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Dr. Craig Richards: A Call For Independent Shoe Testing

Author Jason Robillard

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. 


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.


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.


  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.

Author Jason Robillard
Barefoot Running University – Re-post from 6/7/11

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