Why I Didn’t Include Vibram Fivefingers in My Updated Minimalist Shoe Guide

I recently updated my minimalist running shoe guide, and rather than trying to list every minimalist shoe out there right now, I opted instead to recommend what I feel are some good options in several different categories. Right after the post went up, several people on Twitter asked me why I had not included any of the Vibram Fivefingers shoes in my lists. This post is my attempt to answer that question.

I have a fairly long history with the Vibram Fivefingers. I started running in KSO’s back in summer 2009, and they were my first truly “barefoot-style” shoe. I loved running in them, and they were the first shoe I had worn that really let me feel what a forefoot strike feels like. I’ve since tried the Bikila, TrekSport, Komodo Sport, and Komodo LS. Of these, I’ve put the most miles on the Bikila, but honestly have not run very much in Vibrams of late.

My reason for moving away from the Vibrams is that I find that when I run in the newer models that fit tighter and have more substantial soles, my right forefoot starts to ache under the region of the second metatarsal head after a few miles. By the end of a run all I want to do is rip the shoes off and wiggle my toes. I have heard similar reports from a number of people, and this post was actually prompted by the following report on a forum that I participate in:

Thought I’d share this out, as I think I may have finally sussed out
the reasons why my forefeet have been hurting so badly on my lunchtime
runs.  My forefeet, just behind my second toes, have started hurting
like hell – like somebody had beaten on them with a ballpeen hammer –
when I run in my VFF’s
.”

This describes quite well my experience, though my issue is more an ache than a sharp pain. This morning I decided to try an experiment – I walked my kids to school in VFF Komodos. My right forefoot was aching after we got to the school, so I took the shoes off and walked home barefoot. Ache went away almost immediately.

Why does this happen? My theory, at least for my own situation, is that the Vibrams actually restrict flexion and extension of my toes to quite a considerable degree (and also toe curling). I find it very hard to bend them up or down while wearing most of the VFFs I have, whereas in a shoe with an open toebox they are free to wiggle and curl as needed.

Why is this important? I think it’s because the toes initially need to flex upward just prior to ground contact (watch this video to observe this happening in barefoot runner), and then they need to flex downward to push onto and grip the ground (or sole) during stance, which takes some of the load off the metatarsal heads. Limiting flexion and extension of the toes messes up both of these processes.

So what is it about the toe pockets that does this, aren’t they supposed to allow greater toe freedom? Yes and no. I like that the toe pockets spread my toes out, but I find that my four little toes like to work as a unit, and it’s very hard for them to flex and extend the individual toe pockets, particularly when there is rubber connecting the forefoot to the toes. This is exacerbated by fit – I have a size 42 in KSO’s, which is a bit too long and there is quite a bit of space in front of my toes which causes the tips to catch the ground from time to time, and I have size 41s in the other shoes – in the others my toes fit snugly and reach but don’t push against the tips of the pockets, but by fitting snugly the material on top of the toe pocket gets tight and makes it very hard to flex the toe down. Of the VFFs I own, my KSO’s allow for the most flex, which is a combo of the fact that the toes are a bit long and the upper material is very stretchy (though the rubber connecting the toes to forefoot still limits my toe flexion to a degree).

As a result of this, I’ve grown very hesitant to recommend Vibrams to people wanting to try a barefoot-style shoe for the first time. Metatarsal stress fractures are one of the big concerns when it comes to transitioning to a very minimal shoe, and I worry that shifting load to the metatarsal heads might contribute to this, and that this could be further exacerbated in people with a long second metatarsal (Morton’s foot). Getting the right fit is critical, and this can be tough with the Vibrams, especially if you fall between sizes as I think I do.

Although I have concerns, I should also point out that I know plenty of people who love their Vibrams for running and who have no issues with them. So I do think they can be a great match if you combine the right pair in the right size with the right person. But, it’s hard for me when making a recommendation to know who will have success and who will have trouble, so I tend to avoid recommending them these days for running. There are lots of other options out now that give a similar type of ground feel and that don’t have the toe pockets, and some of these shoes are excellent (check out my minimalist shoe guide for some examples) – these options were not available even just a few years ago when the Vibrams got popular.

