With the rising popularity of VFF’s this gym member sent this letter in response to banning VFF’s in the gym. I will post in an effort to inform.
“To Whom It May Concern:
I have been informed that I am and will be unwelcome in the Wellness Center fitness/weight area, based solely on the shoes I wear to train. The shoes in question are the Vibram FiveFingers KSO (from this point onward, I shall refer to the shoes as VFF); please visit this site (http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/products/products_KSO_m.cfm) for information on the shoes themselves, including its cousins.
The reason cited thus far for the prohibition of this shoe from the weight/fitness area is “safety.” Allegedly, the belief is that a standard running shoe offers more “protection” than the VFF in the event of a weight being dropped on a foot. I challenge this claim and I challenge it vehemently. I have a couple pairs of New Balance running shoes (what would be considered “safe” shoes under the alleged claim) and have done a bit of measuring work. The New Balance models in question are the 710 and the 615. The results are not surprising (well, to me).
VFF: At its thickest, near the entry point of the foot, the thickness of the fabric is about 3 millimeters. Its thinnest point is roughly 2 millimeters, which covers the rest of the foot. Taking into account the Velcro strap across the bridge of the foot, the maximum thickness comes to about 1.1 centimeters.
710: At its thickest, which includes the tongue and the laces, the thickness of the shoe reaches about 1.2 centimeters. The tongue accounts for about 5 millimeters, the laces an additional 7-8 depending on orientation. Elsewhere at the top of the shoe (including the fabric above the toe), the fabric thickness is closer to that of 4-5 millimeters.
615: At its thickest (top of the tongue + laces), the fabric covering the foot is in the neighborhood of 1.4 cm. Elsewhere on the top of the shoe, especially at the toe, the thickness of the fabric is closer to 4 millimeters.
For posterity, let’s also assume socks are worn in both cases (yes, there are socks designed for the VFF). It’s a wash, as both sets of socks measure out to a thickness of 3-4 millimeters.
#1. The assumption that a running shoe is “safer” than the VFF is, at best, flawed. Firstly, no shoe manufacturer in its right mind will claim that its shoes offer any sort of significant protection outside of blister/callus or wart protection unless it is of ANSI standard. There is no middle ground. (More to come on that later.) A 50-pound dumbbell being dropped from a height of 2-3 feet onto a foot clad in a running shoe will inflict just as much damage as a foot clad in VFF. There is no special property of regular shoe fabrics that invokes a strong resistance against weight being dropped on it. If the aim of the Wellness Center is to prevent injury in the (rare) case of a weight being dropped on a foot, then it will be necessary to outlaw any regular running shoe. In fact, to prevent such injuries from occurring, it will be necessary to amend Wellness Center policy to state that only ANSI-certified, and OSHA-compliant, shoes can be worn in the weight training area.
In other words, everyone has to buy a pair of steel- or plastic-toed boots. As per the OSHA standard, ANSI performance criteria, and ASTM performance requirements:
“Each affected employee shall wear protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where such employee’s feet are exposed to electrical hazards.”
Now, the last clause (electrical hazards) shouldn’t apply to the Wellness Center — or at least I’d hope so! — but the rest of the policy applies perfectly to the Wellness Center. Falling weights, rolling barbells with weights loaded, and/or the rolling and/or dropping of benches, are all potential hazards in the Wellness Center weight area. Yet, when at the Wellness Center earlier this evening, I saw not a soul wearing shoes that comply with OSHA, ANSI, or ASTM standards. Reference ASTM F2413-05, ASTM F2412-05, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.132, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.136, as well as http://www.labsafety.com/refinfo/ezfacts/ezf252.htm.
Therefore, the claim that the Wellness Center is making to ensure the “safety” of its members results in a violation of OSHA, ANSI, and ASTM standards, especially of its fitness room employees.
