The good news is, I don’t even have to be online any more, because you geniuses are savvy enough to essentially do my job for me.
It’s OK, I still love their shoes too and there’s no reason not to. But, keep reading peeps.
So, if the class action suit isn’t about physiology, what is Vibram being sued for? Answer: The way they advertised their shoes.
In this article The Vibram Lawsuit, Explained, there is a great breakdown of the claim,
“[The Plantiff] alleges that she purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers running shoes in April of 2011. Her complaint further alleges that Vibram deceived consumers by claiming in advertising that FiveFingers shoes can deliver various health benefits to runners who use them, including, for example, reduced risk of foot injury and strengthened foot and leg muscles.”
In the claim–which you can download and read from the article linked above–there is no mention that the Plantiff had measures of her foot strength or level of injury before and after wearing them (i.e. is suing them for damaging her feet or not making them stronger as measured objectively).
To me, the lawsuit appears (I’m saying appears because I’m no lawyer, y’all) to state that the research on barefoot running isn’t adequate enough (no quantification on the term adequate), that Vibram is assuming that their minimal shoe is similar to barefoot running (and therefore one can reap the benefits similar to those found in the inadequate barefoot studies), that people might have purchased these shoes without realizing that they would have to change their gait in order to receive certain benefits, and that Vibram was able to charge a significant price premium (i.e. people valued these benefits more than what they would have paid for a standard foot covering) because of the implied data that they, according to the Plantiff, did not have.
“Not only is there no reliable data demonstrating that running in FiveFingers will yield the health benefits Defendants say they will yield, but consumers hoping to reap the touted health benefits from FiveFingers must first change the way they have always run with conventional running shoes. With conventional running shoes, the runner runs with a heel-strike manner. But with FiveFingers, a runner must run with a forefoot strike pattern. This process, necessary with FiveFingers, can be long and painful, and can even lead to injuries. As indicated in a recent study by the University of Wisconsin — La Crosse and published by the American Council On Exercise (the “ACE Study”), ‘“If you want to run in Vibrams, you should be prepared to change your gait pattern . . . . If you run in them, give yourself time to acclimate to them and adapt.”’Notably, some people may never change their gait.”
Within the claim is verbiage obtained From the Vibram website:
“For some, it is a matter of weeks, for others months, and for a few it could be a year or more. Much is dependent on your foot type, the activities you’re using Vibram FiveFingers for, and the amount of pronation you experience. The progression will ultimately be worth the wait, and your foot and body will be stronger and better off for it. The answer lies in your inherent foot and body biomechanics and the condition of your muscles. Just remember, improving the skill of those muscles then practicing and using those muscles in Vibram FiveFingers will increase both endurance and strength. This will have profound beneficial effects on your body and wellbeing. Listen to your body.”
Semantically, it appears that the Plantiff is suing because she believes the message created by the company was that running in Vibrams (as in, put shoes on and let them work their magic) would provide “all the health benefits of barefoot running.” And alleges that that by advertising their shoes as instantly transforming the body into something with stronger muscles and less injury, the “Defendants have been able to charge a significant price premium for FiveFingers over other conventional running shoes.”
(I’m not sure how many runners were logging miles in conventional running shoes that cost less than $90 bucks. Even when I was running in college and shopping at the no-so-expensive Big Five, I paid $75.oo for a pair of Asics every 250 miles. What’s the cost of this conventional shoe mentioned in the claim? I’d love to know to determine just how swindled people were.)
I’m slowly becoming obsessed with semantics — which seems like a totally different field than health and biomechanics, right? Only you can’t do one well without the other. Actions based on words are entirely useless unless everyone agrees to what the words mean, exactly. For example, who thinks a shoe can make you healthier? If you say, YES!, absolutely, then put your assumption to the test: If you lie in bed all day wearing the shoes will that make you better than a day spent in bed without them?
WARNING: THIS NEXT PART MIGHT PISS OFF RUNNERS, BUT I HOPE IT DOESN’T PREVENT YOU FROM HEARING THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE.
The term wearing doesn’t even begin to encompass the process that occurs when one bears weight in different types of footwear, so a different term needs to be selected when talking seriously — certainly legally — about health outcomes. Walking in Vibrams. Standing in Vibrams. Running in Vibrams. Walking 1 mile in Vibrams. Walking 10 miles in Vibrams. Doing squats in Vibrams. Walking on grass in Vibrams. Walking on concrete in Vibrams. Each of these scenarios are entirely different and can only be measured (for comparison’s sake) on the same person, on moment-to-moment basis. If you think there is any “thing” that is good, all of the time, in every scenario, then you’re not thinking very hard.
