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Dr. Craig Richards: A Call For Independent Shoe Testing

Posted by on Jun 7, 2011 | 21 Comments

This is a quickly-developing story.  The details are a bit sketchy, but the news was too exciting to pass up.

Recently Zero Drop posted a quote from Simon Bartold of Asics.  This led to a spirited debate, which was continued on Runblogger.  I mentioned the debate in my last post.

As a result of these debates, Dr. Craig Richards of Hunter Gait and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running, offered to conduct independent testing of shoes if manufacturers were willing to submit the shoes.

The details of the testing is one of the details I’m still working on, but Dr. Richards hinted that he will be measuring differences in shoe design on injury rates and performance.

I cannot begin to describe the tingle of excitement I experienced when I read his email.  This is exactly the type of study us minimalist shoe runners have been calling for since I started doing this years ago.

This is the ultimate “put up or shut up” clinical trial.  Independent testing by a barefoot runner using a clinical trial model… it doesn’t get any better than this.

Here’s the catch- shoe manufacturers have to be willing to submit their shoes.

This alone should be a telling move by various manufacturers.  Those that truly buy into the principles of the minimalist  movement and genuinely believe they’re producing a product that lives up to those principles will accept the challenge immediately. They will welcome the opportunity to let their shoes shine. 

Transparency.

Those that are in this just to make a buck or know they are producing a sub-standard “minimalist shoes” may hesitate or even reject the offer.  They won’t want anyone to pull back the curtain and reveal their true selves.

Secrecy.

The interesting question comes from companies like Asics.  Does Simon Bartold have the balls to submit the shoes he so passionately defends?  Is Asics prepared to allow independent testing of their shoes next to some of the best minimalist shoes in the world?  What about the other big dogs?  Will Brooks, Reebok, and Nike follow suit?

With enough public pressure, Dr. Richards should get most of the companies on-board.  If the shoe manufacturers really believe in their products, there should be absolutely no hesitation.

YOU CAN HELP BY DOING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

  1. Re-post this message anywhere and everywhere (Facebook, Twitter, your blog, forums… anywhere to let people know what Dr. Richards is doing.
  2. If you know of ANYONE that works for a shoe company, send this message to them.  Word spreads fast internally.
  3. If you have a blog that is in any way related to running, write a post about the clinical trials.  Again, the goal is to get a swelling of support that will compel companies to submit their shoes.

My Role

I hope to keep an updated list of the manufacturers that agree to submit shoes.  I’ll help Dr. Richards recruit shoe manufactures and spread the word about the trials.  I’ll also help spread the results once they become available.  I won’t actually take part in the testing, which I would imagine will occur in Australia (where Dr. Richard is located.)

An Example of a Company Doing It Right

To the best of my knowledge, Merrell is the only company that has agreed to participate thus far.

Full disclosure- I work closely with Merrell to develop barefoot running educational material, do general consulting, and holding running clinics and talks.  Unfortunately that relationship may appear to seriously compromise my admiration for the company.  When I tell people they really are different, I can only hope their actions speak louder than the perceived bias some people assume is related to money.

When I received the email about Dr. Richards’ clinical trial, I forwarded it to Merrell.  Within 15 minutes they made the decision to participate and were ready to send shoes.

This clinical trial does have considerable risk.  Dr. Richards’ trials could make some shoes look really, really bad.  This could be a PR nightmare for companies involved.  Science can be brutally honest.  Some manufacturers may not want their shoes to be subjected to this type of scrutiny.

Merrell’s stance was simple.  They scoured the research on barefoot running, natural running form, and minimalist shoe design.  They determined that a lot more support existed for this paradigm than the “cushioned motion-control feet-are-broken” paradigm.  They then designed a line of shoes that utilized what they learned.  They truly believed in the concept to the point of basing their entire line of active shoes off the “barefoot shoe” (i.e.- what we call true minimalist shoe) model.  It was a very clear “the body is designed to move this way, we’re going to produce a shoe that allows for that movement” philosophy.

That’s the reason they were so confident in the decision to participate.  They know they’re right and will jump at the chance to prove it.  What better method than an independent clinical trial?

Others I Expect to Join

Merrell won’t be alone.  I have no knowledge of the other companies that have been asked at this point, but I would expect a few others to jump on board immediately.  Just based on my own knowledge of the inner-workings of these companies, I would expect the following to participate:

  • Vibram
  • Terra Plana
  • ZEM
  • Altra
  • Newton
  • Inov-8
  • Kigo
  • Soft Star
  • Luna Sandals
  • Invisible Shoes

There may be a few others, but all of these companies really believe in the concept behind their shoes. There are others that I question.  Will companies like Nike, New Balance, Adidas, and Saucony participate?  All are producing or planning shoes that would be considered minimalist shoes, but they also have extensive non-minimal lines.  Will they submit those, too?  What about Asics?  Dr. Richards is clearly challenging Simon Bartold to put up or shut up.  Will Asics submit their shoes, or would they prefer to remain on the periphery and keep their shoes shrouded in secrecy?

Time will tell.

I’ll be compiling a list of manufacturers that choose to participate.  IF YOU ARE A REPRESENTATIVE OF ANY COMPANY THAT DECIDES TO PARTICIPATE, PLEASE CONTACT ME!

For everyone else, do what you can to spread the word.  This clinical trial has the potential to clarify a lot of the issues we currently debate.  This is precisely what we have needed for years.

