In short: To break in Vibram FiveFingers, wear them around the house, to the grocery store, or to work in short periods of time. If your feet hurt, take them off. Run no more than 10% of your typical distance for the first 3 weeks, and don’t run 2 days in a row in the first month.
So, this is your first time considering switching to Vibram FiveFingers shoes. Good call. There are many benefits to barefoot-style running, which ultimately results in fewer injuries.
However, if you are used to cushioned sneakers, you need time to adjust. So future barefoot enthusiasts, take heed. Here is how to break in Vibram FiveFingers shoes correctly.
How to break in Vibram FiveFingers
The salesperson at the store where I purchased my Vibram shoes issued a warning: Make sure to break them in slowly. Here are five tips for breaking in your Vibram FiveFingers properly.
1. Go to a store (don’t buy online)
The best thing you can do to make sure the break-in process is smooth and effortless is to buy a new pair of Vibram FiveFingers in a store, not online. This allows you to try the shoes physically.
Vibram FiveFinger shoes come in European sizes and fit differently from other shoes (obviously), so you won’t know which is the correct size unless you try them on.
Even if you can find them cheaper online, drive to the nearest retailer first. Don’t be afraid to try on men’s shoes if you’re a woman, and vice versa as there’s little difference.
You should also ask as many questions to the salesperson. Choose 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.
Remember, no amount of breaking in will do you any good if the shoes are not the correct size, to begin with. Make sure to get the right size. You can find a Vibram store near you right here.
2. Walk before you run
Now that you have your new pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes, you would want to break them in slowly. If you are new to barefoot shoes, you’ll need to walk comfortably before you can 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.
The first week may make you swear they are the wrong size but it will be over soon. Like a new pair of jeans, it takes some body heat and oil to get them to conform to the shape of your foot.
3. Wear toe socks and sprinkle foot powder
Wear toe socks and sprinkle foot powder. Both will make it easier to put your FiveFingers on and prevent blisters from the combination of sweat and fabric rubbing against your bare skin.
While Vibram FiveFingers are meant to be worn without socks, you can wear toe socks. It’s a question of preference. The right socks will absorb sweat and increase thermal regulation.
Instead of cotton, choose athletic performance toe socks that are breathable. This allows both of your feet to remain dry. When used in tandem with foot powder, they work like a charm.
I once wore a new pair of Classics while walking downtown San Francisco. It was a little warm that day, so my feet were a bit damp. The shoes rubbed and gave me a nice blister.
I should have brought some foot powder in anticipation of so much walking. Nowadays I can walk miles without issues. But don’t repeat my mistake. Wear socks and sprinkle foot powder.
4. Gradually increase the load of your activities
With FiveFingers, ramp up your activities slowly. 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 barefoot as a child but that doesn’t mean your muscles are up to snuff. Take it slow and do portions of your workout with the FiveFingers at first.
Run no more than 10% of your typical distance for the first 3 weeks. Never run 2 days in a row in the first month. Stretch before and after each run, focusing on your calves and feet.
If you’re not willing to take a break, bring along your regular sneakers during the transition. Whenever your feet start to hurt, take your FiveFingers off and switch to your old sneakers.
One item that has been a tremendous help during my transition period is this massage ball. Like a foam roller, a massage ball can also be used to help release tension in your achy muscles.
When your feet start to hurt, take off your shoes and step lightly onto the ball. Roll the ball back and forth on the bottom of the foot. This should help release the tension on your feet.
5. Wear your FiveFingers with clean feet
Last but not least, make sure to slip into your Vibram FiveFingers with clean feet. Make sure they are free of dirt. Clean feet make dealing with stinky FiveFingers much, much easier.
The less dirt you track into the footbed, the less often you’ll have to worry about scrubbing and washing. You’ll thank me after you own them for more than a few months.
Now you know how to break in Vibram FiveFingers shoes. The key is to ramp things up slowly and be patient. You’ll be glad that you didn’t give up because they do loosen up with wear.