Barefoot Tennis Shoes?

For the past several weeks I’ve been running in my new Vibram FiveFingers Classic shoes.  I’ve reported on the very first run I did with the shoes and even my second run in the shoes.  Since then I’ve been running more in the shoes.  I can now run up to 3 miles in the shoes at a time without too much discomfort.  I still feel a little scrunched in the pinky toe area, but the pain is at least a little more manageable now.  Bottom line is running in these shoes is just more fun than plain old running shoes (like the difference between driving a manual car and an automatic transmission car).

Anyway, this past weekend I had the bright idea to combine 2 of my favorite hobbies together: exercising in my Vibram FiveFingers Classics and playing tennis.   So instead of barefoot running shoes, turning them into barefoot tennis shoes.

I was inspired to take my barefoot running shoes and turn them into barefoot tennis shoes after I read the history of Terra Plana’s vivo barefoot shoes.  The initial concept for the shoes started out when the designer discovered that playing tennis barefoot made his chronic knee and ankle injuries disappear.  I like to play tennis and have had problems in the past with blisters and ankle injuries so I figured now that I had a pair of minimalist shoes that it was worth a try.  Check out the video below:

The Good

The biggest difference you notice between FiveFingers shoes and traditional tennis shoes is just how light they are.  You feel (and look) more like a ballerina than a tennis player since the FiveFinger’s don’t have all the padding shielding you from the court.  In addition to feeling all the textures of tennis court the rubber bottom of the Vibram’s gives you great grip on the court.  I felt very agile on the court.  Moving is not an issue in these shoes.

The Bad

While moving around the court is not a problem what ends up being a problem is sprinting to chase down balls.  Sprinting in FiveFingers is easy, what’s hard (and painful) is slowing down quickly.  Tennis is a lot of stop-and-go and spurts of speed.  When you have padded shoes you don’t really notice how much you rely on your heel to stop or brake your movement.  However, when wearing FiveFingers you feel everything and I found myself taking more time to slow down just to ease the pain of stomping on the hard surface.

Conclusion

Playing tennis in Vibram FiveFingers is definitely doable.  However, depending on how intense you play tennis it could be painful.  While I know a lot of padded shoes, especially in the running community, get a bad rap since it encourages a less healthy running style (heel strike) in some cases it’s not such a bad idea.  I found myself less fast on the court with my barefoot shoes, but it definitely was a fun experience…even if I looked ridiculous.