Running in Vibram Fivefingers: The Day After

 You know that feeling you get in your muscles after you go to the gym for the first time in months and overdo the weight training? I’m referring to that initial stiffness that prevents you from lifting your arms above your head, which then slowly morphs into burning delayed onset muscle soreness over the next few days? That’s exactly what has happened to my calf muscles since running 7 miles in my Vibram Fivefinger KSO’s yesterday morning. By last night, my legs were stiff, but I felt no real pain. When I woke up this morning, however, I knew I was in for it. Despite my legs screaming at me to stay home, I decided to still go out for my planned long run, and the soreness (+ heat/humidity) trimmed my 17 miler into a 13 mile walk/run nightmare. As I sit here writing this nearly 36 hours after the Vibram run, my calves are burning and I’m hobbling around like I’ve just finished a marathon. Some might think this is a bad thing, but I, on the other hand, am reveling in the pain. What it tells me is that the Vibrams are something special, and that they’ve given me a workout unlike any I’ve had out on the road (save maybe for my two marathons).
Let me preface what I’m about to say with a little background. I’ve been running regularly for 2+ years and have been averaging 30-40 miles per week for most of this summer. I’ve yet to have a significant running-related injury, and soreness after a run is a rarity. It’s for the latter reason that I know the Vibram Fivefingers are special “shoes.” There are a bunch of shoes out there that are touted to provide a “barefoot-like” running experience. In fact, I’ve been running quite a bit this summer in one of them – the Nike Free 3.0 (see picture above and to the right). The only time I’ve felt truly sore after wearing the Nike Free’s was when I made the ill-advised choice to log 20 miles in only my third run wearing them (do you see a pattern here???). That being said, I truly believe that running in the Free’s has strengthened my feet a great deal. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I say this, but my feet feel somehow different than before – as if muscles in my foot that I never knew existed have suddenly tightened up. The Nike Free’s are extremely flexible and lightweight, but they still have a reasonably cushioned sole and heel, so my calf muscles haven’t suffered too much in them.

Healthy feet of an 11-year-old girl who regula...Image via Wikipedia

Unlike the Nike Free’s, the Vibram Fivefingers have no cushioning and no heel, save for a thin sheet of rubber-like material. Thus, running in Vibrams is about as close as you can get to being barefoot without actually having your real bare foot in contact with the ground. As my calves can now attest, running in shoes without a thick sole is a world apart from the running experience in virtually any other shoe on the market today. Humans evolved to run barefoot, of that there can be no dispute. The difference between my experience running in Vibrams versus that running in any other “technologically advanced” shoe tells me that modern, cushioned shoes are not allowing us to run “naturally.” If they did, why are my calves so sore today? It has nothing to do with the extra 13 miles, since my legs were sore from the moment I woke up this morning. My only conclusion can be that wearing Vibrams, essentially running “barefoot,” works parts of my calf muscles that do not get stressed when wearing more typical running shoes. In other words, when wearing “traditional” shoes, I’m not using parts of these muscles that clearly play an important role in running the way the human body evolved to run (i.e., barefoot). Throwing a thick, cushioned sole on a shoe clearly changes our gait biomechanics in a fundamental way, of that I now have no doubt, and it changes it in a way that has a direct impact on how we use our calf muscles when we run.

The more I think about the whole minimalist running phenomenon, the more I realize that it all makes sense. There’s a lot of good science supporting it, and the lack of a rebuttal to Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” by any of the major shoe companies makes me further believe in what he has to say. For now, I’m going to continue my experiment and see where it takes me – who knows, maybe I’ll be running a marathon in Vibrams at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Update 2/27/2010: You can now view my entire series of posts/podcast episodes/videos on my experience running in the Vibram Fivefingers. You can also view my entire series of posts on Minimalist Running.

Update 12/10/09: I just added a new post comparing slow motion video of footstrikes from myself and a student of mine running in stability shoes, Vibram Fivefingers KSO’s, and barefoot. Amazing difference – check it out!: Vibram Fivefingers and Barefoot Running: Does Removing Heel Cushion Change Footstrike?

