To whom it may concern:
I have traveled to many different running stores to inquire about the process used to fit traditional running shoes. To properly assess the process, I claimed to be a complete novice. At every store but one, I was given three tests.
The first test involved taking the measurements of my foot with a Brannock device. Most of the stores gave me the same size- 11.5. One told me my size was an 11.
The second test always consisted of a “gait analysis” of some sort. Sometimes this was done while running on a treadmill. Sometimes I was asked to run around the store. In one case, I ran on the sidewalk outside the store. That particular store seemed especially adept at marketing! Kudos.
After each test, I was told I had one of several conditions. Most stores told me I over-pronate. Two said I had a neutral gait. One claimed I supinate.
The third test involved measuring my arch and/or weight distribution. This was done with either some sort of “wet test” or a machine similar to the Dr. Scholl’s machine next to the Walmart pharmacy. For the wet test, I was asked to step in a pan of water then step on a piece of paper. For the Walmart test, I simply stood on the machine and it gave a graphic thermal-looking readout on a screen.
Both tests came back the same- I have medium to high arches. Most of the store recommended I purchase a third-party arch support after they select my shoes.
At this point, every employee did the exact same thing. They disappeared to a back room and brought out several boxes of shoes that matched my “profile.” I was then asked to test each pair by parading around in front of the sales clerk. They would usually make a few comments about each pair. It seemed they were looking for the pair that eliminated my pronation “problem.”
Eventually they would narrow the choice down to two or three pair to choose from. At this point, I began asking questions about the fitting process. I first asked if they were accurate. All confidently answered “yes.” The second question was “Where did these tests originate?” Much to my surprise, not a single shoe clerk knew the origins.
I then asked how they knew these tests were valid- how do you know they actually measure what they are supposed to measure? Most vaguely mentioned science. Two said “biomechanics”, and one said “It’s just the way it has always been.”
For those that gave the science-based answers, I pushed further by asking if they knew of any specific research that supports the “gait analysis” or “wet test.” None had an answer.
The Big Question
Is this a case of a few poorly-trained employees that I just happened to find by dumb luck, or could it be that the entire “shoe fitting” process is a house of cards that is easily destroyed by the slightest breeze of skepticism?
The sizing test with the Brannock Device seems pretty legitimate. After all, you do not want a shoe that is unnecessarily big or small. Bt what about the other two tests? How valid are they?
To try to find answers, I scoured the literature. I did not find a single scholarly article that even suggests either of these tests are in any way useful. I did, however, find one study that seemed interesting. Their conclusion was:
This was interesting, especially considering Gordon Valiant, the second author, is a Nike researcher.
My challenge to any running shoe employee- can you defend either of these tests with anything other than “this is the way we’ve always done it?” If you can, please post a link to your supporting evidence. I would also accept evidence that overstriding with a heel strike is in any way natural or beneficial. If you cannot, please explain how you can continue to use these tests in the absence of supporting evidence.
I would urge you to reconsider your fitting process and consider the “shoes as tools” paradigm. Customers will select shoes based on their needs for protection without influencing their natural gait instead of recommending shoes that eliminate natural motion and promote landing on their heel.
Thank you for your time, it is greatly appreciated.
The running world is changing. Some people are hip to it. Some are not. Empirical research has consistently supported the ideas of good running form and/or barefoot running. Research has also debunked the myth of the current “find shoes that fix bad form using a silly fitting process” paradigm. Even the medical community is beginning to take notice.
I recently had two conversations with long-time running industry insiders. One was Curt Munson, co-owner of Playmakers running store in Okemos, Michigan and recent inductee into the Running Retailers Hall of Fame. The conversation can be summed up in one quote from Curt (paraphrased): “I was wrong for 25 years. I’m just thankful I was open to the idea that I was wrong, and have spent the last five years making up for it.”
Curt was talking about teaching running form. He taught people to heel strike for 25 years, because everybody else was doing it. He had the courage to admit he was wrong and correct course. This led to the development of Good Form Running, a great system to learn good running form.
I compare this to another conversation I had with a gentleman I’d prefer to keep anonymous. This conversation can also be summed up with a single quote, again paraphrased: “I know the research, but how can I change now? I’ve spend 25 years preaching one thing, now I’m just supposed to change? How would my customers ever trust me?”
There are a lot of people in the running industry that are choosing to ignore what is becoming increasingly obvious- running form is important and the vast majority of shoes manufactured today inhibit good form and encourage bad form. As the next few months unfold, those that choose to stick their heads in the sand shouldn’t be surprised when they are surprised.
To use some ideas borrowed from Seth Godin, these people likely have:
1. An emotional attachment to a specific future outcome (barefoot and minimalist shoe running is a fad that will fade away, research will prove that heel striking is natural, etc.), and
2. Resistance and a fear of change.
They are deliberately trying to imagine a future that is safe and predictable, which simply mirrors the past. The only way to do this is to willingly ignore the mounting evidence of the likely future.
What Can You Do
Suppose you are one of the few actually in the industry that CAN see the change. What do you do? The steps are simple:
Step 1: Lead by example. You don’t have to preach, simply go about your business. Your success will be noticed and eventually emulated by those around you.
Step 2: Continue to learn. We don’t have all the answers. Search out new ideas, including those you disagree with.
Step 3: Connect. Connect with open-minded customers, sales reps, store owners, store employees, industry insiders, whatever. There are a lot of us that see the changes happening around us. Seek us out. There is power in numbers.
Step 4: Passive Agitation. Encourage those with their head in the sand to start thinking critically. Plant the seed. Leave some barefoot running literature lying around the break room at your store. Send them this post.
If you know anyone in the shoe industry, send them this post. It’s about time we develop some legitimate, honest dialogue on the issue of these bullshit tests.