If I had to give advice to Vibram, I would say the following. Sales of the Fivefingers are slowing considerably, and part of this is that the toe-shoe fad is dying down. But, there will be a core of people who will still use them, and I see people in them in my home town quite often. Part of the problem I think is that Vibram responded to the popularity of the Fivefingers by pumping out a ton of new models, some of which were downright ridiculous (fashion boots???). I’d suggest focusing on a smaller number of models and making sure to get them as dialed in as possible for the purpose they will be used. If it’s a shoe meant for running, make sure the toes can properly flex and extend. Perhaps find a way of disarticulating the sole under the toes from the sole under the forefoot. Make the fabric on top of the toe pockets much stretchier, as it is in the KSOs. The new Vibram Seeya looks promising, and I’m hoping to give them a try to see if they improve on this (can anyone who had tried the Seeya share some thoughts?).

The bigger issue, and perhaps my biggest piece of advice, would be to make half-sizes. Proper fit is critical in these shoes as having toe pockets that are too short or too long can both cause problems. I’m pretty sure a size 41.5 would solve most of my issues with these shoes. You might even consider making a Vibram Morton for those with a long second toe :) I have no idea how costly it would be to increase size availability, but if it came at the expense of cutting some of the superfluous models, I’d see it as a very positive thing for the line. Trim the fat, and focus on making the core as good as it can be.

Anyone else have thoughts on the Fivefingers? Have you experienced toe flexion problems or forefoot ache in these shoes? Any suggestions for how to improve the line? Leave a comment!

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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. Spencer says:

    Interesting article.  It seems that there is more person-to-person variation in the toes than any other part of the foot.

    I experienced forefoot pain with a pair of VFF, but it subsided when I began landing a little further back within the midfoot region.  Still, that doesn’t explain how you experienced pain from simply walking. 

  2. matthaupt says:

    Great post on VFFs. They have been my first pair of actual ‘minimalist’ shoes and I absolutely love them but I have always wondered if there was something better out there. I haven’t had any of the toe problems you have described (yet) but have been having some issues so it’s good to know I’m not the only one! The reason I am mostly commenting is because of the half sizes! I love that idea. I always feel like I am in the middle of size all of the time and just have to deal with it.

  3. Chris Szumigala says:

    Abandon the “five finger” concept or cut waaaay back on it and focus on making  a competitive minmalist shoe with the Vibram materials and a roomy but more traditional toe box.

  4. Benjamin Goulart says:

    The problem is less stretchy fabric and less flexible soles on the newer ones. And Vibram could improve this further by also making the hardest rubber sole non-continuous along the length of the foot. The toes cannot bend up and the lower tendon cannot stretch properly if it’s got a thick piece of rubber running under the foot from heel to toes right below it. The touch rubber needs a break somewhere under the arch and the use of durable, stretchy foam… possibly inset away from contact with the ground to avoid wear of that area. The additional thickness they’ve been motivated to provide under the middle of the forefoot is admittedly necessary for a lot of applications to avoid injury from sharp large rocks (does not pose as much risk to sides, toes, or heel), but making the rubber thicker and less flexible to achieve this same end may be having a deleterious effect on the newer models. It would have a similar result as going for a long run in a brand new (not broken in) pair of the older models and intentionally under-sizing them.

  5. Jonathan Auyer says:

    I have been running VFFs for almost 2 years now: started with KSOs and Classics; then Bikilas; now a pair of Spyridons. As a trail runner I have found that the VFFs can be both a blessing and a curse: the former comes in the form of ground feel and lightness that i love on trails; the latter the lack of cushioning on technical terrain and downhills. My Spyridons have done well so far in adding a bit of cushioning, but the protection against breaking a toe can only come from a more traditional shoe. (Hence, I love the Trail Gloves and the Altra Lone Peaks.)

