US Army Cuts Off Five Fingers, Bangs Head

Care about looks?

The U.S. Army apparently does not take physical training serious any more.

On Tom Ricks’s blog, The Best Defense, a company commander who does take physical training seriously, complained about All Army Action message 239/2011, highlighted a few days ago by the Military Times. The U.S. Army just banned minimalist running shoes. More precisely: shoes that provide a single pocket for every toe, in other words: Vibram FiveFingers. The official ban makes the following point:

There are a variety of minimalist running shoes available for purchase and wear. Effective immediately, only those shoes that accommodate all five toes in one compartment are authorized for wear. Those shoes that feature five separate, individual compartments for the toes, detract from a professional military image and are prohibited for wear with the IPFU [Improved Physical Fitness Uniform, i.e. T-shirt and shorts] or when conducting physical training in military formation. [our emphasis]

We need to take a step back here to understand just how utterly stupid this statement is. As our company commander rightly points out, the Army’s message doesn’t say anything about efficiency, only about looks.

So what about professionalism and efficiency?

Anybody who is serious about fitness will immediately find this a familiar debate. Go to any mainstream gym, and you see plenty of people training for the looks: blowing up their pecs by bench-pressing their body-weight in 12-rep sets, then observing in the mirror how their neatly isolated biceps behaves while curling. That’s working your “mirror muscles.” If you see yourself as an athlete, not as a muscled-up mannequin, you will likely sooner or later gravitate towards some more effects-based and more professional way of training, and perhaps start including Crossfit, kettlebells, or Olympic lifts. And many in the military and law enforcements communities have long done that, at least in the United States (believe it or not, there’s no Crossfit gym in Paris. None). So what’s that got to do with minimalist running shoes?

Well, I had my wake-up moment when my pal Charles Levinson took me to the Crossfit gym in Herzliya, in Israel, about a year ago. I thought I was in pretty reasonable shape at the time, working out every other day in the Jerusalem YMCA and already running reasonable distances in my still new FiveFingers. In fact I had met the first guy who ran in the strange-looking things on a short visit to an army base, Camp Julian in Kabul, in 2009. He also was a U.S. Army soldier taking fitness seriously. A few months later a smooth salesman, again a U.S. Army paratrooper, talked me into buying my first pair at the Arlington HTO. I immediately started training with them. Then, in that Herzliya gym, I almost felt like the fat kid who can’t keep up in school sports: the real guys and gals were doing muscle-ups at the rings, snatching 32kg kettlebells, and multiple sets of ten pistols (that’s a one-legged squat). — And: practically everybody was wearing VFFs. The fact that I wore a pair myself made me feel somewhat less inferior in that moment.

Now, serious running is an altogether different matter than playing in the gym, you might say. But that’s precisely where the minimalist philosophy comes from. Here’s the gist of it: humans have been running long-distances as hunters for hundreds of thousands of years. In fact they can out-run most animals because we run on two legs, thus disconnecting our breathing rhythm from our pace rhythm, and because we have sweat glands. After about five hours in heat running in a pack, we beat about any other creature with fur. Then, some time in the 1970s, came Nike an invented the cushioned running shoe, enabling larger strides and heel-strikes, thus bringing a sure-fire recipe for running injuries to mass market.

Think this is nonsense? Read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. Not scientific enough? To understand the biomechanics of running, start with the Barefoot Professor” on YouTube or read Daniel Lieberman’s full article in Nature. And there’s lots more. Serious runners, of course, have been debating the pros and cons of minimalist running shoes for a while. We can’t even scratch the surface here. As a starting point, I recommend Runners World‘s must-read article published in November last year.

But the bottom line is simple: however you look at the subject, banning FiveFingers for their looks is like banning kettlebells because they appear old-fashioned. What’s next? The U.S. Army banning serious strength training because it doesn’t pump up the pecs enough for the good looks?


109 thoughts on “US Army Cuts Off Five Fingers, Bangs Head

  1. I don’t know why, but this fires me up. I have to disagree with your assessment, although I understand where you’re coming from.