Update 7/09/10: I just put up a post about my first run in the new Vibram Fivefingers Bikila. Check out my very preliminary Vibram Fivefingers Bikila review here.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. I have beeen running in my fivefingers for about a month and can’t get past 6 miles without foot pain and my calves still screaming the day(s) after. What am i doing wrong? could it be shoe size, the 40′s seem really tight and the 42′s seem a little big. I am wearing Injinji socks and running in Biklias and MS Treks.
    any advise?
    I also have Nortons Toe

    • Pete Larson says:

      Two things I would suggest – if the calves are really sore, give them a
      break until they feel good. If you keep hammering them when they are sore it
      will be hard for them to recover. Second, make sure you aren’t landing too
      far up on your toes, let you heel come down after contact, and don’t push
      off the ground too hard. I still get sore calves from time to time – it’s
      always a work in progress to figure out how to get form just right for me. I
      was up to 15 miles in Vibrams this summer before Fall marathon season hit
      and I took a break from them.

      Pete

  2. Ah, very similar experiences as yours Pete and a few others here. First run last Thursday (just a mile and a half) in Vibram KSOs was MAGICAL. But calf soreness set in almost immediately. The next day walking was a comedic performance. Did another 1.5 mile run on Friday, which was tough because of the soreness, but I knew it was that “good kind” of soreness that results from working formerly lazy muscles.

    Ran two miles on Saturday and Sunday, despite continued soreness. Was at my in-laws and I kept hearing, “You poor thing!” regarding my very stiff walking performance – holding on to stair rails and everything…

    Now, it’s Tuesday and I ran two miles this morning and yesterday in the KSOs. Soreness is abating somewhat, so my calves are hopefully toughening up.

    I’m used to running 8 miles every morning and long runs of 12-20 on the weekends. I realize it will take me a bit to get back up to that.

    This soreness in my calves tells me that I was probably a heavy heel striker before in my stability shoes. I think I’m essentially rebuilding my running stride from the ground up. :)

    • Pete Larson says:

      Shawn,

      I need to write up a full post on the VFF calf pain from a biomechanical
      perspective. It’s very common, and once it goes away you’ll be fine – It’e
      all about the lack of a heel lift!

      Pete

  3. I just got a pair of Vibrams and ran a measly 2.5 miles in them on Saturday and  my calves are HURTING! However, I loved the lightness of them.  I danced ballet my entire life up until I was about 23, and for the past 6 years I’ve just been running/working out.  I took a couple ballet classes this past week and I expected to have the weakness in my body in general, but I was shocked at how my feet of all things were having the hardest time. They were so stiff and weak.  All the strength and flexibility I had in my feet from 20 years of ballet was gone, no thanks to the very stiff and cushiony shoes I am used to wearing for normal runs and workouts.  I used to dance hours a week barefoot, and was otherwise in pointe shoes, borth of which take a lot of strength in your feet, and now my feet are worthless! SOOO long story short, I am glad I got the Vibrams this week.  I will need to ease into them slowly, but I think that they will help me regain some of the strength I used to have in my feet, or at the very least, will help me avoid losing more than I already have.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Common result form a first Vibram run! Definitely ease off a bit – it is possible to develop a stress fracture in your foot from building up too fast in a shoe like this. Just go once a week for the first few weeks, maybe just a mile or so at a time. Or a few times per week for just 5-10 minutes ate first, and don’t run in them until your calves feel recuperated.

  4. punkrockrunner says:

    I recently picked up a pair of the VFF shoes.The running shop advised me not to run any further than a mile or two for starters so I have been wearing them for walking for now. I will say that after wearing while walking for a few miles I was sore so I assume that there is some advantage to the product/concept. I can’t see me running long distances on asphalt in them but I will be taking them on the trails for 10K runs soon.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Punkrockrunner – Trail running to begin is a good approach to starting with VFF’s, and taking it easy at the start is wise. As I mentioned to Daniel, I have a tendency to sometimes do unwise things when I run – thankfully I haven’t suffered seriously for it yet. Sometimes my excitement with trying out new approaches to running gets the better of me. In my first VFF run I did 2.75 miles on trails/sidewalk, and the trail portion was definitely easier on my feet. I recommend checking out Barefoot Ken Bob’s site at link to runningbarefoot.org for good advice.

