You knew it was coming. In fact, it was just a matter of time. 70 million Americans were led to believe that if they wore the goofy looking "barefoot running" shoes made by Vibram, they would be better runners than they were prior. The company made claims that their shoes would yield specific health benefits. Well guess what? They were wrong. So wrong that they just settled a $3.75 million class action lawsuit over false claims. Runner's World reported the settlement which dated back to March 2012. The company was found guilty of falsely reporting claims that their shoes would: (1) Strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs, (2) Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet and toes, (3) Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility, (4) Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture, (5) Allow the foot and body to move naturally.
That all sounds great, right? Here's the problem. These claims were made by Vibram without basing their claims on any scientific research. That's what astounds me. Is it possible that 70 million people never had the presence of mind to ask, even once, "Where can I find the data that describes the trials that were performed with these shoes?" That would be a good starting point. Personally I'd want to make sure that there was in fact some benefit to be gained by wearing those shoes before I went out and dropped $100 on them and then paraded myself around town looking like a fool. Even the American Podiatric Medicine Association weighed in with a statement that said, "The risks of barefoot running include a lack of protection, which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds, and increased stress on the lower extremities." Seems pretty common sense to me. If you don't have shoes on and you walk around outside, there is a greater chance for you to step on something that will hurt your foot. Thankfully I don't jog. Many people here in Boulder, Colorado do. I believe this is one of the communities that pushed Vibram sales through the roof when they were first released. I don't see anyone running better when wearing those shoes, but I've certainly seen more sprained ankles, hip dysfunction and knee pain in clients that wore those shoes and tried jogging.
According to Vox, the federal settlement says, "Vibram will not make any claims that Five Fingers footwear are effective in strengthening muscles or preventing injury unless that representation is true, non-misleading and is supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence." Yay! Someone is finally being held responsible for proving truth in what they say. Never thought I'd see the day. Working in Boulder in the fitness industry, I'm used to gimmicks. I've seen everything from ab rollers, to shake weights, to fat burning belts, to Crossfit, to P90X, etc. You name it, the fitness industry has probably been through it already. That's nothing new for us.
Roughly 2 years ago I became a certified Barefoot Training Specialist with the Evidence Based Fitness Academy. One of the things that I've found fascinating over the years is how many people think they are immune to the stresses of jogging/running. One of the things that I learned in the Barefoot certification is the concept of Ground Reactive Forces and their impact on the human body. For example, when you walk the impact into your foot and ankle is roughly 1.5 times bodyweight. When you run, Ground Reactive Forces reach 3-4 times bodyweight, and when landing from jumping GRF can reach 10 times bodyweight! Now that force doesn't just impact the foot and ankle. Ultimately, it gets distributed up the chain also impacting the knees, hips and lower spine. So here's the only thing that really matters. If you're not in good bio-alignment and have strong and proper running mechanics, it doesn't matter what you're wearing on your feet, you're risking major injury. That's where we come in. At Sam Iannetta's Functional Fitness and Wellness Center in Boulder, Colorado we perform a functional analysis on every one of our clients that identifies the movement dysfunctions and muscle imbalances that would inevitably lead to injuries from severe impact such as running. The only way to avoid the injuries associated with endurance sports is to make sure your body is in the correct position to receive the stress handed out by these sports. If we do an analysis and find someone has discrepancies that need correction, we promptly design a program that addresses the clients needs and sets them up for less potential breakdown over time.
I don't think any one is foolish enough to think that if they have back pain from sitting all day at work, they'll be totally fine as long as they were their barefoot running shoes. It's quite simple. Find the dysfunction. Correct the dysfunction. After that, if you want to go running, go ahead. It's still 3-4 times bodyweight jamming into your feet, ankles, knees, hips and lower back with EVERY step! Your shoes won't save you from that impact. The only thing that will is correcting your bad bio-alignment and establishing the foundation for greater movement capability. I put the entire article about the Vibram settlement on my twitter on May 11th, 2014 if you're interested in reading the full article. Aside from that, the best thing you can do for yourself, if you're interested in engaging in high impact activities, is stop by Functional Fitness and have one of our expert level trainers do a functional analysis and see what needs correction before you go out and risk great injury. So before you buy into the next big gimmick, do what actually works. For more information on Functional Fitness, please go to www.functionalfitnessusa.com. For more information on smart exercise, follow @Rich1ill. Thank you.