A class-action suit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts claims Vibram USA Inc and Vibram FiveFingers LLC used deceptive and misleading statements about the benefits of barefoot running.
Vibram FiveFingers are the minimalist shoes with individual toes. They have been one of the hottest products in running circles for several years. Sales have increased an average of 300% over the last five years, with close to $70 million in 2011.
The lawsuit alleges that the health claims of the Vibram FiveFingers are deceptive, that FiveFingers may increase the risk of injury when compared to conventional running shoes, and that there are no legitimate studies that support the FiveFingers claims.
The lawsuit cites a study by the American Council on Exercise which found that “heel-to-toe” runners who failed to change their running style (half the participants in the study) when wearing the FiveFingers had increased discomfort and risk of injury. According to John P. Porcari, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors:
“Buying these Vibrams and continuing to land your heels is probably worse than wearing shoes because the Vibrams don’t have any cushioning. … People may need very explicit instruction and time spent practicing how to land on the ball of the foot. Otherwise, they may be doing themselves more harm. Simply switching to Vibrams doesn’t guarantee that a person is not going to experience more injuries.”
Vibram does state on their website (which is acknowledged in the lawsuit) that switching to the FiveFingers does take time, possibly over a year for some people. Their training plan for the FiveFingers is longer than 13 weeks. The first two weeks are wearing the shoes 1-2 hours per day (no running), and weeks 3-4 are running 10%-20% of your normal distance, no more than once every other day, in the FiveFingers.
The Vibram FiveFingers are available in numerous Chicago area stores, including Fleet Feet, Hanig’s, Erehwon, Running Away Multisport, REI, and Dick Pond Athletics.
The bottom line: if you’re going to buy FiveFingers (or a similar minimalist shoe), follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to start slow and go slow.
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