    There is a such thing as a ‘professional military appearance.’ VFFs look goofy, and a platoon run with gorilla feet is goofy. Soldiers are also not allowed to wear neon-pink shoes, no matter how great they are. I don’t use VFFs myself, but I understand why people do, and I don’t have a problem with it. But when someone comes up to me, I notice when they’re wearing them. And it is distracting. And weird.

    I take your point that the Army should be concerned with physical efficiency, not looks – and I think they are getting better, given the recent soft-roll out of the new physical fitness test.

    The Army isn’t banning VFFs. They’re just saying you can’t wear them for organizational PT with the Army physical fitness uniform, because they look goofy. Army shorts suck, but you have to wear them. You can’t buy silky Nike brand or anything that would be ‘more efficient’ or comfortable.

    If soldiers want to train with VFFs, they can continue to train with them. On their own time.

    Also, there is nothing ‘more professional’ about training with CrossFit as opposed to some other form of training. Training should be goal based (unless it’s just farting around). If CrossFit gets a person to their goal, then good, CrossFit it is. But if someone’s goal is to have mirror muscles, then CrossFit sucks. Also, if someone wants to be a sensational runner, CrossFit, again, isn’t the best way to train. Running would be more appropriate.

    Ranger Brigade did an interesting study on CrossFit (you can poke around online to find the slides). Their conclusions were that some of the elements were useful, but the time required to train soldiers to perfect Olympic lifts were not worth the effort. That, and the high risk of injury is counter-productive.

    Lastly, this reminds me of something an old CSM from the 82nd told me, in regards to using an iPod while running in the PT uniform. Yes, music might help you run faster. But it’s not a part of the uniform, so suck it up. That’s what I think this boils down to with the VFFs. They’re not running sneakers (as we know them, classically), so they’re not part of the uniform.

    • Charles says:

      I would have to agree with the CF assessment – I did try it a few years back, and while it improved my stamina, it didn’t necessarily improve my strength or endurance (despite the olympic lifts). So train for what you require, don’t simply do CF because everyone says it’s perfect for the military.

    • Matt says:

      I see military chicks wearing pink running shoes, having shaved, BIC-SHAVED, heads…but five fingers are unprofessional. Army standards are a joke today. Oh and how about all the EXTREMELY fat bastards in the military today, how professional looking is that.

    • Spencerbrett says:

      Although i do think that this ban is a bit extreme, it is the army! what’d you expect? 6-8 timely meals a day, and unlimited rest for optimal recovery? while your at it throw some of those lame trainers that every gym in america hires in the battlefield to teach our soldiers how to fight for your freedom. they can all match their vibrams.

      dont get so riled up over military’s policies and instead think of the soldiers that your disrespecting by name calling and such forth over something dumb.

    • Nick says:

      There is a very low risk of injury if CF is done correctly and weights and reps can always be scaled to accomplish this the WODs are a guide line not a strict you have to do this or you are wrong each warrior athlete needs to assess what they can do and adjust accordingly…and why would someone in the military want mirror muscles…Crossfit is very effective in giving you a better appearance, strength, and stamina…what good are those muscles if you can perform tasks with them…ie lift a casualty during combat and get to safe area to treat said casualty…if crossfit didn’t improve your strength, flexibility or endurance you didn’t give it long enough or do it correctly or a combination of both Charles.

    • Craig says:

      Anything done correctly will result in a low risk of injury. The problem is that the majority of CF “coaches” are absolutely awful and have no clue as to how to coach. Plus the fact that most crossfitters would rather get through the WOD as fast as possible than get through with good form. That’s when the injuries happen.

      Crossfit will get you strong, as long as you don’t follow mainpage and leave the strength programming to a CF coach that knows what the hell they’re doing.

    • Justin says:

      Craig…have you actually done CrossFit? and I don’t mean here and there, but as programed for at least a year? Even so, your statement is completely and utterly ignorant. There are thousands of affiliates world wide and you’re willing to say “majority of CF coaches” and “most crossfitters” like you know what you’re talking about.