    I like your article because it does put a voice to some of the problems and concerns that I have experienced since i began running in VFFs. I have not experienced any real sizing issues (so I must be one of the lucky ones), but sometimes I do feel that Vibram wants their shoes to do everything (especially with all the new specialized models) and I am not sure if that can be the case.

    Sometimes you just need a shoe, shoe. Have an arsenal to choose from is probably a better option, since it better allows you to handle a wider range of situations.

    Anyways, thanks for this. I enjoyed it.

  6. Calgary Runnergirl says:

    Wow I’ve been having strange problems similar to what you’re describing here for awhile and have added Saucony Hattoris to my rotation. I have VFF komodos and they are slightly too large to accommodate the wool sock I wear in them for the frigid winter runs.  I’ve had the second toe problem for a very long time, my second toe is much longer than my big toe, and it hurts after long runs as I think the komodos are too small even tho they are a mens size 42 and I’m a ladies size 10 in most shoes. That toe necessitated a larger size in the komodo.

    I feel strange achy pains on the ball of my foot quite frequently and have been considering moving into a more cushioned shoe.  I run half marathons in my komodos, and am starting marathon training at the end of september. I’d like to figure out what shoe will work for me by then.  

    I have trail gloves (too small to wear a sock in) and some vivobarefoots that allow a thick wool sock.  The neo trails seem to have a nice wide toe box and I got a size larger again to accommodate the sock.  They look kind of clownish on my feet tho lol. 

    I tried on some saucony Kinvara 3s a couple of days ago but they feel so cushioned and unstable after wearing VFFS, and the heel toe drop makes me crazy. I would be afraid to run in them honestly.

    I need something thicker than the Hattoris, but with zero drop. So far there’s nothing like that out there.  For now I’ll stick to the Hattoris, can put the thick wool sock in for winter (I’m talking below minus 20C running for 25k or more) and the neo trails with the massive lug grip for snowy icy runs.

    I tried on the newest Nike Free and the Saucony K3s at the same time, and the frees felt like my feet were in prison…horrible.  Tight, restrictive, and no room in the toe box.

    I transitioned very slowly to VFF’s 1.5 years ago, and have run quite a few +20k runs and one half race (PR) in them.  I like them, but as the article states, there are issues.  Thanks Pete for bringing this issue up and for all your great reviews.  I’m looking forward to reading thru all of them in my quest for the best shoe for me!

    Cheers from Calgary

  7. I got VFF Bikilas last year as my first minimalist pair of running shoes. I’ve been running exclusively in them since January 2011 and I’ve never experienced foot pain except from the random sharp rock during a trail run, or general tenderness from going on long runs on uneven surfaces. I do agree with the sizing issue — I had to go up a size because of my long 2nd toe. This causes me to catch the front of the shoe and almost trip — similar to what you describe above. As for tightness — I think I’m fortunate in that I have very narrow feet, so this has never been a problem for me.
    I agree that VFFs aren’t for everyone, but it seems to be a bit extreme to leave them out of the guide altogether. But hey, it’s your blog — do what you want!

  8. alvinj88 says:

    i love my kso’s for running. vibram does have a problem when fitting for a shoe size so instead of risking to buy online for my first pair, I buy mine at the stores and fit them. I have heard about stress fractures and stuff using VFF, growing up in the Visayan Islands in the Philippines, we only wear shoes when we go to school. but most of the time we use flipflops for running and playing, even in college.The first time I saw a pair worn in the streets was back in 2009..thought it was a cool concept but hesitated when I heard how much it was.. I was gonna order a pair of Bikilas but after reading this, I might cancel that order. I see that Vibram is now giving books when u buy a pair in order to transition safely. I have a fairly wide foot so the vibrams was a dream. I was always a forefoot runner since you really can’t heel stike when running with flipflops.