  5. Magnus the Swede says:

    Hi! I’ve always had some problems with shin splints (is that the right expression in English!?), mainly in the beginning of my irregular running periods. This season I have nearly got rid of the problem by a constant focus on my foot strikes (don’t put down the heel, don’t put down the heel, …). This has led me to an urge to try the fivefingers after all good things I’ve read about them, but my problem is that I have a quite severe pronation, and because of that even Vibram advise me not to use fivefingers (or at least consult a doctor first). Any good ideas on this issue? I guess I would need something that combines the barefoot feeling with support for the arch. Sadly, most recommended shoes with good arch support comes with a lot of heel cushioning. Real good blog by the way!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Magnus,

      As an American of Swedish descent, it’s always good to hear from people from
      my ancestral homeland! One of my dreams is to run the Stockholm Marathon -
      I’ll get there someday.

      Regarding your question, I’d say first that I have no medical or scientific
      basis for saying this, but I tend to not buy much into the whole
      anti-pronation shoe technology. My reasoning thus far is based mostly on
      personal experience. When I first started running, I went to a running shop
      and they told me I was a mild overpronator, and fitted me for stability
      shoes. I wore stability shoes for 2 years, then last year switched over to
      neutral, more minimalist shoes and have not had any problems with the
      transition. That being said, if you are a severe overpronator, maybe the
      switch might be more of a problem.

      What you could do is try running in socks on a treadmill or barefoot on
      grass and see how it feels. If it works for you, then maybe giving the
      Vibrams a shot would be worthwhile. You could also look at some spikeless XC
      shoes – cheaper and also have a smaller heel, but probably a bit more
      support than Vibrams. The Nike Frees are an option, but as you point out,
      the more supportive models (7.0 and Run+) tend to have just as big a heel as
      regular shoes, and the 3.0 probably won’t do much in the way of pronation
      control.

      I guess the decision is kind of a leap of faith – you may wind up doing
      better as a result of the switch, but I’d also hate to see an injury. I’m
      hoping the science on footwear and injury risk starts to catch up with the
      interest in the subject.

      Pete

      • Hello Magnus and Pete,

        I am have sever pronation and have just recently used my five-fingers to run. I can not recommend these enough especially with running and/or jogging for over pronators. I’m a management major so I have no bio-mechanical background but can tell you that my educated guess would be that the shock absorbing properties of the foot+calf muscles+bent knees might have an effect on the pronation topic. Also, I’ve noticed that the faster I try to run, the more natural my foot wants to land on the forefoot instead of my heel.

        Like you said Pete, it is a leap of faith and I think you just have to take the plunge Magnus. I know you won’t be disappointed.

  6. I’m going to pick up a pair today (after I go to sleep and wake up in the morning-I work nights). I’ve been thinking about these all summer, but only in the last 2-3 weeks have I heard about people running in them. I’ve run on and off again throughout the last 20 years. Running has always been easy for me for the most part and that is why I sometimes lapse. I get bored, and don’t get a work out from it.

    But this has me intrigued. It reminds me of a motorcycle accident and subsequent recovery that should have taught me something more than it did when I was 20.

    I was in an accident on a bike. Long story short, I went over the top of a car off my bike. My right foot got tangled a bit in the bike and bent almost in half (toes touching heel).

    I didn’t break anything (miracle) but had a lot of tendon damage.

    I was not making any progress at all healing nor with therapy 2 months after the wreck, until I started going to the beach every day. I had been hobbling around in running shoes, thinking the padding would help protect my feet.

    But when I started going to the beach, I’d walk through the soft sand (not the hard sand) bare foot. The soft sand flexed my foot significantly and I was quickly back on the path to recovery within a month of walking on the beach 3 times a week.

    For the last few years, I’ve been walking(for everyday work stuff) mostly in sandals for two reasons, I felt that my feet were benefiting from the open air, no socks, no sweaty leather shoes.

    I think it has helped for that purpose, but the lack of form fitting of the sandals, means that I tend to slip or trip (especially on steps) more. BTW we’re talking flip flop sandals, not hiking sandals, so just the one over the top of the foot strap with the mid point between my large toe and ‘index toe?’ :)

    When I first saw the VFF’s I thought, There’s the solution to my sandal problem!

    But didn’t even think that I might be able to run in them. I’ve read a half dozen articles on them and running barefoot tonight. I’m definitely going to give it a try. As I read about them, I am remembering water socks when they were a new fad back in the 80′s.

