I began my trail running days in the sandhills of Ft. Bragg, NC and have been running off road ever since. I also began deteriorating my knees by jumping out of airplanes at Ft. Bragg, NC, which has lead me to only running in minimalist shoes today. Since minimalist running has kept me trail running with less pain I wondered if others in the military, specifically those who are Airborne qualified and have some of the same knee issues as I do, had begun minimalist running.
I know the largest organization in the United States is slow to change, but I found that some soldiers were finding ways around the regulations to wear Vibram Five Fingers and other minimalist running shoes while others were being told flat out that they could not PT (physical training) wearing them. FM 20-21 states that soldiers must wear white ankle socks with no logos while conducting PT. The first loophole some soldiers point to is that the FM doesn’t state that soldiers must wear socks, just that if they do, the socks must cover their ankles and have no logo. Since most commanders will not honor loopholes, some soldiers have been wearing Injinji socks which fit in Vibram FiveFingers to cover their ankles. Another part of PT regulation states that soldiers may not wear athletic shoes that are “trendy” or “faddish.” For this reason many base commanders have banned Vibram FiveFingers and other minimalist running shoes completely. I somewhat understand the reasoning because sometimes if you give soldiers an inch they will take a mile; and being in the correct uniform is important for building unit cohesion. However, making a regulation based on “trendiness” may be constraining soldiers who legitimately need to wear minimalist running shoes to avoid injury. According to the Army Times, even Lt. Cmdr. John Mahoney, a Navy doctor and physical therapist says, “Vibram FiveFingers are the best thing out there for rehabilitating lower extremity injuries.”
In a typical flip floppy manner, the Army has also banned minimalist running shoes on the PT test because they believe the shoes may be “unfair.” So if they are deemed unfair then they must help soldiers run better in training, right?! Then why not let soldiers wear them? This may be a case in which the military must make a blanket policy to cover the well-being of the whole instead of allowing Commanders make their own SOPs (standard operating procedures). The same Army Times article quotes Dr. Steven Pribut, a podiatrist and sports medicine expert in Washington, DC, who specializes in working with runners saying, “I’m seeing a lot more injuries from people wearing them. It’s not a problem with the shoes themselves; it’s mostly a function of people doing too much too soon.” Military personnel are definitely susceptible to over doing it because they are all taught to push their bodies to the limit and to ignore pain. It looks like the Army is pulling the trigger and making a blanket ban on Vibram FiveFingers and other minimalist shoes in a policy released through BirthdayShoes.com today. The new policy amends the current policy which states that Commanders “may authorize the wear of commercial running shoes,” as it goes on to say, “Commercial running shoes do not include minimalist shoes, lightweight track/road running flats, racing spikes, toe shoes, or shoes that simulate barefoot running.” This is coming from the same organization that makes it’s soldiers run and walk 10s of miles in combat boots. Oh well, there you have it, Army personal are now not authorized to wear minimalist running shoes during PT.
I believe because of the rapid growth in popularity of minimalist running the Army is making a rash decision without doing their research. They even have a Marine study that was done 6 months ago which studied fitting recruits with motion control, stability, or support running shoes would have an effect on injuries. The study assigned a control group, of 432 Men and 257 Women, with only stability running shoes. They then formed an experimental group, of 408 Men and 314 Women, who were fitted with the correct running shoe based on plantar shape. The study said the incidence of injury after the 12 weeks of basic training had no difference between the two groups. If types of traditional running shoes don’t increase injuries, then why do they believe minimalist running shoes will? I understand that soldiers are the military’s greatest assets, but banning something that may decrease injuries is absurd. Maybe the military should start by developing an “Army issued” minimalist running shoe based on their doctors’ recommendations. This would most likely increase the available fighting force while allowing soldiers to train as their body needs them too. The Army ruined my knees, the least they can do is try to prevent that from happening to the rest of the Men and Women serving our county. I guess for now, just like everything else in the military, you simply have to play the game, whether you agree or not. Thank you all for your continued service.