Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Feiyue shoes review

Having seen positive reviews of Feiyue shoes on various parkour and freerunning sites, I purchased a pair a couple of months ago for gym training. I have since put them through pretty much daily use, and thought I'd share my first impressions in this post.

Why Feiyue shoes?
My personal preference, as far as mobility, movement flow and bodyweight training are concerned is to practice barefoot. However a lot of gyms do not allow this practice and require the use of trainers. The next best option, therefore, are minimalist shoes with Vibram Fivefingers being a popular choice, particularly with crossfitters. Fivefingers and other minimalist trainers are a somewhat expensive option however, and this is where Feiyue shoes shine. Mine cost £10 online -about US $15- a good fifth of the price of Vibrams and other similar trainers.

A bit more about Feiyue's
Feiyue trainers enjoy a bit of a cult status among parkour practitioners and martial artists. Originating from China, they are extremely flexible, which has made them a shoe of choice for wushu and taichi practitioners. Their grippy rubber sole, reasonably strong build, and sensitivity are also valued by freerunners and traceurs, for whom price is an issue as the intense use their trainers are put through means a pair of shoes seldom last more than a couple of months.
An important note however: not all Feiyue shoes are equal. In 2006 the brand was imported to Europe by a French company as a fashion sneaker, having undergone a significant re-design. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, French Feiyues feature a thicker and less flexible sole, and they would not classify as a minimalist trainer.

Benefits of a minimalist trainer
Minimalist trainers have become popular in recent years, largely due to the emergence of the barefoot running movement. However, the pros and cons of this method of training for runners is not something I want to focus here. Rather I am more interested in their value for gym use and movement practice.
One of the reasons why deadlifters and powerlifters like to use a minimalist trainer is that those shoes shorten the pull. Whether the few millimeters gained are actually worthwhile, as opposed to some more sport-specific shoe is a matter of debate. More importantly, a few important factors that have led some Olympic lifters, powerlifters and bodybuilders to opt for minimalist trainers as a shoe of choice are their firmness, the sense of contact they ellicit from the ground, and the engagement of all the muscles in the feet which are not usually targetted when using a more supportive shoe. Minimalist trainers favour physical feedback from the ground rather than cushioning from it, something which also makes them more efficient at elliciting the stretch reflex during movements such as squats. Furthermore, minimalist shoes which have no heel-to-toe drop are known as zero-drop shoes. Even though Feiyue do not market their shoes as such, you can see from the image above that there is no heel lift to speak of in these trainers. This, for me, was a major factor in opting for these shoes as it encourages full ankle flexibility in all squatting and low-gate movements. The difference between my trusted Nike trainers, which feature a heel-to-toe drop in excess of 15mm and these shoes was like night and day, and I am convinced it was (and still remains) very beneficial in developping my ankle flexibility.

Sole flexibility
As you can see from the attached image, Feiyues possess excellent sole flexibility. This, and the shoes' reasonably supportive canvas upper and lacing system allows for constant contact between the thin rubber sole and the sole of your feet. In essence, the rubber sole feels like another protective layer of skin, allowing all the muscles in your feet to become fully engaged when squatting or engaging in other movement patterns. The sole's transverse thread pattern makes them very grippy (even sticky!) on all surfaces other than wet ones.

Toe Box
One of the distinctive characteristics of the Feiyues is their wide toe box. This allows your toes to fully splay inside the shoes, and it is a blessing particularly for those who have wide feet. And of course, the wide toe box allows all the joints of the feet to move freely, putting the attached muscles to their full use. If you have particularly narrow feet however, the fit of the shoe might not be right for you.

The dreaded rounded heel
My first impression upon trying a one leg-squat while wearing the shoes was how unstable they felt... This is due to the sole's pronounced rounded heel. Whilst the sole wraps nicely round your heel, giving that feeling of an extra layer of skin,  the rounded sole actually adds unstability to movements, as compared to working out barefoot.
This I found to be a problem with one leg work, and particularly squats. I felt distinctly wobbly when lowering myself in the bottom of the one leg squat, and that unstability could potentially pose some problems if you do not possess sound biomechanics.
The sole tends to flatten a bit with use (or perhaps it was just me getting use to the shoe's unstability), and after a while it becomes less of an issue, though I would be reluctant to do significant loaded one leg work in them.

Sizing can prove a bit of an issue as far as these shoes are concerned. A quick online search (as I originaly performed) revealed a variety of recommendations, from ordering one size bigger than your current size, to one size smaller. The problems are confounded by the fact that some websites use a size chart which appears to have been lifted from the French Feiyue site (which, if you recall, feature a different version of these shoes). In the end, I used the sizing advice from the Yellow Mountain Martial Arts page. The shoes I initialy ordered were a tad too big for my liking: I prefer not to wear socks with my trainers, otherwise this might have been fine). I ended up swapping the shoes for a pair a size smaller, and these now fit rather snuggly, but not uncomfortably so. A word of warning though if you machine wash your trainers: the canvas will shrink slightly after the first wash, and you might find yourself with a shoe that is now too small.

The verdict
For £10 (or US $15) you cannot really get it wrong. The Feiyues have proven to offer great value for money.
The zero-drop heel was the main selling point for me, and I believe it has benefitted my achilles tendon flexibility, though I could certainly have done without the additional instability provided by the rounded heel. If you are serious about your squatting and seek perfect alignment, you might want to look elsewhere. Converse All Stars offer a slim soled version for instance, which looks far more promising on that front. That said, I have found the fit and comfort of the Feiyues perfectly adequate for my needs, particularly when doing ground flow work.
Looks-wise, the shoes have quite a distinctive branding if that is your sort of thing and, as I have stated before, they have a bit of a cult following. Each pair comes in a brown paper wrapping, which lends the item a certain charm.

- Price.
- An excellent alternative to going barefoot, in places where this is not allowed, or were you need some protection for the soles of your feet.
- No cushioning to speak of: excellent feedback from the ground.
- Zero-drop encourages full ankle mobility and flexibility.
- Wide toe box allowing the toes to fully splay.
- The 'cool' factor - Feiyue's cult status.

- Durability - I have only owned the shoes for a couple of months, and they show no excessive signs of wear and tear, but the build quality -though still very good- is certainly not that of more expensive trainers. That said, I certainly expect I will get well over 6 months of use out of these trainers.
- The rounded heel.
- The wide toe box might not fit all feet type.

A mere couple of  weeks after writing this review, the sole split on one of the shoes. This makes the durability of these trainers even more questionable (3 months at best). The Feiyues are still usable -and other parts of the shoes are holding up well- but this was just the straw that broke the camel's back as far as I was concerned.
I have since moved on to generic brand plimsolls shoes, which I am much more satisfied with (review to follow)


  1. Thanks for the post! I love these shoes

  2. The rounded heel is great for working on balance during Tai Chi sessions as well as not giving resistance to your moves as much as a flat heel.