    I ran in them a few times back then, and they were very light and mostly very comfortable. But my foot would slip around in the shoe (like in my sandals) and that caused problems. I’m thinking the toes in the individual toe (slots?) would solve this problem better than any large number of straps and strings. :)

    Completely jazzed about the whole idea. :)

    • Pete Larson says:

      Brett – Thanks for the comment – sounds like you’ve been through a lot with your feet! Like you, I’m in sandals most of the time during the summer (I’m a teacher), so I try to avoid heavy shoes as much as possible. The Vibrams sound like they’d be worth a try in your situation, and running in them has worked well for me so far (I’m still a beginner myself). If you do try them, I recommend getting a pair of Injinji toesocks as well in case you have chafing problems. I’d love to hear about your experience if you give them a try!

      • Thanks Pete,

        I picked up a pair of KSO’s today at one of the few local places that had them in my size.

        The fitting was a little tricky. The guide in the store (big red plastic thing from Vibram) indicated that I’d probably wear a 43.

        After trying on the 43, it felt too tight on some of my toes. My first 2-3 toes are relatively long and my outside 2 toes are kind of stubby I guess.

        So I went with the 44′s and in the store that felt a lot better. Several reviews I’ve read indicated that if you go with the KSO, you should go with a tighter fit in general, but always error on the side of what feels right for your toes. :)

        I got home about an hour ago and am itching to go running (waiting with my middle daughter for my wife to get home).

        The store I got the shoes from didn’t have Injinji socks, but I will likely get them, maybe more for foot moisture reasons than chaffing, but who knows maybe when I’m moving there won’t be as much need.

        hmm got to go, my daughter just finished her home work and agreed to go running with me. She’s about 7 years old, so given that I’m new with these things, it will probably be good to keep me paced and stop me from trying to over do it, which I can tell, I’d definitely like to do.

        Haven’t been this jazzed about going running in well, don’t remember ever being this jazzed about running anywhere that didn’t include a mountain or a creek. :)

  7. seetedrun says:

    Wow !!! I had to read this twice to get the feel of what you have just described about Vibram Fivefingers. I’m totally split about whether to run or not in VFFs. I am not sure if I want to run in the days of caveman. What you have said does make sense in a way in term of how your muscles are developed after running VFFs. This is relatively a new subject. There is really no empirical studies being done on long term effect on runners using VFFs. Can runners using VFFs sustain some serious damage to their muscles in the long run? In a way, I don’t mind using traditional running shoes as an insurance. This way, I can enjoy many years of good runs rather than to gamble on a shoes like VFFs in which there is no scientific research being done. Man – this is intriguing. I guess I will have to wait to see how you are doing in the long run. ;-)

    BTW, I am almost done reading the book called “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. It is a TERRIFIC read.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ted – Christopher McDougall (writer of Born to Run) would argue that modern running shoes are the cause of most of the common running injuries that we see today, and that minimalizing shoes is the way to go to avoid injury long-term. From a historical standpoint, it’s clear that we humans as a species ran barefoot for thousands of years without problems, and even guys like Roger Bannister in the 1950′s were wearing things that were little more than strips of leather on their soles (link to twitpic.com). The point was made in the recent “Barefoot Running” Runner’s Roundtable episode (see here<http: itunes.apple.com=”” mzstore.woa=”” viewpodcast?i=”58835381&amp;id=317458751″ wa=”” webobjects=””>) that if “cavemen” all suffered from plantar fasciiitis from running around barefoot, our species wouldn’t have survived to see the advent of “modern”
      running shoes. They also discussed the hypothesis that part of the success of some of the East African runners is that they essentially run barefoot right into their teenage years. Steve Runner has even gone barefoot: link to runcast.tv….

      The above being said, I’m not yet ready to ditch my shoes completely, but I don’t think I’ll ever be going back to buying 10oz plus trainers unless this whole phenomenon turns out to be wildly destructive (which I highly doubt as long as people are careful and don’t do dumb things like me :)). I’ll wear my Saucony Progrid Guides from time to time until they die, and then probably stick to things like the Saucony Fastwitch and Nike Free’s down to the Vibrams and mix them in together.

      Regarding “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” – I wish every
      runner could read it, he has such a wonderful philosophy about what running means to his to life.

      I love the discussion that this post has spurred – keep it coming! This is
      what makes blogging so much fun.</http:>

  8. Hi!! i did get the vibram 5 fingers-Ksos and i ran on them for 6 miles,i actually flew;i overdid it! and now i have stiff/sore calves and i walk slower than a 80 year old.How long does this soreness last?Do you suggest anyother kind of cardio i could do till i recover?

