Nerd Fitness: Part 2 – Getting Over the Hump

Gadget Choice – Vibram Five Fingers

Even as I sit here self righteously telling everyone how they should go about getting in shape, I’ll be the first to say that running has to be one of, if not the most boring activity you can do to get fit. It’s monotonous, dull and repetitious beyond belief; especially if you do it on a treadmill. However, I now find it not to be such a bad way to spend a few minutes here and there, purely because of these:

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Now ok, I’ll admit that on first glance, they look a little weird; even a little, dare I say it, “gay“. But believe me, these are one of the most comfortable, and fun to use footwear I have ever encountered. Infact I’ve never found anything I put on my feet to be fun, but honestly, these are.

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They not only make you smile everytime you look at them – and everytime someone else gives you a funny look – but they make running more exciting. To understand why, we need a quick biology lesson.

The human foot is a marvel of biomechanical engineering. It features a tonne of bones, joints, ligaments and muscle; all designed to help us run. As a pack animal, we’ve evolved to run reasonably quickly, over long distances and wear our prey down. Now in caveman days, and as youngsters today, we all ran barefoot. Over time as technology has developed, we’ve built up wonderfully comfortable running shoes that cushion the heel and protect us from mis-stepping. However, what this has done is changed the way we plant our feet as we run. We smash our heels into the floor, instead of the balls of our feet; which is completely the wrong way to do it. The leg isn’t designed to take this sort of impact without the limiting factor of the ankle joint to balance the load; hence knee and ankle injuries for a large number of profesisonal and amateur runners.

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Putting on the Vibrams is completely different. There’s cushioning so stone’s don’t hurt – hell I’ve run on broken glass in mine – but there’s no padding, so you run how you’re supposed to: on the balls of your feet. This not only leads to a far springier step, but a more enjoyable way to run as you feel light on your feet: you feel fast and freer than in conventional trainers. The following video shows the different between a running shoe heel strike, and a Vibram Five Fingers mid-foot ball strike.

Even companies like Nike have seen the benefits of barefoot running and are looking to produce their own versions after studies they conducted showed that the foot can move so much more when not confined to a traditional shoe.

One caveat I must mention is that if you get yourself a pair of these, take it steady. Running on the balls of your feet puts more strain on the tendons in your calves than normal running, and they can easily be hurt early on in your training. Over time they’ll strengthen of course, but just take it steady at the start if you’re used to being in normal shoes more often.

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