Vibram 5 Fingers KSO review by William Franklin.
I got a pair of these for my birthday last week and I've been using them in all of my workouts since Monday of this week (the start of my split). I was always intrigued by the idea of lifting barefoot or without much footwear on like those old pictures of Arnold lifting in Chuck Taylors and flip flops, but I also wanted something I could jog in. Every now and again, I would sneak and kick off my running shoes to do squats and deadlifts, but I was always on the lookout for trainers who would make me put my shoes back on, and for random bits of trash, broken glass, or whatever else you might find on a New York City gym floor (seriously, you'd be surprised).
In any event, my first workout with them went pretty well. It was mainly an upper body thing so I didn't directly test drive them so to speak. I did a 5x5 workout comprising of Incline Presses, Barbell rows, Seated barbell shoulder press (front), and behind the back shrugs. On the barbell rows, I found it a lot easier to balance myself on my feet and to hold my body position. Because I was more stable, and was able to really use my toes to keep me from rocking with the weight, my form was a hair stricter. The lack of a heel makes it easier to plant your feet firmly on the floor. With the shrugs, I found it a lot easier to support the weight I was using (365) because I could use my toes to keep my body from rocking with the weight.
I don't move much when I'm using my regular running shoes, but I can feel the rubber compressing and pushing/pulling me in different directions once the weight gets heavy. This really came into play the next day when I did heavy deadlifts and leg presses.
I found that I was really able to dig in and push through my heels when I was deadlifting, and that my lockout was stronger. Because the shoes are also shorter than my running shoes, I found that my ROM was slightly decreased, which allowed me to push off from a stronger place in the ROM.
As I stated before, I had been sneaking in barefoot deadlifts here and there and I can say that not feeling the texture of the floor was a happy medium between the stability and positioning of bare footing and the "security" of lifting in a full shoe. On the leg press, I was able to lift more comfortably and I felt the muscle in the arch of my foot working. I should point out that I'm almost totally flat-footed so one of my main purposes was to strengthen my arch muscles so that I can have better posture and take some strain off of my knees when standing for long periods of time.
I got more work for that muscle when I did calf raises on the leg press in between sets. I not only felt my foot and ankle muscles working, I also got more stimulation in my calves. I have "black man" calves (high insertions and not much size).When I ordinarily do calf exercises, I feel a burn but its mainly in the tendon area and not so much the muscle. Having more tendon than muscle down there makes it difficult to tire the muscle out before the tendon. Over the years, the tendon has only gotten stronger and the muscle has kind of inched along. Hopefully, my calves will benefit greatly from these shoes.
Today's workout was a chest and arms hypertrophy day and tomorrow's is a back and shoulder hypertrophy day so I don't (and won't) have much to share in the way of direct feedback on the further virtues of the Vibram KSO. On Friday, I have my second leg day and will be doing some squats. I will also try to squeeze a run in this week so I can review the performance of the shoes in that setting as well.
Looks: I think the look gnarly as all hell. Some people think they look silly though. Who cares though? I'm getting a training benefit from them so whatever. I'm also sure that my gloves look silly too; like something Batman should be wearing.
But, they do what I need them to do, when I need them to do it. Nobody else is going to lift the weight for me, so they don't get to tell me what to wear when I do it.
Feel: These shoes FEEL great. It really feels good to have your toes working when you don't spend much time barefoot. The main limitations of these shoes is that they can't really adjust to variations in human foot width or toe length. I don't really have wide feet, but I do have a long second toe and short 3rd, 4th, and 5th toes. As a result, my middle toe is a little cramped and my 3rd, 4th, and 5th toes have a bit of extra room. It's nothing major, but it's something to think about. You will feel more comfortable when lifting heavy weights because your body can accommodate them in a more natural way. My DOMS has increased this week (resulting from relevant exercises) actually because I think the subtle cheating that a running shoe (with that big pliable air bubble in the heel) can contribute.
Performance: These shoes deliver what the company claims. That is, they let you experience the benefits of being barefoot in an athletic activity without the tactile sensations or vulnerabilities that usually come with it. While you can feel objects beneath your feet, your soles are still protected. The shoes are half way between a shoe and a sock; they're basically a training glove for your feet. You will feel your feet and lower legs working in a different way than you are accustomed to. Even when moving heavy dumbbells around, I feel the benefit of the barefoot experience.
Overall: 8.5/10. They are definitely better than running shoes/sneakers for training, but I wish they were more customizable in their fit. I also wish they had more color options, particularly some more subdued options. The store where I bought them was out of the plain black ones. They had both black and brown in the KSO Trek (the more outdoorsy version of these), but they were a lot more expensive ($80 vs. $125, you get the picture).
Some plain brown, dark blue, grey, or really dark green options would be awesome. I'm happy with the look of mine though. They don't make me look like a ninja (the last thing I want is a bunch of "funny guys" walking up to me saying sh8t like "ninja please" and what not) and they seem at just as home in the gym as in a kayak. I am definitely a fan. Besides, Kane Sumabat (Timberwolf) has a pair like mine, hehe.
Update: I did some more leg training today and my experiences were much like those from my previous leg training session. I found that squatting was easier in the KSOs. I have recently returned to back squatting after a multi-year hiatus (I injured my shoulder in such a way that made behind the body lifts of all sorts painful. I have finally recovered and have since returned to back squatting.) I have been having trouble relearning the technique, primarily for balance reasons. I found that with the barefoot feel and the increased friction of the rubber sole, my normal wobbles and lower back recruitment were gone. I was able to squat freely and focus on driving through my heels without fearing that I would tip back from the slope of my running shoe soles. Tomorrow morning, I will go firmly first "barefoot" run!
I kept reading the reviews and finally had to try a pair. They are the best pair of shoes I have ever had. It took a couple of weeks to get used to the new muscles working in the lower legs and feet. Once my body was broken in there is a new sense of being really connected to the ground and a better sense of balance all through the legs. I use them for walking, hiking, some soccer with kids I coach, and just regular wearing as shoes. Next week, I'll wear them for casual day at work! Frank Love
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