    Smriti

    • Pete Larson says:

      The soreness usually passes after a few days. Avoid using them until
      it passes – don’t want to strain anything.

      Pete

      On Thursday, December 16, 2010, Disqus

  9. Very interesting reading about your Vibram experience. I just ordered my first pair and can’t wait to give it a try. Been running in arch and cushioning shoes for 4 years and I’m ready to build natural strength.

    • Pete Larson says:

      You’ll love the Vibrams, just be sure to build distance slowly. Too much
      too soon is a recipe for injury in the Vibrams until your feet/legs
      strengthen up. Calf soreness after your first few runs is completely normal
      and goes away, but if you have foot pain, ease off until it goes away, then
      build back up.

      Enjoy!
      Pete

  10. Michjoy61 says:

    Peter, how interesting. I am beginning to think about barefoot running a lot. I may give it a go on the beach totally barefoot for a mile or two.

    I am glad you feel good about the VFF! They are interesting looking thats for sure!!

  11. Just finished my third day of running in the Vibram Five Fingers and you are absolutely right about the calf muscles. After the first two days I had that good workout soreness in my calves but after today’s run I am limping. I really over did it on the right calf. Guess I should have follwed Vibram’s advice and started off slowly. I’ve been walking in them for a couple of weeks and thought that would be enough but apparently there is a big defference between walking and running barefoot.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes, much more force placed on the calves while running. Give them time to
      heal up and it will get better. I went just once a week in Vibrams for the
      better part of a year – that may be overly conservative, but even now that I
      run in the more frequently I still get soreness after a hard run.

      Pete

  12. I jumped right into distance running in my Vibrams. I hardly ever wear conventional running shoes now. I started off with 5 to 6 mile runs and after two months, I now run 10 -13 miles every other day of the week wearing my Vibrams. Sometimes, if I fell really good even further. These shoes have really helped me in so many ways. I am 6’6″ tall and weigh around 196. These shoes distribute weight, pressure, stability and muscle control through out my whole body it seems. I no longer have back pain or that uneven feeling which normal running shoes create because of weight distribution on the foot and shoe. However, vibrams will take a small amount of time off your over all running goal at first. But, my running has never been more smooth, comfortable and easy going. Oh, also, 80% of my running route is pavement or concrete so don’t let that intimidate you.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Anthony,

      Thanks for the comment! I agree with much of what you say – especially the
      part about pavement, it’s actually kind of nice to run on the harder
      surfaces in Vibrams once you get the stride down.

      Pete

  13. Got my VFF Sprints three days ago. I also couldn’t wait to go running in them so I put them on and went for about 3 miles. It felt great and was my best average pace in months. While running, I didn’t have any pain. My gait naturally changed from running heel to toe, to landing on the ball of my foot. That evening my calves began to tighten up and I was afraid to go to sleep because I also knew that if I didn’t stretch them out for 7 hours I would be sorry! The next day was awful, my wife was in stitches because i looked like an old man shuffling everywhere. Two days later, it was a bit better. I was diligent and ran another 2 miles in my VFF’s. While still sore and hobbling in the morning, I can tell it’s a bit better and will take some time to work itself out. I can fully understand that this may takes weeks. For now, I am with everyone else – I think this is a good thing. Keep up the blog – I’m glad I’m not in this alone!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Sounds like a you had the same experience as me – screaming calf pain after the first longish run in the VFF’s! Good news is that the soreness was gone after a few days and each subsequent run has been a considerable improvement. Don’t think I had any residual soreness after my last 5-miler in them. I’m now up to about 30 total VFF miles. – Pete

  14. I am not a runner but my job involves lot of standing, as I have flat feet it starts paining in the ankle and calf by the time I am at home in the evening. Tried putting insoles in the shoes but its temporally relief, which shoes or insole should give me comfort.

  15. I thought I said take it slow. If not, sorry. 7 miles is too much for a first run in the VFFs. I did 1 mile for my first run. It took me a month to get up to 9 miles.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Daniel – You did tell me that, I’m just a terrible listener when it comes to experimenting with my running (just ask my wife :)). I went sans Ipod so I could be completely in tune with my body during the run, and was planning to switch to walking the moment I felt any kind of discomfort (the plan was to run only 2). Believe me, I was trying to be as careful as possible. Pain never came, which is why I stretched it out. Also, having put in well over 150 miles in Nike Free 3.0′s this summer has helped a bunch with strengthening my feet, so running in the VFF’s isn’t as much of a shock to my system as if I had only been running in typical trainers (the Free’s are my go-to shoe right now). I agree that running 7 was a stretch, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for anyone making a direct jump from traditional trainers.

