Finger Shoes: A Healthier Way to Run?

You have probably seen them.  They are funky looking shoes that some people like to call "finger shoes."   You probably have wondered how anyone can run in those shoes since there doesn't appear to be a lot of padding.  And you are right.  Finger shoes do not have a lot of padding.  For all intents and purposes, it is basically just the sole of a shoe on a sock.

Why I Switched
We All Have Finger Shoes Now
I am a runner but for two years I had to put running on the back burner.  I had developed some very bad lower back pain and my knees were getting too painful.  I almost thought that I may have to give up running for good.  I decided to try running once again when my back started feeling better but after working up to about 3 miles, I could start to feel the pressure again on my back and knees.  Then my husband told me about one of his friends that had starting running with finger shoes and now swore by them.  He also had suffered from bad knees.  It did not make sense to me how a shoe with so little padding could be better for you, but I decided to give it a shot.  I bought myself a pair of Vibrams.

The First Run
When I bought the shoes, the store salesman told me that for my first run to do only a half mile or so and to make sure I was running with the balls of my feet or I could get seriously injured.  Before heading out on my first run, I decided to do a little research on the mechanics of running with finger shoes to make sure I was doing it right.  And the salesman was right.  You have to strike the ground with the ball of your foot instead of the heel. Since, I have been a heel-toe runner for sometime now, it seemed weird, but I tried it.  I ran only a mile and the next day I could barely walk. I was in so much pain, but it was the good pain.  It was the kind of pain when you have worked muscles you have never used before.  For a person that was accustomed to running 3-4 miles at that time, it was amazing to me that a change of shoes would cause my muscles to work harder.  Now I can run six miles with these shoes without a problem and I was able to run up to five miles until I was about six months pregnant without aggravating my back nor my knees.

For a good tutorial on the correct way to run with finger shoes and other types of barefoot running shoes you can go to the YouTube video:    Learning the Skill of Barefoot Running   (1:06 conventional running with shoes, heel toe strike; 2:42 correct strike on the ball of your foot; 6:44 Correct Posture;  7:50 Correct Strike with the ball of your foot and good posture).

Why They Work
A regular running shoe is designed to absorb the impact when you strike the ground while running.  If you are a heel-toe runner, the padding in the shoe will take the impact and take the pressure off your joints. Yet that same padding and the heels in our shoes weakens certain muscles and tendons causing us to run with improper technique and why eventually we may experience back pain, knee pain, etc.  However, when you run while striking with the ball of your foot first, your calf muscles and tendons absorb the impact.  As your body gets used to the finger shoes and your muscles and tendons get stronger, you take that stress off your body.  In the end, it is how the body was meant to run.  You are just reverting to your natural state and once you have the property technique, it is better for you.

Learning to run with finger shoes can be a long process.  For me it was not, but there have been several articles of individuals who have found it difficult to transition. Bad habits are hard to break, but if you strike heel first with a finger shoe you can get seriously injured.  If you do want to make the transition, I definitely recommend that you take it slow.  It took some time to develop bad habits, it will take some time to transition out of it.  Remember years of running with regular shoes have seriously weakened the muscles and tendons so you have to slowly build up the strength to do so with finger shoes.
My daugther with her kid's finger shoes

Why I Bought These for my Five Year Old
A child naturally runs with the ball of their foot.  It is only later with all the padding that we become heel-strikers.  Since I encourage my five year old to be active, I want her to grow up having proper technique and avoid the knee and back problems I had.   The best way for me to do that is for her to wear the finger shoes because it will encourage her to keep running the way she naturally runs now.  Having her wear padded running shoes will only encourage her to form bad habits. Therefore, for my kids future health, I am getting rid of the padded running shoes and switching her over to barefoot shoes such as finger shoes.

For further reading: The Barefoot Alternative, Why Running Shoes Do Not Work, The Science of Sport

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