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Christopher Ickes


When to Use Vibram Five Fingers for Running

Running in Vibram Five Fingers is the latest craze. The barefoot running movement is afoot and providing some convincing results as support. However many runners are injured from barefoot running. How can you prevent injury from barefoot running?

Prevent Injury from Running in Vibram Five Fingers

I defer to the experts when it comes to biomechanics and kinetics. In this case, we will learn from the best – Jay Dicharry from the UVA Speed Clinic. Jay recommends 3 requirements before running barefoot or in minimalist shoes.

  1. Mobility in the heel chord / plantar fascia
  2. Adequate single leg balance
  3. “Isolate flexor hallucis brevis” OR more commonly, control your big toe

Let’s look at each requirement, determine how to test our current level and then how to improve each area.

Plantar Fascia / Heel Chord Mobility

When barefoot running, the heel and forefoot form a 180 degree angle meaning they are relatively flat. In turn, the achilles tendon / heel chord / plantar fascia are all stretched more than normal. In order to prevent injury, the heel area needs to be lengthened.

Improve Heel Chord Mobility

We have discussed this before. Simply follow the Plantar Fasciitis Stretches to increase heel chord mobility. Remember – stretching this area for 3-5 minutes is the key to lengthening the muscles and tissue.

Single Leg Balance for Running

Barefoot running increases knee flexion torque, knee varus torque and internal hip rotation torque. With all these increased forces, it is important that we share the load equally. Symmetry in body strength is crucial. If anything is off, increased stress is added on top of all these forces.

Test for Single Leg Balance for Running

Stand on one leg. Is your weight centered symmetrically or do you shift to a side? Are you straight through the knee or do you collapse inward? Learn more about Single Leg Squat Tests. Bottom line, if you can’t stand on one leg for 30 seconds with your eyes closed WITHOUT moving, shaking, collapsing – you have room for improvement.

Improve Single Leg Balance for Running

Easy – do everything on one foot. Taking a shower? Stand on one leg. Washing dishes? Stand on one leg. At a bar? Stand on one leg. Keep your hands on your hips when possible and work slowly to maintain position over your center of gravity. Focus on form and do it often.

Big Toe Effects on Running

It isn’t really your big toe but rather your Flexor Hallucis Brevis (FHB) that is a concern here. The idea is that we want the big toes and the small toes to be able to act independently. This is where we “push-off” with each stride and it requires strength for the long haul.

Test FHB Strength for Running

Again, easy. Stand up and raise your big toe while pushing your small toes into the ground. Then push your big toe into the ground while raising your small toes. If you can accomplish this on both feet, you can run barefoot. Otherwise we need to spend some time strengthening.

Strengthen FHB for Running

There are 2 exercises I use here thanks to Jay Dicharry at the UVA Speed Clinic.

  1. Hold your big toe to the ground and lift your small toes off the ground. That is 1 rep. Then hold your small toes to the ground and lift your big toe off the ground. That is 1 rep. Do 15 of each and do them with each foot.
  2. Hold your big toe up off the ground. For 15 seconds, try as hard as possible to drive it to the ground. Try on the other foot.
  3. Increase the reps and duration of these exercises as you see fit until you can independently move the big toes and the small toes. Changes occur quickly.

    Will Vibrams Five Fingers Cause Injury While Running?

    If you passed the above tests, you have greatly reduced your chances for injury. Still, to be safe, gently work the Vibrams in to your routine. Begin with walking around the house, work, neighborhood, etc.. Then slowly integrate them into your routine. Maybe add them once a week on an easy day. Slowly increase their usage.

    If you are patient over the course of a year, you will see noticeable changes to your stride and your performance. Ideally Vibram Five Fingers will increase VO2 max and running cadence.

    Good luck and good running.

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