Five tips for breaking in your FiveFinger shoes
August 12th, 2011
03:13 PM ET

Five tips for breaking in your FiveFinger shoes

My calves hurt. Every time I take a step the left one, which I’ve nicknamed “whiny,” begs for me to stop. And there’s a constant throbbing coming from the muscles in the arches of my feet. I didn’t even know my arches had muscles.

I owe this painful discovery to my new FiveFinger shoes. Remember toe socks? They’re like those, except designed to be used outdoors.

The salesperson at the REI store where I purchased my shoes issued a warning: Make sure to break them in slowly. A similar one is posted on the Vibram website - run no more than 10% of your typical distance for the first two to three weeks; never run two days in a row in the first month; stretch before and after each run, focusing on your calves and feet.

See where this is going?

I ignored the warnings. Mostly, I thought to myself, because if I  ran only 10% of my norm I would be running a total of … 0.3 miles. So I jumped on the treadmill and ran away, loving the feel of barefoot freedom and the slight improvement I could already sense in my posture.

Proponents say barefoot-style running creates a more natural stride – with a ball-to-heel forefront strike that builds strength in your feet and lower leg muscles, ultimately resulting in fewer injuries. It also improves balance, agility and range of motion.

Tell that to my co-workers, who are tired of hearing me say “ow” every time I stand up.

If when I go back to the gym in my FiveFinger shoes, I will remember that salesperson’s good advice. So future barefoot enthusiasts, take heed. Here are five tips for breaking in your FiveFingers properly:

1. Go to a store.

Even if you can find them cheaper online, drive to the nearest retailer first. FiveFinger shoes come in European sizes and fit differently (obviously)  from other shoes so you won’t know the right size unless you try them on. Don’t be afraid to try on men’s shoes if you’re a woman, and vice versa as there’s little difference.

Make sure to pick the right pair based on the shoe’s tread – there are different grips for different activities like water sports, yoga or running.

There are also copycat, “counterfeit” shoes out there so make sure you’re buying from an authorized dealer. Without the right support, fakes could end up hurting more than helping.

Find a store here

2. Walk before you run.

Wear them around the house, to the grocery store or to work. Take some time to feel how your posture changes and to decide whether there is any cramping or rubbing on your toes (which could signal a wrong size).

3. Buy some foot powder.

Or toe socks. Either will make it easier to put your shoes on and will prevent blisters from the combination of sweat and fabric rubbing against your bare skin. Powder will also keep your shoes smelling fresh – although if they get too stinky FiveFingers are easy to wash with soap and water.

4. Follow the guidelines.

You can adjust the length and time of your workout as you feel comfortable but don’t assume you’re special. You may have spent a lot of time running around barefoot as a child but that doesn’t mean your muscles are up to snuff. Take it slow and do only portions of your workout with the FiveFingers at first. If you’re not willing to take a break, bring along your regular sneakers during the transition.

5. Schedule yourself a bit more time at the gym.

First, because trying to get your toes into the right pockets is more difficult than it looks. Second, because you’ll spend most of the workout answering questions about your shoes. I haven’t gotten so many comments on my footwear since I wore red cowboy boots to a swim meet.

Most importantly, remember that FiveFingers are not right for everyone. For people with really flat fleet – officially called over-pronators – barefoot activities may put too much stress on muscles.

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