  16. I bought a pair of VFF KSO on ebay and the pair should be on the way to my door step. What would you advise for a beginner like me that never run barefoot? is there a good plan for a transition from shoe to no shoe?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I didn’t follow a plan, but building slowly is very important – I have seen
      a number of people get hurt by doing too much too fast in Vibrams. If you
      are a regular runner to begin with, I’d just go by feel. Maybe shoot for
      just a walk the first time in them, then a short run of less than a mile.
      If that feels good, maybe up things 1 mile per run, but ease off if you feel
      any discomfort, particularly on the top or the balls of the forefoot. One
      plan that’s seems pretty good is this one:
      link to runningquest.net….
      Have fun, but be careful.

      Pete

  17. good post

    i did 13 miles in my 3rd run in the vibrams. felt great. having bought them a month ago ive been on about 8 runs in them, 2 back to back 13 milers included. ive only been running properly since august but i can say that the vibrams are amazing. make running uphill so easy!! but yes, calves get a really working!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ian – Thanks – just be careful not to build up too fast as I have seen a
      number of people get hurt doing so with the Vibrams. Enjoy!

      Pete

  18. I recently bought a pair of kso’s,i have never had a foot problem,but when i try to up the mileage my left knee starts to ache from a injury as a young teenager(now aged 50,running 10 years).the last 2 years i have worn a lightish new balance trail shoe,i run very uneven rocky,muddy,steep trails in sub tropical queensland.
    first outing in kso i started at slow jog,felt great so changed to run,ended run at nearly best ever time-approx 1 hour.
    2 days later achilles tendon let me know it was there,burning feeling,no other aches or pain.
    so that day did 1.5 hour run,had bit off achilles ache next day,gone day after,no pain since.
    possible reason for easy addaptation is that in this climate no one wears footwear indoors and floors are either polished hardwood or tiled.
    also for few months have been trying to run off my forefoot to see if that would fix knee ache.
    worst thing about the vibrams is the real pain when step on sharp rocks,often hidden under leaves or mud,best thing is they make running so much FUN and the grip on steep greasy tracks is better than any shoe.
    oh yes-no more knee pain.
    do not advise others to take this approach,just to let readers know my experience.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’m much like you – I spend most of the summer barefoot around the house and
      outdoors in the yard, so my adaptation was not too bad. Definitely had the
      calf soreness after the first few runs, but once that subsided it was smooth
      sailing from that point on. Great to hear from someone in Australia – sounds
      like you’ve got some awesome trails to run. I spent a week or so in Cairns
      when I was in college, and my sister did a semester at James Cook Univ. -
      would love to get back there sometime!

      Pete

  19. Sheldon Holland says:

    Hi PeteI need your help in understanding the level of tear
    in my gastrocnemius. The injuries (both calves) occurred about a year ago when I first purchased the Vibram Five Fingers minimalist running shoes. As such with many new vibram users we were unaware of the gradual transition. As such I wore them and blasted out a full 5 mile run not knowing what I was getting into. By mile 3 I could barely walk the blood pressure was so dynamic in my calves, I figured it was just an intense workout, called it a day and went home to rest, needless to say just walking and standing was extremely painful for the next week. I would stretch and keep things moving in an effort to heal. Eventually things went back to what I thought was normal, until several months later I was simply jumping roping and alternating feet. Not even thirty seconds in I landed on my right ball of my foot and my calf screamed and I hit the floor again couldn’t stand or barely walk for a couple of days. (same exact area felt from the vibram run) Worked my way back into it healed took time off and several months later decided to start running again in normal shoes, nothing major but the calves did fatigue rather quickly. Flash forward to last week on the treadmill at the gym I couldn’t even get a good standard jog without feeling like the calves would explode. I am trying to diagnose this old/recurring injury so I can fix it. I am a very healthy individual, workout 4 times a week, fight professionally and race motorcycles professionally; I am a 16 year vegan 7.2 percent body fat and weigh 165 at 5’11″. Please help me figure this out. BTW the only time this injury pops up is from running, I did 15 miles on the stationary bike at fast pace no issues, I ride road bikes for many many miles no issues. Jumping and running cause issues, i still do these in moderation to keep that part of me active but the moment I feel it getting “uneasy” i stop. Please advise. Thanks!