A famous example of what I’m trying to say here is the “is water dangerous” test, where the 10th grade teacher points out that even innocuous ol’ water can kill you if you inhale it. And yes, while we could all choke to death by shoving minimal footwear down our wind pipes, I’m not talking about death by minimal shoe, but harm by use.
Most of you who read my blog regularly and have read my book on feet, minimal footwear, and transitioning safely know that not only do I think you walk in minimals for, oh, I don’t know, YEARS before you start running, I don’t think you should be running much at all and never for a prolonged time on man-made surfaces. You can’t hinge your reason for using minimal shoes on SHOES ARE UNNATURAL if you can’t look the POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF THE UNNATURAL SURFACE or YOU BODY IS NOT THE SAME VERSION OF YOU, HAD YOU BEEN IN NATURE THROUGHOUT A LIFETIME arguments in the eye. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t run on concrete with bare feet and do just fine (depending on whatever your definition of “just fine” is) but that it’s problematic to construct your mental arguments in this fashion. If you’re running on concrete in minimal shoes it has to be for some other reason you might have like, “I just want to and I feel OK doing so.”
I’m going to end this post with stuff I’ve written already, because, um, I’ve already written this already. I don’t need to write it again, people just need to read it. From my book (yes, for men too) Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet:
We Westerners have a habit of picking a “natural” habit and jamming it into our unnatural lives, such as barefoot running for long distances on cements and asphalt. This takes a good thing (natural foot movement) and potentially creates a vibrational load that can lead to fractures in over-loaded foot bones and injuries of the soft tissue. Train smart. Be logical. If you want natural foot movements for optimal health, walk in natural environments. Shoes have been protecting us from our over-rigid environment for some time, and it takes time (years, even) to restore function. To get those feet healthier quicker, I strongly suggest a plan for increasing range of motion and function of the intrinsic foot musculature, and restoring appropriate length to extrinsic foot, lower leg, and thigh muscles.
I regularly see people excite themselves over the next training fad, run out and buy the new barefoot-simulating shoes, so they can run in a way that is “better for their health.” I see these same people take feet that have no motor skill or strength, slap on their new shoes and take a long run on the paved streets in their neighborhood, their upper body falling out in front of them, increasing the G-forces of their landing with every step. Slap! Slap! Slap!
I am a super-huge fan of the minimal-footwear movement, but I am completely surprised at the failure of the barefoot/minimal-footwear community to regularly produce sound physiological guidelines on how to transition out of conventional footwear—as though the tissues in our feet were somehow different from those found in the rest of our bodies when it comes to adaptation.
When you decide you want to run a marathon, you don’t jump off your couch and start with a twenty-mile run. I mean, most people wouldn’t even consider jumping out of bed to sleep on the floor; they’d be so worried about their back or neck throbbing the next day. Yet people everywhere have gotten rid of their shoes despite decades of wearing them, and they’ve started running in minimal footwear without doing a lick of foot-training.
Of course, many have transitioned just fine. Unfortunately, many haven’t; even more unfortunately, it’s only the injured folks that have taken their fractured bones and inflamed fascia to the podiatrist’s office—reinforcing much of the medical community’s data set with respect to minimal footwear and injury.
I think this case against Vibram is a great way to start (or, in my case continue) the dialog regarding how under-nuanced our consideration of movement has become. Why is Vibram positioned as a running shoe? How many hours a day do you want to get the giant wedge out from under your heel (then ankle, then knee, then spine), an hour a day or ten? Why do we prize and promote form, mindful movement, and natural health for this isolated thing that happens four times a week (running, if I’ve lost you) but not see the value in the application of the tenets to the 95% of our life that surrounds our exercise session?
Do I plan on continuing to wear my Vibrams? Sure. Including this lawsuit, there is nothing I’ve read (all the most recent research and point of views on the human foot, foot disease, and minimal footwear included) that indicate I shouldn’t be wearing them as I do (all damn day) and as I’ve recommended. The key here is to note the difference between using our feet for all-day living and using them for running. Not the same thing. As Eric Clapton says, “It’s in the way that you use it.”
(And yes, I just subtly released the cover image of Move Your DNA in case you missed it. You likey this post, you’re going to lovey the book.)