#2. However, there is more. I was told by the fitness room employee (I shall not name this person, as he was but a messenger of this sudden new “policy”) that whilst the VFF cannot be worn in the weight room area, they can still be used in other areas of the Wellness Center, like the basketball courts. This again makes no sense. If a person is not allowed to wear VFF in the weight room area for “safety’s” sake (in case a weight were to fall on a foot), then what of the possibility of having a foot landed on by a fellow student who has jumped to get a rebound during a basketball game? This student could weigh 150+ pounds (and in the case of some, 200+ pounds), not to mention the fact that this person may be falling onto the foot from three feet in the air. Once again, the damage incurred from either a standard athletic shoe or a Vibram FiveFingers shoe will be substantial, and the standard athletic shoe will offer no more protection than will the VFF. Standard physics will tell a person this. (I should know; I am a physics major.)
I have previously been told of the Wellness Center’s policy on shoes in the weight training area. The official wording, from what I recall, is that a patron must wear “close-toed athletic shoes.” Vibram FiveFingers once again fall into this category. Vibram has developed the FiveFingers brand as an athletic shoe, markets the FiveFingers as an athletic shoe, assembles the FiveFingers as an athletic shoe, sells the FiveFingers as an athletic shoe, and intends the FiveFingers to be worn as athletic shoe. From the Vibram FiveFingers website, the KSO is designed for running, fitness training, CrossFit, light trekking, bouldering, travel, and water sports. Its various cousin shoes are designed for similar exploits, including martial arts, yoga, boating, kayaking, and the list grows from there. Also, it is plainly seen just by looking at the FiveFingers that they are close-toed; sure, each toe has its own enclosure, but each toe is enclosed. As such, all the VFF shoe types are close-toed athletic shoes; thus, they meet Wellness Center standards.
#3. Another potential concern is the belief that the FiveFingers shoes can slip off like slippers. This, while an adequate concern, is incorrect. Each and every VFF shoe has a method by which the shoe is secured to the foot. The Classic and Moc are secured via an elastic cord. The Sprint is secured via a Velcro strap and two heel straps. The KSO (and KSO Trek) is secured by a Velcro strap and a heel strap that is connected with the Velcro strap. The Flow is secured with an over-foot strap and a heel strap. When properly fitted, none of the VFF shoes will come off the foot like, for instance, sandals.
#4. Yet another objection would be the soles of the FiveFingers shoes. Each variety of the VFF has a sole of Vibram TC-1 performance rubber, razor-siped for flexibility and slip resistance. This offers grip and stability on par with typical athletic shoes; in the case of making cuts on a basketball court, I’ve experienced even higher grip from VFF than from regular shoes. Yet again, this objection falls by the wayside.
#5. In fact, wearing Vibram FiveFingers shoes falls perfectly in line with the supposed ideals of the Wellness Center. The soles of VFF are designed to follow the contour and shape of the human foot, allowing the foot to move naturally. The sole, combined with the toe pockets, work to strengthen and stretch muscles within the foot that are oft-neglected when in regular athletic shoes. Balance, proprioception, agility, and strength are all improved when the VFF are worn over a long period of time. Furthermore, wearing VFFs put the body in a more natural body posture when performing lifts on one’s feet (e.g., deadlift, squat, standing military/DB press, lunges). The heels are not off the ground. Force is not dissipated through a heavy rubber sole (which inhibits incorporation of the feet). The sole and structure of regular athletic shoes actually results in instability during the middle of a set. With the feet off the ground, they are more prone to move; being closer to the ground (ideally, right against the ground) allows for a more solid base, again leading to a reduced chance of injury. Thus, wearing typical “athletic” shoes actually increases the chance of injury due to the fact that these shoes throw the human body out of its natural alignment. So, to prohibit VFF from the Wellness Center would result in going against the Wellness Center’s professed goals and mission!
I will be appearing at the Wellness Center tomorrow morning to contest this “decision” further, regardless of any answer I may receive between now and then.