  20. I also recently brought the FiveFinger KSOs and, like you, I dived right into longer distance with them. After wearing them around the house for a few days, I took them out for a short 1 mile run, and did not feel any pain or soreness. But two days later, I was feeling for a 6.5 mile tempo run, which I ran totally in the VFFs. Two days later I am still feeling the intense soreness in my calves, a feeling that I haven’t felt in any part of my body for a long time, even after 12-13 mile runs. Just walking around and going down the stairs takes some effort. I now know that I must ease my way into them a little slower, but I, like you, have realized that the technology and research behind barefoot running is 100 % true. By running in the FiveFingers, I have used muscles not used by normal running shoes. Hopefully my upcoming training with them will go well, and I will be able to do a 10K coming up in them. I am also excited to train/ wear them in Cross Country races. (I am in high school.) Thanks for the great article. I am glad to know that I’m not alone in the newfound pain from my VFF’s.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Andrew,

      I’d hesitate to say there’s any research showing injury prevention or
      performance benefits of using the Vibrams, but my personal experience has
      been very positive. The delayed onset muscle soreness in the calves is very
      common, but if you feel any kind of unusual pain in your legs/feet it’s best
      to ease off for a bit and not try to push through – it takes awhile for the
      body to adapt to the new forces you’re placing on it.

      Pete

  21. Esholloway says:

    I had heard such awesome things about these shoes that I just had to try them, so into my home they arrived just over two weeks ago. Having gone through physical therapy for Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis last year, the theory of building up stronger feet really appeals to me. The forefoot strike with a light heel touch (“kiss”) is working out well in my runs, but I feel my calf muscles aching around the half mile mark. Is that usual? So many folks are noting a delayed response; what about during the run itself? Using the Stick seems to help, as does a lot of stretching, but is it bad that I feel the stretch during the run?

    • Pete Larson says:

      The key is gradual, gradual, gradual. I can’t emphasize that enough. You
      don’t want to strain or break anything by pushing too hard and exceeding
      your stress threshold. My recommendation is to ease them in by mixing with
      your previous shoe, and slowly build up distance. Start with 5 minutes at
      the end of each run, do that 3 times, then up to 10 minutes if all feels
      well. Keep progressing nice and slow like that in small increments and allow
      you body time to adjust and adapt.

  22. davidhenry114 says:

    Hello Pete,

    Thanks for you blog I’ve been reading it for the last three or four weeks. I read Born to Run after reading your review about 2 weeks ago and have been running in VFF KSO’s for about 3 weeks now (maybe 15-20 mi a week). I can tell you the soreness goes away. I was pretty much in constant calf soreness for about 2 weeks straight and am now just getting into my 4th week and felling better than I’ve ever felt running. I’m training for my first half marathon that I plan to run in the VFF and am hoping to do my first marathon next spring. Thanks again for your blog. Keep up the good work (and running).

    David Henry

    • Peter,

      I second David’s comments, though I think it took me close to a month to completely get over the calf soreness. Even with your previous conditioning, those Nike Frees still have a pretty significant heel, so be patient. Your calf and achilles have to stretch to take up the gap where the padded heel was. It will seem like it’s taking forever, but once it’s over, you’ll feel great (just like David said). Keep up the great blogging!

      • Pete Larson says:

        Justin – You’re exactly right about the Free’s. I feel like they’ve worked my feet out great, but clearly the presence of the sole + heel doesn’t allow the calf to work the same way as when wearing the Vibrams. The anatomy prof in me suggests that the pain seems to be more isolated in my soleus muscle, probably due to stretching to fill the gap left by the missing heel just as you suggest. That’s leading to greater eccentric contraction of the soleus, which is a prime trigger for delayed onset muscle soreness. It all makes perfect sense from a biomechanical standpoint – I’m tempted to dig out my grad school biomechanics books and start to model this!

    • Pete Larson says:

      David – Thanks for the comments on the blog, and good to hear about the
      soreness subsiding. I expect that as with starting a resistance training
      program, it won’t take too long for the soreness to go away. Good luck in
      your Half-Marathon – which one are you running?

