Blog has moved!

The Barefoot Chronicles blog has moved to Jason's main site:

Barefoot Running University.

New posts as of 2010 have moved to the new address. Please update your links and blogroll.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fleet Feet Sports... not you, too?!?

[Note- this is written in response to a specific Fleet Feet Running Store owner's comments regarding barefoot running.  This is not necessarily my opinion regarding all Fleet Feet stores.  Most, but not all, have been exceptionally supportive of the barefoot and minimalist shoe running movement.]

Fleet Feet Sports' owner, David Spetnagel, commented on barefoot running in a recent flyer distributed by Fleet Feet.  The article is somewhat similar to the comments made by Road Runner Sports' CEO a few months ago, except Spetnagel used science instead of a sophomoric fear tactic. 

First, Spetnagel discounts Born to Run, which is fair.  It is not a peer-reviewed journal; it is the opinion of McDougall.  He also mentions the misrepresentation of Lieberman's “Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Runners versus Shod Runners”.  That's fair... the popular media does misrepresent Lieberman's conclusion. At this point, I am still on-board.

In the second paragraph, Spetnagel dissects three pro-barefoot running arguments:
  • A heel strike is inferior to a forefoot strike (note: I know of no barefoot running instructors that advocate a forefoot strike... we tend to favor a midfoot strike),
  • Barefoot running strengthens the foot anatomy,
  • Barefoot running is "speedier" than heel striking.
In the third paragraph, Spetnagel cites Hamill's oft-cited conference lecture regarding barefoot running.  Essentially, Hamill makes the claim that heel striking is popular today, thus must be the result of evolution.  His evidence- the heel bone is strong and sits upon a fat pad.  What about the rest of the foot?  What is the purpose of the arch?  Ornamentation?  Curiously, Spetnagel does not mention this.  Spetnagel also fails to mention that Hamill's talk was not peer-reviewed, merely his own opinion. 

In the next paragraph, Spetnagel continues to cite Hamill.  He notes that foot strengthening is unlikely to occur due to the muscles being internal.  So "...Dr. Joseph Hamill, a Kinesiology Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with more than 20 years of experience as a biomechanist..." is claiming that muscles cannot be strengthened because they are internal to the foot?  I do not possess a PhD, nor do I have 20 years of experience as a biomechanist, but that conclusion is just plain stupid.  If those muscles cannot be strengthened, why the Hell do we have them?!?  Remember this foot-strengthening point... we'll see it again in Spetnagel's sales pitch at the end of the article.

Spetnagel continues by citing Matt Fitzgerald's barefoot running article, which drew conclusions based on the very unscientific measurement of asking a few doctors about injury frequency in their practice.  Hmmmm... Lieberman's peer-reviewed study should be disregarded, but the anecdotal opinions of a few doctors asked to recall their patients' injury history is as good as gold? 

Spetnagel then quotes Fitzgerald “If you don’t get injured often in shoes, there’s no need to switch to barefoot running, but you could probably get away with it. And if you do get injured in shoes, switching to barefoot running might be tempting, but it will probably only make matters worse.”

The first sentence is accurate... no disagreement here.  The second sentence... not so much.  Ask any experienced barefoot running about their injury frequency before and after barefoot running.
In the next paragraph, Spetnagel offers a good segue into his sales pitch.  He quoted Dr. Owen Anderson, “There’s just no proof that barefoot running will reduce your risk of injury of make you faster…One thing is for certain: If you throw your running shoes in the trash bin and embark on your usual training program in the barefoot condition, you will probably soon be calling your sports-medicine physician...So, please proceed cautiously if you decide to let the skin hit the road.”

No shit.   Every single barefoot running instructor goes to great lengths to teach patience.  If you run 100 miles a week shod, then immediately switch to 100 miles of barefoot running, you will get injured.  As far as "proof" barefoot running makes you faster or reduces injury, yes, Anderson is correct.  Likewise, there is no "proof" shoes will make you faster or reduce injury.  I've scoured the literature... there is no research supporting the use of the modern running shoe.  I have challenged the anti-barefoot running cword to produce a single citation of a study that even hints at the benefits of modern running shoes over barefoot running.  To date, nobody has been able to produce said research.

The next two paragraphs literally made me laugh out loud.  Spetnagel carefully makes a case against barefoot running, then makes a sales pitch for the Nike Free and his barefoot running clinics USING THE EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS HE JUST ATTACKED!  Here's the quotes:

While the current data show that regular training in a minimalist shoe is not a good idea for most runners because the additional injury risk outweighs any gains in injury reduction or efficiency, there is consensus that a well-designed foot/ankle-strengthening regimen can be an effective part of your training program – and that doing such workouts in minimalist shoes can make them more efficient. [editorial comment- note that Spetnagel just cited Hamill's comment that the intrinsic foot muscles cannot be strengthened.]

We believe that Nike’s “Free” line of shoes are the best of the minimalist shoes because they strengthen what can be strengthened (aka, muscles) [see editorial comment above] and protect what cannot be strengthened in the traditional sense (aka, ligaments, tendons and bones) [another editorial comment: bones, tendons, and ligament can be strengthened... this is why astronauts develop osteoporosis in space]. In other words, the Frees’ ultra-flexibility works the muscles of the foot (including the very important “toe grabbing” that occurs when running barefoot) but their underfoot “arch” support and moderate cushioning protect the rest of the foot and leg to at least some degree.