      Lastly, if the people of CFHQ don’t know what they’re doing, you would likely say that CrossFit Games don’t have ANY legitimacy. When, those athletes are arguably the “fittest” people on earth and are proven so by completing tests (of cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy) which were engineered BY CFHQ! So, lesson of the day is: don’t use personal stereo types and expect to sound inteligent!

    • Charles says:

      Hi Nick,

      I didn’t say CrossFit doesn’t work, I said it didn’t work for what I required, which is why I said train for your requirements. Sure, CrossFit does give you good general endurance, strength and stamina (can’t say about flexibility, as I’m naturally flexible), however if you have specific requirements then you might not find CrossFit is enough for you. You can do it for as long as you like, but if it’s not enough then it’s not enough. I have adjusted my training to suit my needs, and yes, it does still involve some elements from CF…

    • Pat says:

      I trained with the Ranger Regiment this summer and they actually encourage all their soldiers to do crossfit. They have a specially built gym just for their use and personal trainers to assist in their training. They focus more on the “functional fitness” aspects of crossfit.

    • Brian says:

      They look goofy according to who?! A 50-year-old CSM that refuses to let go of the 1980s? And Army PT uniform looks “goofy”. Socks that cover your ankles look “goofy”. Does anyone actually ever wear socks that cover their ankles outside of Army PT? The Army discourages “fads” but then creates its own rediculous fads all the time. No one that has been in the Army more than a day is fooled. Looks and appearances are far more important in the Army than performance or function.

    • I think they look goofy. Goofy meaning foolish, harmlessly eccentric. VFFs are different from what we are used to seeing for PT. So it looks strange. That’s not a comment on their ability. I’ve heard only good things from people that use them.

      Anyway, the Army should run in these.

    • RICH says:

      Apparently this “nothing-better-to-write-about-policy” does not apply to all. SOCOM components have purchased these shoes in bulk because they care about operators being at peak fitness and functional levels. Policies like this happen when people are scared of change and spend too much time at a desk. Someone, somewhere will receive an award for writing this policy….it’s the Army way. Anyway, Go Navy.

    • Justin says:

      I agree on the face of your argument, but I have to take issue with your use of the Ranger experiment as a detractor from the worth of Crossfit.
      The Crossfit prescription is simple: perform constantly varied functional movements at high intensity. That’s it no call for oly lifts, or any other specific exercises. As for the intelligence of Army training doctrine, I recall doing quite a lot of running in combat boots. Definitely not an injury avoiding activity.

    • shep says:

      If I was allowed to use them in my own time in Iraq id be fine with it, but i can’t even do that. Back on Fort Bragg every SF soldier is wearing the VFFs and demolishing athletic barriers, no one thinks it’s goofy when a squared away soldier is sporting them. The big thing is a lot of people don’t research something before they start it, and if I had just jumped into training with my VFFs I would have hurt myself, which makes the ban understandable.

    • cmainor says:

      Excellent point made here, and spot-on with the military command mindset, form what I recall of it when I was in uniform. The military maintains a uniform for a reason. Not everybody has the same “taste” in clothing, and running shoes are one aspect of the PT uniform that soldiers can chose – within guidelines. Those guidelines don’t include hiking-boots, cycling shoes, weightlifting shoes, nor VFFs. They do include running shoes. If a soldier wants to wear his VFFs, then he can when he is not required to be in an Army issued uniform. No different than his civilian clothing selections, or his earing. A uniform is a uniform, and VFFs don’t “fit” the uniform appearance mold. ‘Nuff said.

    • Eric - H says:

      Don if you are easily distracted by someone’s shoes and can’t hold a conversation with someone who wears them, then I hope you do a lot better in combat with the millions of distractions you find everyday. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, the ARMY is not for everyone especially the weak minded and close minded.

    • Weak-minded/Close minded = understanding the rationale behind a current policy?