      • davidhenry114 says:

        Well, not sure you will know, since I am from eastern Oregon, but I am running the Indian Summer Half-Marathon in Kennewick, Washington. Then hoping to do another Half in Boise, Idaho in October and/or November (there are two that I am looking at).

  23. Etchit_glass says:

    I have had my vff since christmas. I must say that they are GREAT!!!!!!!!!!! I have had the sore calfs like everyone else. I also had a sore heal on my right foot. I think I did too much on the first run. It is getting better now. Love the shoes. I am a fireman and have been able to notice a change in my posture, and agility. Can’t say enough about these shoes. I have told several friends to try them.

  24. “By last night, my legs were stiff, but I felt no real pain. When I woke up this morning, however, I knew I was in for it. Despite my legs screaming at me to stay home, I decided to still go out for my planned long run, and the soreness (+ heat/humidity) trimmed my 17 miler into a 13 mile walk/run nightmare. As I sit here writing this nearly 36 hours after the Vibram run, my calves are burning and I’m hobbling around like I’ve just finished a marathon” – Peter Larson, Own Worst Enemy.

    There is a definite pattern I can see here from all your blogs. You know as well as I do that soreness of muscles is nothing to do with lactic acid build up as once thought but a load of micro-tears in the muscle after stressing them. This inevitably leads to full tears etc. if not managed properly. I’m amazed you haven’t been badly injured yet. 7 miles in VFF’s on a first outing and then wanting to do your normal run on the back of that when your body is already screaming STOP!! 20 miles in your Free’s very soon after getting them. Podiatrists, Physio’s and even surgeons to an extent absolutely love people like you. The thing I don’t get with you Peter is that you understand all the concepts or sensible running. You’ve got a good grasp on biomechanics etc and seem to be well read. BUT, you continue to trry and rewrite the rulebook like some naughty schoolchild. Or maybe even a puppy that has just burnt it’s nose on a heater and then goes back for another go. You need to adopt the philosophy that LESS IS MORE! I bought VFF’s with no intention of using them full time in marathons, ultra’s etc. but as a great training aid to strengthen the feet and legs slowly over time. The super-duper running shoes of today have made our bones, joints and muscles into mush and they need strengthening. I started using my VFF’s by following the 3 day/week ‘couch to 5k’ Runners World program into my usual schedule during a break from competition. Never had any soreness, literally started out with 1 min walk/ 1 minute jogging etc as if I’d never run before. Now I never run more than 10 km’s in them, and get out in them twice a week. That is more than enough to strengthen things up and prevent injury. I always treat my now stronger feet, bones, ligament and cartilage to max comfort when doing anything from halfs to 100km’s. Again we are all different, but this is my preference and works for me. As I have got older, i’ve stretched more and more too. 5 minutes is not enough now and my stretching program after running is 20 minutes no matter what distance or kind of running I’ve done. All the best Peter – keep up the great blogging.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Adam – I’m a definite sucker for then next great thing, and have a hard time
      restraining myself when I get excited about something new. That goes for
      just about everything, not just my running! After my initial bout of
      overdoing it with both the Free’s and Vibram, I scaled things back and now
      run with Vibrams only once a week for strengthening, though I haven’t used
      them in a while since I’m in marathon mode and don’t want to risk the
      strain. Believe it or not, I do learn from my mistakes! -Pete

  25. Great post. I’m looking forward to trying these – though I’m going to go much more slowly! Especially now that I hear how tough they are on your calves when getting started. A strained right calf is one of my recurring bogeymen, right up there with plantar fasciitis. Have you ever read Chi running? I don’t know about the Chi part, but the posture and technique described in the book (leaning forward, body straight, landing with feet directly under you, stride extends out to the back rather than the front), is supposed to be a lot easier on the calves. And the whole technique seems to dovetail with barefoot running…

    • Pete Larson says:

      Ernesto – Thanks, not to many runners in NH with VFF’s yet as far as I have seen! My calves have definitely felt the brunt of the adjustment, but in a good way – the comparison with the day after a resistance workout is pretty accurate. It’s funny you mention Chi Running – I actually received it for a present last Christmas and got rid of it since I didn’t see the point for my style of running at the time. What a difference a few months can make, now I wish I still had it!

      With VFF’s, slow and easy is definitely the way to go.

      Pete

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