Which part of your body has 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors?
Surprisingly, the human foot. Yet with all that’s going on down there, when we’re doing tasks that demand our feet the most, they are cast in a shoe; unable to move naturally, not stimulated or exercised and thus, not as functional as they can be.
Which brings us to the topic of this article: Vibrams and how they can help your proactive tennis game. Your feet can be dangerous weapons on (and off) the court, and these crazy looking shoes can help.
I took a chance and bought a pair a few years ago just to see what all the hype was about, and I’m happy with my decision, although I’ve definitely been “that guy” at the gym because of them. Although it was a little weird getting used to them, and I definitely didn’t ease into them as advised (which resulted in many blisters), I now feel like there is a lot more all around strength in my legs and spring in my step.
You know you’ve seen them. I know when I first saw someone wearing these shoes in the gym, it was almost like a car crash or someone with a ridiculous deformity; I couldn’t help but stare. These shoes, despite their odd appearance, can do great things for your game. Although they’re not intended for on-court use, wearing them when you train and during regular day-to-day activities can help with three of the most vital elements of tennis. Your footwork, your first step, and quick thinking.
So how will these weird looking glove shoes help your game on the court? One word: footwork. The key to playing successful and proactive tennis is a quick first step and these shoes do wonders for allowing this quick first step to happen. These shoes leverage your body’s natural biomechanics so you’re able to move the way nature intended you to move, which is more shifted toward your toes as opposed to your heels. Ironically, the same way you should move on a tennis court.
Now staying on your toes while on the tennis court will feel totally natural. The reason players oftentimes stand “in cement” on the court, or with their heels firmly planted into the ground is simply because that’s the way they’re used to standing. With the help of these shoes, you’ll be accustomed to standing in the ready position and be able to attack balls with your feet.
Vibrams reduce the risk of injury. As complex as the human foot is, the fact that it is so sheltered and non-stimulated by the standard sneaker makes the foot and the ankle perhaps the most injury prone body parts, especially in tennis. I’m sure I speak on behalf of many athletes out there when I say this. The stopping, starting, split stepping, lunging, and changing direction make your feet and your ankles the hardest working part of your body. Vibrams stimulate and strengthen the muscles in your feet, ankles, and lower legs, which will help prevent injuries on the court.
Quick thinking on the court. Often my students miss shots simply because they hesitate, prepare too late, or over-think. There are tons of neurological receptors in the feet, and when you wear these shoes, thousands of neurological receptors in the feet send valuable information to the brain very quickly, allowing for better balance, agility and proactive footwork on the court.
I’m still a little hesitant to debut these bad boys on the court for fear that I’ll roll my ankle due to lack of support, but just wearing them off the court will allow you to feel much more balanced and quick. You can really feel the strength in your legs and feet after wearing them for only a few weeks. It’s as if your feet are gripping the ground as opposed to simply standing on it. Your feet are very complex and are a vital part of your tennis game. If you want them to reach their full potential, gain more quickness, balance, lower leg strength, and a faster first step on the court, I’d definitely recommend these shoes. You may get some weird looks here and there, but they’re great shoes and also great conversation starters.
Every time I go to the gym, I’ll have someone approach me and ask “how do you like those shoes?” or “What do those shoes do?” Even here in the Czech Republic while performing some routine squats, I heard a slightly Czech American accent ask “so … how do they feel?” We immediately struck up conversation and I heard his whole story about how he lived for eight years in Massachusetts as an au-pair and then returned to his homeland of the Czech Republic. You really meet some interesting people while sporting unorthodox shoes.
An interesting benefit. The other day I went to a friends potluck dinner here in Prague with my expatriate teacher friends to share great food and good times, and interestingly, we broke out the broomstick and the girls started a little limbo competition. Being 5 ft. 10, a bit full, and not completely confident in how limber my lower back was, I sat out. After a bit of peer pressure, I decided to join in. As the bar got lower and lower, so did I. I was beating out short, former gymnasts! How was this possible? But then my friend Gwen pointed out that I was on my tiptoes, balancing on my toes as I lunged under the bar. This made the lightbulbs go off. Because I’ve been training in Vibrams and can concentrate my weight onto my toes, I can get a solid grip on the ground and control my body on a level unexpected to not only my friends, but myself as well.
Or perhaps my favorite: When I was at the bar, I saw a girl who works out at my gym and yell out to me over the cacophony of Barnaby’s All-American Bar “aren’t you that guy who wears those footsies?!?” Yep, that’s me.