New Vibram running "shoes" - the natural feel

November 16, 2009 8:01:39 AM PST
Over the past 30 years traditional running sneakers have become bulkier- offering more stabilty and cushioning. But some runners say running barefoot, or close to it, is best because it promotes the most natural running form. Christopher McDougall is an ultramarathoner - he runs 50-mile races. But what he wears on his feet might surprise you. He shuns traditional running sneakers for sandals or a new shoe called the Vibram Five Fingers.

They're like a glove for your feet with no support - just a thick sole for protection. McDougall, of Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, said years ago while wearing regular sneakers, he couldn't run. He kept getting hurt. "I was always ripping hamstrings, getting Achilles tendentis, planter fasciatis," he said.

So in his book "Born to Run," McDougall set out to study some of the best long-distance runners from a remote tribe in Mexico and how they run without getting hurt.

"I'm looking at this old guy in sandals and I'm thinking how can this guy run four consecutive marathons in sandals and I can't run one in cushion shoes, orthotics and the best of sports medicine at my disposal," he said.

His conclusion, he said, "Running shoes are a failed experiment."

He and many others now believe traditional running shoes with extra support and cushion promote bad running form, such as heel-striking and can lead to injury. But barefoot running, or close to it like with the Five Fingers, promotes proper running form, since the runner's foot is landing more on the natural cushion or ball of the foot.

Dr. Michael Ciccotti of the Rothman Institute at Jefferson said the theory behind the shoes is intriguing.

"The theory is, it dissipates the force of the strike across the foot," he said. Ciccotti added that evening out the impact may help lessen the chance for injury.

But should every runner throw out their sneakers or would they want to throw them out?

Action News asked Pat Kempsey, a personal trainer in Philadelphia, www.pkpersonalfitness.com, to try the Vibram five fingers. He typically wears sneakers all day and runs several times a week.

Experts at City Sports helped Pat get the perfect fit. Then we asked him to slowly break the Vibram shoes in.

At first, he wasn't a fan and said his feet were getting beat up.

"Just pounding the balls of my feet on the pavement," Kempsey said.

But after two weeks, he was up to running two miles in the Vibram five fingers and said he strengthened his feet and felt like he was running cleaner.

"It kind of felt forces you to use more forefoot running than hitting heel-toe," he said. Kempsay said he'll continue to wear the Five Fingers for short runs.

But whether the funny-looking shoes should become the sneakers of the future, Dr. Ciccotti says we need more research. "Time will really tell if they are as beneficial as we think they may be," he said.

McDougall said running pain-free, long-distance is all the evidence he needs.

The Vibram five fingers sell for about $75 to $90 per pair and last about 500 to 600 miles. Action News reached out to some of the major sneaker companies to see what they had to say about the barefoot running theory.

The makers of Brooks sneakers said to call sneakers a "failed experiment," as McDougall did, is a "'gross overstatement." They say many people have had great success in traditional running shoes. But they also say McDougall's philosophy may help some runners, but it be counterproductive for others.

The CEO of Vibram U.S.A., Tony Post, told us the shoes may not be for everyone, but they can help strengthen the foot and leg muscles and allows athletes to run in a more natural state.

For more information about Vibram Five Fingers, visit: www.vibramfivefingers.com

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