 

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21 Comments

  1. Pete Kemme
    June 8, 2011

    I reposted it on my blog. Awesome news!

  2. Dr. Craig Richards Requests « A Rose By Any Other Name Blog
    June 7, 2011

    [...] Minimalist shoe testing.   More information at Barefoot Running University.  Just click on my link. [...]

  3. Andrew Rademacher (STEM co-founder)
    June 7, 2011

    Jason, as co-founder of STEM Footwear, we are eager to enter our shoes into this unbiased, independent study. Although, STEM shoes are not designed as a running shoe, but are designed more for overall lifestyle use, and since there is not yet anyone conducting a lifestyle/walking experiment, we would still be willing to put our shoes to the test. All minimalist shoes fit different shape and width feet, I would wish that Dr. Richards finds test subjects with the entire range of feet sizes, shapes, and widths and includes that in his findings.

  4. Brandon M
    June 7, 2011

    Jason, any study that helps educate people on the different aspects of shoes is a step in the right direction. Because we live in the Microscope of the Barefoot/Minimalist world it will be interesting to see the results.
    Will this change the Pandemic of running barefoot?
    Will it give it validity?
    Will it only spur on more debate?
    Will it produce a never ending list of questions?

    Its in the process of being posted thanks!

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Brandon, hopefully these will be the questions that we’ll begin to answer. An important point- the results could turn out bad for us barefoot runners. There’s a possibility the results could show motion-control technologies really do help. That’s the “risk” we have to take.

      If we’re genuinely interested in helping people, we have to constantly strive to develop best practices, even if it requires us to abandon every one of our beliefs.

      Having said that, I’m pretty confident in the path I chose to take. :-)

  5. Brant
    June 7, 2011

    Runbranca.com is 100% willing to participate. We’ll be spreading the word!

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Brant, send an email to Dr. Richards if you haven’t already. Thanks man!

      • Brant
        June 7, 2011

        Done!

  6. Diggs
    June 7, 2011

    Firing this off to everyone and anyone I know in the industry…Hope something comes out of it!!

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Thanks Diggs!

  7. Brad
    June 7, 2011

    Dashed off a quick post on durtyfeets linking back to this article.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Thanks Brad!

  8. steven sashen
    June 7, 2011

    I (at Invisible Shoes) am more than happy to participate!

  9. Bob Neinast
    June 7, 2011

    I guess I don’t get this. If you are going to do independent testing of the shoes as contemplated, why do you need any company to “submit” their shoes? Why not just figure out what shoes you want to test and then go out and buy them?

    Who needs company participation for a valid scientific study?

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Bob,

      This is entirely speculation on my part, but maybe it has to do with funding. Or Richards may want active engagement with the developers of the various shoes.

      Based on the discussions that seemed to fuel the trials, there’s a genuine curiosity by shoe developers and us barefoot/minimalist shoe runners. This offers a good cooperative opportunity for all of s to learn, versus trying to prove or disprove a particular hypothesis.

      Again- all speculation on my part.

      • shacky
        June 7, 2011

        I’m thinking it is to avoid potential lawsuits. If the shoe mfgr is a willing participant, then a lawsuit claiming defamation of character/libel/etc is probably not as great.
        Thats just my guess

        • Jason
          June 7, 2011

          Good call, Shacky. I didn’t think of that one.

  10. Chris
    June 7, 2011

    I think the problem here will be that ‘Independent testing by a barefoot runner using a clinical trial model’ will not be considered independent enough either by shoe manufacturers or uncommitted runners.

    The manufacturers of cushioned and motion control shoes will be concerned that the testing methodology will be biased against their type of footwear, and so will not want to participate, while minimalist manufacturers will jump at the chance for the same reasons.

    Runners who favour non-minimalist shoes will ignore the results if they comes out in favour on minimal shoes, saying that the tests were clearly not independent.

    What is needed is for the tests to be carried out by someone with no connection either to a shoe manufacturer or to the barefoot community.

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Chris- I agree, a barefoot running proponent is hardly unbiased. Of course, this would also mean he has no ties to any particular manufacturer.

      I haven’t seen the details yet, but I know this offer by Dr. Richards derived from a debate between minimalist shoe runners and traditionally-shod runners where they found they had a lot more common ground than originally anticipated. Based on this, I would think Dr. Richards will not be the lone researcher doing the testing.

      From what I understand, the goal is to determine what specific shoe characteristics result in less injuries and improved performance, not necessarily which particular shoe is best.

      At any rate, it is a good first step that can fuel future research. This, combined with the research people like Lieberman and Davis are doing, will give s a few more pieces to this complex puzzle.

  11. Dave Robbo
    June 7, 2011

    I agree – very exciting times ahead!

    Knowing Dr Richards personally and living in the same area (Newcastle & Hunter Valley, NSW), I can tell you he is extremely driven to get this clinical testing underway with committed running-shoe companies.

    It is going to take some work to make this happen, both globally and locally. So the more we can spread the word the better.

    It appears Altra are keen to get on board as well, as comments on Bill Katovsky’s site Zero Drop indicate: http://zero-drop.com/?p=2772

    Summarised details of the proposed trials are included here also.

    • Jason
      June 7, 2011

      Thanks Dave! Good to know Altra should be on board; they’re one of the companies I anticipated would jump at the opportunity.