  9. Christina says:

    I have never worn nor plan to wear Vibrams but have always been thinking this exact thought all along. A regular sock and typical fitness/sports shoe allows ones toes to spread fairly naturally because there is nothing intervening with their natural placement (unless you are wearing too tight of a shoe or sock). The Vibrams however, have purposely spread your toes out further then they may normally lay and with the material between each two, prevent the toes from doing what they would naturally do. To me, this is straight forward logic and I’ve never understood how it could be viewed otherwise. Glad to see I’m not the only one at this conclusion. :-)

  10. XKCD has a great comic for you!

    link to xkcd.com

    :)

  11. Lindsay Knake says:

    I have the VFF Bikila LS that I got last February. They are pretty battered after running a marathon in them last year. I love the shoes, and they are a great shoe in my rotation. I also love them for hanging out up north because they dry quick and allow for so much ground feel if I feel like tramping through the woods or a swamp. Which I do. They are the best of a camping/hiking/running shoe for me. Next week, I’ll wear them on a 7-hour kayaking trip.

    However, the other day I looked at a pair of the Komodos or Trek Sports. The sole felt very thick. I plan to get another pair of Vibrams, but I’m sticking with the Bikila LS.

    I, too, have noticed a little ache in my feet when I hadn’t worn them in a while. It was like the shoes were squeezing my feet too much. Once I “broke them in” again after not wearing them over the winter, the shoes have been fine. For the next pair, I might try something a little larger. Regardless, I love the shoes more each time I wear them.

  12. Sorry…meant brought out / released …not bought out / economic take-over.

  13. Maybe I’m an anomaly,  but the opposite happens to me.  I started having the the exact same pain in my right foot after running in my Altra Instints, which are the most cushioned shoes in my rotation.  Running in my Bikila’s, Road Gloves, Trail Gloves, or Bare Access does not cause any pain.  Maybe the extra cushioning is causing me to land with more force. 

  14. Great. Thanks Pete. Might give one of these a try. Don’t you think it’s curious that VFF have never bought out a one finger shoe for the fashion conscious or strange-toed runner?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Actually no, not surprised. Vibram’s primary business is making soles for other companies. If they start venturing into more traditional shoes they become a competitor with these companies and not a partner, and the competitors may drop their Vibram soles as a result. Vibram can’t afford to risk their sole business, so they are pretty much stuck with toe shoes since they are a unique niche. For example, both Merrell and New Balance use Vibram soles on some of their shoes – I suspect neither of them would want to continue using Vibram soles if Vibram started to compete with them in the “one-fingered” market.

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      My book: Tread Lightly – link to ow.ly
      Work: link to anselm.edu
      Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
      Dailymile Profile: link to dailymile.com
      Twitter: link to twitter.com

  15. Hi Pete, I didn’t see any mention of experience with the Bikila from you.  Just curious if those worked any better for you.  Bikila is the only VFF I’ve worn and I like them a lot.  I tried on the Komodo and KSO in the store, but didn’t like how stiff they seemed.  I was surprised at the difference.  I felt like the Bikila provided more flexibility.  Now I’m also interested in trying the classic and the SeeYas based on some of the responses here.

    I’ve really come to realize that different shoes work for different people and this also applies to minimalism.  I’ve tried several different shoes but keep coming back to the Bikila and the Osma Feelmax (I bought up several pairs before they shut down production and am glad to see they’re back in business).  I tried the Merrell Road Glove but never like the molded arch.  At first it was just annoying, but then it ended up causing a sharp pain in my arch at the beginning of runs that took about a month to subside after I stopped wearing them.  (I must add that the Merrell store was great in offering a store credit that I used to buy shoes for my daughters.)

    Anyway, thanks for the post!

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’ve run quite a bit in the Bikila, but again it’s a snug fit, and sizing may be the issue for me. I have the toe flexion issue to some degree in all of them, but my “too big” KSOs seem best in that regard. I’d love to try a 41.5 and see if that helps!
      Sent from my iPad

  16. Arlerond says:

    hi Pete
    I have so many vff and i have the same feeling when i run with vff without “ls” . But with my bikila ls this problem disappear but yes take a little time to the sole of my bikila to have the good flexibility. for sure i don’t like running with a vff without “ls”

  17. Benjamin Goulart says:

    After checking the the links and other comments, it looks like the SeeYa is indeed the proper direction I’m talking about to resolve this design trend.