This is laughable. I do not understand why shoe salespeople cannot simply accept that there are significant merits to barefoot running.  They really should take an open-minded approach as other shoe salespeople have: barefoot running has significant advantages, but not everyone should or has a desire to run barefoot.  For those individuals, there are some excellent minimalist shoes (NOT the Free... it is a "reduced" running shoe.)

Here's my advice: If you don't have problems in overly-cushioned, raised-heel, supportive shoes, keep using them.  If you do get injured, accept that it is probably a function of bad form.  There are a number of ways to learn good form, one of which is barefoot running.  Should you decide to try it, educate yourself.  There are a ton of great free resources out there, including Ken Bob's site, Ted's site, runBARE, and my own site.

To shoe store owners- please stop this bush league attempt at discrediting barefoot running while pitching your own products or services that take advantage of the rise in barefoot running awareness.  If you disagree with barefoot running, man up and take a hard stance against it.  If you support it by offering workshops and pseudo-minimalist shoes, then stop producing drivel like this article from Fleet Feet.


  1. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO on fleet feet and their BS "fitlosophy".

  2. If that flyer were used as an introduction to a request for grant money to study the benefits/harms of barefoot running the grant reviewers would be laughing their heads off as they drop the request in the "rejected" bin. You generally have to show that you know something about a subject and can make a coherent analysis that doesn't contradict itself before you get respect and validation of your theory. Looks like Spetnagel deserves neither.

    These shoe sellers seem more and more threatened. I wonder why?

  3. This anti-barefoot rant by FleetFeet has to be the most ridiculous one I've seen so far. My 10-year old daughter could probably make a more compelling case. I thought of the word 'laughable' as I was reading it, as well.

    One thing that caught my eye is the use of the work 'consensus' to make a point. SCIENCE IS NOT BASED ON CONSENSUS! IT'S BASED ON FACT!!!

    I just hope that then many people who will inevitibly read this will also quickly realize how patently obvious the flaws in logic and what the real motive is with this nonsense.

  4. Jason, if your ramblings are barely coherent, what does that make this nonsense? -Blind Boy

  5. Wait, you can't strengthen "internal" muscles? Aren't all muscles internal?

  6. Yeah, what Jeff said. I keep ALL my muscles inside me, except when I stick my tongue out, which I'm doing right now at Fleet Fleet! :P

  7. you know what I came away with from this article?

    "Here's my advice: If you don't have problems in overly-cushioned, raised-heel, supportive shoes, keep using them. If you do get injured, accept that it is probably a function of bad form. There are a number of ways to learn good form, one of which is barefoot running. Should you decide to try it, educate yourself. "

    That is absolutely beautiful.
    Note that I run in Ecco Bioms, I own vibrams and train indoors in them, though very little running. This is what works for me, and so I don't NEED to run barefoot, nor do I NEED to run shod.. but I run the way works for me, which had brought me to the half marathon so far..
    What Asics and Nike failed to do, proper training, education and personal preference did just fine.

  8. It should be noted that this isn't the case for ALL Fleet Feet stores. In fact, the Fleet Feet stores in Chicago have held a minimalist running seminar (which I attended and there was no bashing) and they've also started carrying Vibrams in addition to the Nike Free line.

  9. This isn't a discussion about minimalist running, its about barefoot running. There is a distinction that some don't make. I'm sure that Spetnagel would say that running in minimalist shoes (that he would sell you) is just fine. It's true barefooting he's trying to "expose" (pardon the pun).

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Since all my muscles are on the outside I can strengthen them good. (insert sarcasm laden smirk here)

    Most change drags kickers and screamers along. Frustrating at best but unfortunately normal. Glad there are bloggers like you to keep the checks and balances in order.

  12. Please do keep in mind this does not go for all Fleet Feet stores.

    Fleet Feet in Seattle hosted Michael Sandler for his Barefoot Running book tour. Proof:

  13. I believe that Sandler is doing another event at a Fleet Feet in Orlando tonight. BUT, that doesn't excuse their owner from being so ignorant and self serving.

    The bottom line is that there is no definitive research about barefoot running or minimalist running. Until there is, no one should be making sweeping statements either way. Many of us have experienced benefits from running unshod but that doesn't mean we're "right" and we can't prove that its "better" and we shouldn't say it is for everyone. But when a guy who makes his living from selling shoes makes statements like this it inexcusable.

  14. this makes no sense. fleet feet and roadrunner sports don't make shoes. they just sell them. they have no research investment. minimalist shoes are more expensive. they're hurting their business with this stuff. they should be like, "hey buy these more expensive, minimal shoes, they're better for you and they'll make your feet stronger." seems like they're missing an opportunity.

  15. I work at one of the Running Room locations here in Minnesota and no one there believes barefoot running is good for you. I however see the merits - but it needs to be done properly and with patience. I haven't taken the leap for myself...yet. Our corporate office has decided that we will begin selling Vibrams (although we still don't have them in) and a number of other minimalist shoes (Kinvara for one).

    As for the excerpt you sited, there are so many contradictory statements these guys are throwing out there. As for Fitzgerald, I don't put much stock into what he says because he always seems to be shooting off his mouth with little basis. He's a bit of a moron.