      My post was intended to shed light on the reasoning behind the Army’s decision to ban VFFs from IPFU. VFFs may be awesome and make everyone super fast, but that’s not why the Army banned them. They banned them because someone (important) thought they looked weird. Yes, I also think they look weird. And I’m entitled to my opinion on that.

      This reminds me of the three things you can’t talk about in military circles: PT, weapons, and combatives. Because everyone thinks they know everything.

      And while in combat, the only thing I noticed were the shoes everyone was wearing. Very distracting, indeed.

    • Adam says:

      Being a disgusting fat lazy soldier should be banned also as they are not part of the uniform regulations either but NCO’s and Officers allow for that to happen!
      VFF’s are distracting? I am not sure why you think they are more distracting than a fat soldier… I go by a formation and notice all the fat bodies before I ever look at their shoes….
      Ranger Brigade? I am aware of a Ranger Regiment having served there but not in a Brigade. Unless you are speaking of The U.S. Army Ranger Department and the Ranger Training Brigade?
      And for the record I do not wear VFF’s I just thought your write up was poor.

  2. Josh says:

    Not the end of the world. Like the memo said, there are several types of “minimalist” shoes – of which, the Army is only banning one brand/style. Personally, I know the NB Minimus Trail is quite comparable to the Five Fingers in terms of ‘ground feel’ and running posture, but looks more like a conventional shoe. There are other options out there.

  3. Joseph C says:

    Rigorous training, injury prevention, and combat preparedness should always take precedent over uniform standards. Army commanders shouldn’t ban the VFF based on some highly subjective “goofy” index if the science behind the shoe holds up. Concerns about appearance are unnecessary distractions during training meant to prepare soldiers for combat.

    What’s next, is the Army going to ban Burpees during organizational PT?

  4. Marcos El Malo says:

    I find it surprising that G.O. leadership gives a flying fig about “professional military image.” If they did, maybe they’d do something about the rampant obesity in the Army. Afterwards, maybe they could stop wearing pajamas as their battle uniform.

    • Gunrunner says:

      Stats and sources, please.

      I am curious as to just how bad “obesity” is in the US Army.

    • Well, I don’t have good stats on the exact number of obese soldiers, but here are a few startling statistics. In 2005, the US Army realized it was in a recruiting crunch, so it restricted the ability of commanders to chapter first-term soldiers for PT test failures and obesity. (As this order made its way down the chain of command, overzealous commanders applied it to all soldiers)

      As a result–you can see the charts I compiled for yourself, using data provided by the US Army–chapters for obesity and PT test failure dropped dramatically. And by dramatically, I mean by nearly 90%. While the number does fluctuate slightly, I find it difficult to believe it was because we had 90% fewer obese people…it was because we were chaptering too few poor performers.

      Charts at the bottom of this entry:

    • Gunrunner says:

      Thanks. Interesting.

      In your opinion, is obesity “rampant” in the US Army, as per Marcos’ allegation?

      I would think obesity in the US Army would not be nearly as bad as, say, obesity of the average UK football fan or academic, after all, the US Army combat soldier has enough to carry around without having extra waist-padding. DC admin troops, maybe, but field units and actual warfighters, not so much.

      Your impressions and thoughts?

    • Matt says:

      I have been in 12 years and I see people getting fatter and fatter every year. I saw a female in Afghan last year, in PT’s and she had fat rolls on the back of her legs. My belief on the cause is this:
      1- NCO’s are supposed to lead PT but their training is a joke. I mean read the FM on Physical Fitness, pathetic. 2-Nutrition is even worse. High carb and fried everything is the Army way. “Only one meat” is a common statement heard in the chow hall from the cooks. All the pasta you want but protein is usually a small piece of fried whatever. I don’t care how often you ruck or train, you shovel garbage in your mouth you get garbage out.
      3-Investment in functional equipment. You go into an Army gym and it is tons of cardio equipment, lots of machines and some benches (since the BP is apparently the true test of a man). You will find only a couple of squat racks. Since eveyone works similiar shifts getting on stuff is a pain.
      4-Injury recovery is a joke. You mess something up, you get a permanent profile and you avoid fitness. Bad knees and bad backs are everywhere.