  18. William Arnette says:

    My minimalist transition started with the new balance mt20 and was shortly followed by VFF which i loved for a while.  As my quiver of minimalist shoes grew, the VFF got less and less attention.  
    Present day the only time they get any love is on days at the gym when I’m squatting or deadlifting, and want minimal cushioning under my feet. 
    The problem, which you and most have touched on, is the sizing.  One size was too small and the other slightly too large, leaving me relegated to the slightly too large pair.  This has cause a bit of the aforementioned toe snags and i can only surmise that with my toes half in the pockets they are half bending.  
    To me this is the result of your other point of the plethora of needless variations and features that have come the plague the brand.  There are around 10 different models that could easily be simplified down into 3 or 4.

  19. Tom Davidson says:

    I think it’s a natural progression for the minimalist running movement. As you mention, the VFF was one of the early items you could go to and see that you could run well/healthy/comfortable with less. Now the vast empire of the running shoe has come around to producing good minimal shoes with the thin sole contact we got from the vibrams and those benefits, with the benefits of freedom of toe motion as you discuss here. I don’t run a lot in mine but they’re nice for that occasional summer trail run but now I’d just as soon as go to my NB MT101′s. I’d guess Vibram will continue to evolve with the industry. 

  20. Alexander says:

    I think personally, being that the VFF’s started my barefoot running style, that they have drifted far too far from the roots of barefoot style preach, minimalism is key.  While I have adventured out and used many other minimal shoes like minimus, merrell, and the Bikila, I still gotta say the VFF classic would be my favourite.  I think all the new models, while they have appeal, are just becoming thick chunky shoes which the VFFs were made to counteract. Wish they would go back to the way they were 3-4 years ago.

  21. Greg Nicholson says:

    I’ve tried many different Vibram’s, and for general use, I prefer my Sprints. Running – The original blue bikila’s.  I’ve done the the LS variety, as well as the Seeya’s. I ended up running 2 miles home barefoot than in the Seeya’s. 

    Sizing is a huge issue in the Vibrams. If you get a pair that fit right, they can be awesome, as evidenced by one set of my blues, with 2 marathons and 1300+ miles now.

    But I’ve also got identical sized bikila’s that I can’t run more than 3 miles in before it’s rip them off time.

    The Seeya’s I had (2 pair purchased at the same time) had the exact same issues. One was way too large, one slightly too small.

    Komodo LS – lasted 30 minutes walking before they came off with blisters.

    It really feels like Vibram has lost their way.  I’m only hoping they find it again before my stockpile runs out, as I really hate to run in anything else, or wear anything else for that matter.

  22. tangovoxtrot says:

    The pair of SeeYas that I purchased in March will probably the last pair of VFFs that I ever own. My initial impression of the SeeYa was positive. They’re light as a feather and felt more minimal and more comfortable (in spite of being more snug) than the KSO that I had run in previously. The roadfeel was unparalleled. The problem with the SeeYa did not become apparent until a short 4k run, during which the strap across the top of my right foot collaborated with a an exposed stitch on the inside to rub off a dime-sized patch of skin from my instep. 

    I still have the pair of SeeYas around. I can use them walking, but I don’t think I’ll run in them again. I’ve come to the conclusion that the design of the FiveFingers is flawed and for many runners, I expect they’ll work way better on paper than they will in reality.  The advantages of the toepods are outweighed by the disadvantages. The snug fit and close contact with the foot at innumerable points present way too many opportunities for something to rub something else the wrong way.

