I have long been an advocate of toe shoes, so I had many friends point me towards the backlash that has been on the internet as Vibram has had to settle a lawsuit for their FiveFingers (toe) shoes. What people have gotten stuck on is that these shoes don't work and nobody should wear them, because they are stupid looking and will ruin you as a runner. Let's take a look at the second claim first.
The shoe company had to settle because Vibram claimed that these shoes would reduce foot injuries and even make people's feet stronger. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to back this up. If you look at this at face value, it will mean that these shoes are bad for you, and everyone should immediately stop wearing them. Unfortunately, this is a misconception that shows a blatant disregard for other benefits that shoes can have. Those other benefits are why I will continue to wear my toe shoes, but even with that endorsement, I still plan on collecting my settlement money, because I more than earned it.
The claim on helping feet is bullshit. It isn't going to make your feet stronger, and it can cause stress fractures in your foot when switching to the shoe. I know, because I got a stress fracture in my right foot when using the shoes for a road race. It really sucked, and the shoes are definitely to blame. But much like Achilles had his heel, my weakness is foot bones, as I also got a stress fracture in my foot when I wore traditional running shoes. Vibram needs to make it very clear that people need to take it very slow and run very little before amping up your runs in those shoes. Trying to do a lot quickly will mess up your feet and not making this clear is the reason they are going to pay out a lot of money.
So these shoes broke my foot, yet I still wear them. Why? Well, the other benefits that I mentioned earlier have outweighed the costs compared to traditional running shoes. I started off as a hard-hitting runner as my feet really went heavy against the road. Likely, this was caused by being involved in sprint heavy sports like basketball, football, and tennis where speed is created by pushing hard against the ground with your foot. I ran in toe shoes with a heavy foot and I paid the price. But these shoes have made me adjust my running where at times, I feel myself gliding across the pavement instead of pounding it. When I first got the shoes, it killed my feet any time I would step on a rock, road grate, and especially tactile pavings. Now my foot strike is way softer, so I barely notice when I land on those things (although gravel is still very tricky, so I try to avoid it).
In combination with landing softer on the pavement, I have also adjusted where I land on my foot. I used to be a heel striker when wearing traditional running shoes. Even in my mid-20s, I would occasionally have pain in my knees as well as lower back pain that was likely a direct result of that pain in my knees. My Dad has bad knees and a bad back, so those were two things that really worried me as I got older. Switching to the shoes forced me to start landing on the balls of my feet instead of my heel. What this does is forces my calves to take the brunt of punishment when I run. When I first got the shoes, my calves killed me, but I kept using them, and my calf muscles have gotten stronger, and it takes a very long run for them to get sore. With the pressure in my calves, it took it off of my knees, and that is why I love these shoes so much. Since switching, I have had no pain in my knees or back, and that is the biggest reason that I absolutely love my toe shoes.
Honestly, toe shoes aren't for everybody. In fitness, everything gets disputed, so find out what works for you. If you feel good using traditional shoes, keep using them. If you are having knee and back problems, maybe give toe shoes a try. Vibram FiveFingers have no proven benefits for your feet, but they have had positive benefits for me. Because of that, I will continue to be the guy running in toe shoes.
And as for them being ugly? Yeah, that's probably a fair point.