine 29, 242-247

Robbins S, Waked E (1997). Hazards of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear. British Journal of Sports Medicine 31, 299-303

Siff MC, Verkhoshansky YV (1999). Supertraining (4th ed.). Denver, Colorado. Supertraining International

Stacoff A, Steger J, Stussi E, Reinschmidt C (1996). Lateral stability in sideward cutting movements. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28, 350-358

Stefanyshyn DJ, Nigg BM (2000). Influence of midsole bending stiffness on joint energy and jump height performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32, 471-476

Webb P, Saris WH, Schoffelen PF, Van Ingen Schenau GJ, Ten Hoor F (1988). The work of walking: A calorimetric study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 20, 331-337

Yessis M (2000). Explosive running. Illinois, USA. Contemporary Books

What did I miss?  Let me know in the comments section!

Rock on

Mike T Nelson

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