    The VFFs were the first pair of minimal footwear than I’ve ever owned, but there are better options out there now.  I won’t say “never”, but for the foreseeable future, I’ll be sticking with the MIzuno Wave Universe and New Balance’s Minimus Road models

  23. Melanie says:

    I have somewhat of the same problem. I have more discomfort around my 4th toe and I think it has to do with the toe pockets being too tight. (And btw I don’t have larger than normal/fat/thick toes and I absolutely can’t wear socks with them) I’m pretty sure my KSO’s don’t give me a problem, then it starts showing up a little with my sprints, and is really noticeable in my Komodo Sports. I can take them off after wearing them for 15 minutes and have lines/indentions on my toes from the seams. I almost feel that my toes don’t really lay flat because they just can’t fit all the way, but I don’t know for sure. It might be that I’m between 2 sizes too and just have ones that are on the smaller side. All 3 of mine are Women’s 41. It’s weird because the size chart shows that my sprints should be a 42 to be the same fit as the KSOs and Komodo Sports, but the Komodo sports definitely fit tighter than the sprints (guess it has to do with the smore stretchy fabric on the top. I’ve been wondering if I should try on the men’s somewhere to see if there’s more room in the toes because I really don’t need a bigger size as far as length and width go. For now I’ll just have to stick with my KSOs for short runs/walking/gym stuff (also love playing golf in them) and my NB minimus for the longer runs.

  24. The Seeya replaces the KSO as my all around favorite. I recently completed a 3:03 marathon in them. I like that the sole is thinner and the upper is more breathable. The knit-like feel is comfortable for me. I occasionally wear Altra Instincts to give my feet a break from daily running on hard surfaces. I’ve experienced similar issues as you describe. Once it was due to a 2 pound jar that fell on my foot. Sometimes I think it’s due to overuse from wearing the same footwear (including once after daily BF running). Other times I think it’s due to transitioning between different footwear after spending too much time in one or another.

  25. Wow.  That is exactly why I stopped running in Vibrams.  I hadn’t seen may others describe it.  For me a sharp pain in the second toe that would stop immediately after I took them off.  

    I tried different sizes (which helped only when running in a size that was obviously too large), sewing together the large and second toe, and finally just removing the fabric between the toes, but nothing completely solved it.  

    So your explanation makes sense… it wasn’t a rubbing issue, but ironically a flexibility issue.

    • Greenbergl says:

      Bought VFFs in Feb-started transitioning slowly. Had mot even gotten up to 2 miles of running yet. I have komodo sports and bikila. I prefer to run in the bikila but would occasionally run in the komodos. I absolutely love wearing them everyday when I absolutely have to put on shoes, the komodos anyway. The bikilas are a little too snug feeling to wear except for running. Last week, went out for a short run in the komodos and came home with a 2nd metatarsal stress fracture and now I’m in a cam boot and not running at all:(

      • Pete Larson says:

        Sorry to hear that – did you have any warning signs prior to the fracture like aching under the forefoot?

        —-
        Pete Larson’s Web Links:
        My book: Tread Lightly – link to ow.ly
        Work: link to anselm.edu
        Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
        Dailymile Profile: link to dailymile.com
        Twitter: link to twitter.com

        • Greenbergl says:

          No warning signs at all. Was running a paved trail when it started to ache, but kept running to get home…had to finally stop running and limp home. Being in the cam boot is causing other problems as well, so lesson learned.
          I actually found your sight while researching minimalist shoes with a bit more cushion. Thanks for all you do and keep up the good work!

  26. Nabely Shahab says:

    I was just wondering if we can see more response from people who actually had good experience with the VFF… I have wide feet (2E) and based on trying them in store, only the VFF stretch out to my wide feet (haven’t owned one, only tried in store). I have looked at your review of NB 730 (which offers 2E size) but I haven’t been able to find it here in Aus. I know that I can always buy online from overseas retailers but I would like to try them on first.

    Pete,
    Do you have any other recommendation for minimalist shoes with 2E size? I have never owned a minimalist shoes but I always have issues with standard running shoes (as a mild to severe pronator) and some of the motion control or stability shoes just hurt my midfoot so much. I grew up playing soccer with bare feet and I would still play soccer with bare feet if everyone is not wearing shoes. I also ‘tip-toe’ when I strafe or sprint in soccer. I just can’t run with heel strikes without hurting my knees.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Merrell Trail Glove can be found in 2E, as can the New Balance Minimus Trail I think. I prefer those over the VFFs. The VFFs do work fine for many people, so don’t let me scare you away if they feel good on your feet.
      Sent from my iPad

      • Nabely Shahab says:

        Hmmm… I have just searched around in Melbourne, Australia, and I couldn’t find any MInimus Trail or Trail Glove in 2E… Apparently one of the shop assistant mentioned that there is just not enough demand to bring 2E sizes to Australia. Oh well… I guess I might go for the Bikilas while waiting for the minimalist shoes to become more popular here…

        Thanks for your deep reviews!