    • Terry says:

      I agree completely. I have been in for 12 years and have seen the same things. For some reason the majority of the army see’s endurance athletes as role models even though combat soldiers are not endurance athletes but power athletes. I have done 3 tours in combat but have yet to run 2 miles at a time. However i cant count how many times i have had to sprint 200 meters or so while wearing full kit. The Army definitely needs to reassess its idea of fitness.

    • Gunrunner says:

      I think in 2008 that the US Army was around a little over 550,000 troops on active duty.

      So, worse case on the chart (550 troops failing PT), that is about .1% that failed. And for body fat failures, worst case 1,200 failures, and that is about .2%

      I am guessing that is hardly “rampant obesity” by any standard.

      A thought: I see the charts you offer start in FY00, and this is just prior to 911. Initially, after 911, recruiting was no longer all that hard, so perhaps because the Army was now on a war footing, PT/body fat failures were reduced because the Army got serious about physical fitness. Maybe not a 90% improvement, but an improvement, nonetheless.

    • Charles says:

      If you look at pure stats, then you would have to be careful where you get them from. The ADF still goes by the BMI, and because of this I was considered overweight, being 6′ and 85kg (roughly 185lbs).

    • Based on personal experience, I highly doubt that the 90% drop is related to an emphasis on physical fitness, at least not in all cases.

      Unfortunately, data on soldiers who are “flagged” for obesity or APFT failures is stored at the unit level, and isn’t viewable at the DA level. (I know this, because I submitted a media inquiry on this very topic once before).

    • Matt says:

      Stats mean nothing. The good ole’boy system takes care of passing PT test rates. I have seen many people fail PT and height and weight constantly then suddenly when it is for promotion they pass. It’s not what you know it’s who you know.

    • Nick says:

      There are a bunch of fat people in the army to be sure. Actual numbers I can’t say, but if you look at the army standards for allow BF% you might find it shocking for instance I am 29 yrs old Male and 5’11 my allow weight limit is 195 lbs no big deal there but my allowable BF% that is considered within the army standard is 24% this is a completely unhealthy BF% so as you can see allowing soldiers that much is ridiculous

  5. Charles says:

    It’s funny that they have banned them for being goofy, and I understand where they’re coming from, but in my experience we have had issues with people who don’t wear the usual Asics/Nike/Adidas running shoes – you know the sort, where they’re basically prescribed for exactly the type of foot you have, and have exactly the right amount of support and heel cushioning. During my basic course approx 9 years ago, there was one guy who ran in what could almost be described as slippers, and he copped hell from the PTI’s. However, due to correct technique, he could run in just about whatever the hell he wanted, without injury. It was surprising just how much grief they gave him over his choice of shoes when it was clear it wasn’t holding him back.

    Personally I’ve switched to my old Dunlop Volleys, along with better technique, and while I’m not planning on winning any races, I am happily injury free.

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  7. Quintin says:

    And back in the days, the logic was: since you’ll be wearing boots when you run around on the battlefield, you’ll wear that (along with your helmet, webbing and rifle) for PT.

    On my first day in the army, we went for a run in combat gear. And even though I was quite fit, (I used to run 10 km a day in preparation), I thought I was going to die… but I got used to it in the end. Then I got transferred to Infantry (Infamy) School. While I stood waiting at the duty room, a platoon ran past me as they returned from the veldt – and they were kitted out in full… including bergens. And I wondered if there was perhaps a post as a clerk or chef that I could apply for. But I got used to that in the end as well.

    Guess there is a trend emerging here…

  8. I have been curious about PT dress ever since I first saw soldiers training in shorts, t-shirts, and running shoes. Is this how they dress on the battlefield?

