Friday, October 8, 2010

Vibrams Taking Off In The Military

Wow.  I'm just shocked at this article.  Read the whole thing, but here are some key excerpts (emphases are mine):

"The sergeant major of the Army is thinking about training for his next marathon in them, but Army officials have banned them from the PT test over worries they might give some soldiers an unfair advantage."

An unfair advantage.  Heck, the atom bomb was an unfair advantage.  Don't we want our troops to get all the unfair advantages they can?

"Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Cui, at Bagram Airfield, has banned airmen from wearing them with the Air Force PT uniform in Afghanistan, citing their wear as one of the most violated rules on base in a recent edition of the Bagram Express."

That's pretty cool.  Bunch of rebels. ;)

"Down at Kandahar, however, military doctors are encouraging their use and even prescribing them for recovering runners.

"'VFFs are the best thing out there for rehabilitating lower extremity injuries,' says Navy doctor and physical therapist Lt. Cmdr. John Mahoney at Kandahar. 'I have converted a heck of a lot of people since I got here.'"

Wow! At least someone gets it!

"Before his latest assignment, he was the physical therapist for Naval Special Warfare Group 4 in Norfolk, Va. He estimates about 35 percent of SEALs have incorporated Vibram’s toe shoes into their workouts.

Once Navy SEALs start wearing them, everybody in Virginia Beach wants to wear them,” he says.

This confirms what I've been hearing at Barefoot Ted's group for a year.

But then comes the obligatory dingbat podiatrist quote:

"The shoes are not for everyone, however.

"'Very, very flat-footed people should probably not wear them,' says Dr. Steven Pribut, a podiatrist and sports medicine expert in Washington, D.C., who specializes in working with runners.

That should read "who specializes in injuring runners".  We already know that barefoot is the best thing for flat feet.  Pribut is the guy who still has "A Brief History Of Sneakers" on his website, which contains such gems as:

"Within the context of modern athletic-shoe development, podiatric biomechanical thought and terminology have sunk deeply into the psyche of the athletic-shoe industry and the buying public. Words such as pronation, stability, and motion control are now widely used in the description and ranking of running shoes. The significance of types of feet and lasts, the use of motion-control devices, new shock-absorbing materials, and many other ideas have become common as a result of both podiatric sports medical influence and the realization that foot and lower extremity biomechanics plays a vital role in the performance of the casual athlete as well as the world-class athlete."

He's right, they became common.  Unfortunately they don't work.  Even worse, they injure the runners they're supposed to help:

"Every runner in the highly pronated group who wore a motion control shoe reported an injury. In other words, all runners (yes, 100%) who were supposed to be wearing a motion control shoe based on their degree of pronation got injured." [Emphases in the original]

Pribut does have some good advice, but it's sadly far outweighed by his bad advice.  But that's fodder for another post.

"Lt. Col. Kerry Sweet, the Army’s top foot doctor and chief of podiatry at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis- McChord, Wash., has been monitoring the trend at his base.

"'We have not seen any appreciable — or even noticeable — increase in injuries as a result of people wearing these shoes,' he says, but he adds it may be too soon to tell. 'We’re in a real gray area right now.'

So despite what doctors like Pribut have been telling us minimalists for as long as I've been following this, a doctor who is actually monitoring minimalist runners reports no increase in injuries!  I wish I was shocked.

The article finishes up with a branch-by-branch status report, and a list of suggestions of how to get your commanding officer to allow you to wear toe shoes.  Clearly this is still up in the air in the Military, but the degree of acceptance is, to me, just shocking.

I never figured it would be going this quickly.

Now, just imagine if there was a study that actually finds minimalist shoes to be beneficial to injury rates...

UPDATE: Follow-up post.


  1. Thanks for the article and synopsis, Tuck!

  2. You're welcome Armaan, thanks for visiting!

  3. Great post. The "dingbat podiatrist" though isn't a complete dingbat. While he may not be completely for them, he admitted towards the bottom of the article (indirectly of course) that it may not be a bad thing.

  4. No, Pribut's not a complete dingbat; and as he says on his blog, his thinking on this topic is "evolving". He also blames a journalist for misquoting him, which may well have happened.

    But in the meanwhile he was prescribing motion control shoes to a lot of runners, I'm sure, with no evidence that they were working.