  27. I agree to the points about limitation to extension of the toes within the VFFs potentially creating metatarsal discomfort. The metatarsal arch is supported by adequate function of the toes. If the toes can’t bend correctly or at the right time there will be likely a shearing quality to the base of the met heads. This can cause bruising or swelling of the capsule tissue and cause pressure metatarsalgia.
    One point I would like to add that can also exacerbate the issues is too much forced plantar flexion and levering off the end of the foot at terminal toe off. If a runner experiences what is being described at each point when the foot is pushing off the ground it may be a form correction thats needed too. Many runners push too much from the foot to propel. They drive the toes into the ground by contracting the calves. This puts a lot of stress on the met heads. Rather, the foot should be naturally springing off the ground without too much emphasis needed. The extension of the hip and recoil of the hamstrings and pick up of the hips by the hip flexors should be the driving motion forward.
    If anyone is familiar with chi running- they present a good example of this when a runner strikes in the sand. If the runner buries the toes and forefoot deep into the sand and doesn’t ‘pick up’ the feet they are pushing too much and levering too dramatically in the lower extremity.
    A correction to the form may help minimize a pressure metatarsalgia issue. Use the hips and not the feet.
    Sorry for the long post. Just food for thought. We have treated this issue in VFFs or minimalist shoes this way.

  28. Johnnyroyale says:

    That is the most sober and objective piece I have ever read on the cons (as opposed to pros) of Vibram FiveFingers, thank you very much. And to think I never bought any because they looked funny. Now I’m really glad I didn’t.

  29. Marcus Forman says:

    Back when Vibram was the only shoe in town for the minimal runner, I gave myself a massive metatarsal stress fracture for exactly the reason you describe, Pete.  I think at this point, there are better, more prudent choices for the minimal runner.

  30. Oscar Picazo says:

    Same thing exactly for me, on the same spot. Went to see the doc and everything is ok. I am fine walking, but running, either on kso or kso trek, pain starts after five minutes. That’s why I have moved away to merrell or VB

  31. I’ve had a similar experience in my kso’s after
    about six months in them this pain developed
    and i had a thick callous there too. I wasn’t as
    observant to elucidate the cause and just put it
    down to too many sharp rocks. I do love their
    concept but agree with thesizing comments.
    I would love a shoe with the kso sole without
    separate toes. Currently running in a mix of
    new balance minimus mr00 and adidas adizero
    pro4s.

  32. I bought the SeeYas last Monday, and have already put 20+ miles on them. The mesh upper is a wonderful change from my last VFF, the Bikila LS, which is a better cold-weather shoe in my opinion. My only concern is that the pads on the bottom will last for the next year. I end up using Shoe Goo to build up those pads periodically on the Bikilas.

    Your comment about the flex in the toes is spot on. Not having the freedom to splay the toes downward is a major issue. The spyrdion vffs may also cause problems with their thicker sole in this regard.

    I do not consider VFFs a suitable trail shoe, period. I broke a toe in my first trail outing in a pair of Trek KSOs two years ago; I use Merrell Trail Gloves for this now.

  33. Bryanna says:

    I had the same problem with the Vibram Bikilas. They were the first shoe I tried when transitioning to minimalist running, and I was pretty discouraged when the forefoot pain got so severe. But I ditched the Vibrams and switched over to running barefoot or in some Vivobarefoot shoes, and the pain hasn’t come back. That was a year ago.

  34. Pete, I’d definitely agree with you. I have only run in the KSOs. I enjoy them for running and hiking and I’ve never had an issue. I find their flat simple sole their best asset. 
    I think the lack of toe purchase makes sense biomechanically, for if there is no toe purchase, the met heads are making contact alone.  If there is additional rubber material directly below the met heads, it would make the potential for injury more. 
    As a podiatrist, I’ve seen a handful of metatarsal stress fractures with the BF/minimalist movement, and actually all have been in vibrams (except one was a barefooter that never transitioned). 

  35. Dustin Stephens says:

    Started the article and thought you were off the mark, but found myself nodding once I saw where you were going and you make sense. Still, I haven’t had the problems you mention in the 2 years I have been wearing VFF. I do agree I would like more flex in the toes, and the QC of their manufacturing process leaves much to be desired. Also I have debated cutting out that part of the sole that connects forefoot to toe pads myself, not because of pain, just because my foot seems to want to do exactly what you are describing. 

    Also, after some 3k miles in the Bikila LS, I got some komodosports and they pretty much suck for running, sticking with the Bikila or the Seeya and my trusty KSOs. My problem now is that I can’t run in a shoe with a toe box. My toes have gotten too accustomed to working independently and I have major balance and control issues in a normal minimalist shoe. 

    I personally don’t agree with leaving them out of a minimalist shoe guide altogether, especially considering some of the other shoes you saw fit to include and then mostly based on a personal fit issue.  I am mostly a barefoot runner now, and VFFs allow me to run harder and in places where unshod would be unwise. My 2 cents.

  36. Oscar Picazo says:

    Same thing on the same spot for me, either with kso or kso trek after 5 minutes running, although walking is fine for me.

  37. Aren’t most “minimilist” shoes just “reduced” shoes? VFF is still the only minimilist shoe in my opinion. Wouldn’t the perfect shoe be something like a VFF Bikila LS with a standard non-fingered toe box?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Inov8 Bare-x, Altra Samson, Merrell Road Glove and Trail Glove, Vivobarefoot – lots of “one-fingered” shoes out here that are just as minimal, if not moreso, than the Vibrams.
      Sent from my iPad

  38. I’ve been going to stores to try on VFFs, and I’ve noticed that for 90% of the models I’ve tried on, the big toe pocket is not long enough and would restrict the movement of my big toe. I wonder if something similar is causing your metatarsal pain?

    I’ve noticed that only one model, the See Ya LS, has a noticeably bigger toe pocket (even in the photos on the site, compare the end of the divide from big toe to second, and second to third you can easily see the difference in length). I do like barefoot running though, so I think I will get that model.

  39. Freddie says:

    Hello,
    I have been a barefoot/minimalist runner since about 2004. I have run in most VFF models. I had the classic and ran holes in them. Then I had the KSO and ran holes in them. Then I got the KSO treks and still have them and no problems. Then I got the Bikila, and second toe pain on one foot only. I sent them back to Vibram and exchanged them for the KSO and no pain. Then I got the Spyridon because I am doing a lot of trail running these days and now the second toe pain on one foot is back? I don’t understand what the difference is between the models that cause this. That being said minus the second tow pain the Spyridon are by far the best fitting and running model I have had. But I was writing this to see if you had any success finding out why this happens with the second toe pain. I thought maybe it is not long enough on that second toe or something until I saw this article. I would love to hear back from you with some advice or knowledge on this. Thanks

  40. Freddie says:

    YYeah I agree with you. It definitely seems to be a toe flexor issue…also seems to be a toe extensor issue as well, not sure about the length of the tow pocket bcs my second toe doesn’t seem to be touching the end. I am in Physical therapy school and I am intrigued by this. Right after I wrote to you two days ago I found something that seems to help. I got a small rubber super bouncy ball and put it under that second toe while standing. It seemed to recreate the exact pain which is definitely a toe flexor issue. It seemed to stretch the flexor pretty good and alleviate the issue for the time being. But as soon as I run again in the VFF it brings the pain back again right about the 3-4 mile mark. Anyways thought this info might help you if you still struggle with the second toe pain.

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