    Call me old fashioned, but I ran many miles on the tank trails at Fort Benning in combat boots, fatigues, and carrying a pack and a weapon — oh yeah, and a steel pot on my head. We ran on the tank trails rather than the roads because they were more like battlefield terrain than the paved roads we ran next to.

    Seemed to work for me. I remember taking Christmas leave and walking up the ski slope rather than wasting time with a 45-minute wait to ride the lift.

    • +1 for common sense, Jack. I think you are spot on, and this demonstrates just how far we’ve strayed.

    • Thomas says:

      Yeah, common sense. We’ve strayed far indeed: blogs and twitter and ski lifts, who needs all that modern nonsense anyway? I mean boots and running shoes and whatnot?

    • Mememe says:

      Okay, you’re right, I love training my Soldier’s on combat PT just like the rest of you. But the bottom line is, the APFT isn’t a 10K ruck march or run 5K with full combat kit, it’s 2-miles, push-ups and sit-ups. Tell me where you get that out of running in combat uniform? Maybe the trotting (we all know you don’t run in your kit or boots and fatigues). Just because your heart rate increases doesn’t mean you’ll get faster on the 2-mile. Oh, by the way, I did Crossfit for 12 months straight (didn’t do one day of running) and I ran 11:14 2-mile, so much for saying it doesn’t improve you run…

  9. Chuck says:

    I’ve been complaining about US Army PT attire for a long time. I can’t understand how, at most, units do PT in “battle dress” once per week. Commanders issue guidance that combat-focused PT will be done once per week. Does that not strike anyone else as ridiculously stupid? Soldiers fight in combat – everything we do should be combat-focused. Shorts/tshirt/running shoes should be the attire once per week, rather than four days per week.

    The only way for the Army to fix this PT nonsense is to ban PT. Training for combat, if you’re actually training for combat, will get you in shape for combat and take care of your fitness level. We have standards for foot marches, we have standards for gun emplacement times, and so forth. There’s your PT, and there’s your PT standards. If you can’t keep up, or if your performance is so poor that your unit can’t meet the standards because you’re lagging, then you’re out of shape. If you meet the standard for combat tasks, then all else is moot.

    Rather than forming up for 60-90 minutes of PT, we should be out there training for combat. So what if you walk around for all or part of the day being dirty and sweaty. Who cares? That’s why we’re issued multiple sets of uniforms and have showers.

    Ban PT and get out there and train for combat – then you don’t have to worry about these silly uniform issues. Give Soldiers one day per week in shorts/tshirt and stop worrying about their shoes. Let them play sports or hit the gym on that day and call it good.

    • Quintin says:

      Train hard…

      Speaking as an old infantryman, the most rigorous activities for us are assault orientated: fire-and-movement, trench-clearing, urban warfare – generally typified by a rapid succession of short sprints (3 – 5 meters) punctuated by taking cover (or dash-down-roll-crawl-observe-sights-fire), and always while carrying weight: food, water, radio, ammo, weapons (happy days if you get to carry the GPMG, or the patrol mortar, or the rocket launcher), grenades, pyrotechnics, medical kit, navigation gear, body armour and helmet, and (to remain topical) boots. Naturally, we do that little dash-down di-di by choice as we’re less concerned about running injuries than the gun-shot trauma that awaits us if we don’t.

      I have yet to find a gym that can offer a programme to prepare a soldier for such assault orientated activities. And I have never been so fortunate to encounter terrain that afforded us the opportunity to fight in trainers (let alone bare-foot).

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  11. Mike Conner says:

    I see a lot of comments on here about battle focused training, and evidence based studies… I’m tempted to chime in with my $.02.– Here it is- I was a company commander, I’ve deployed as an infantry platoon leader, and as a staff officer to Iraq. Obesity doesn’t run rampant in the Army (or military for that matter). Obesity is running rampant in America. The CDC produces Obesity rates by state and the trend since the late 1990s has been a gradual increase in obesity. In my opinion, this can be attributed to three major facts- increased reporting of states, decreased physical activity of our youth, and terrible nutrition guidelines. As data goes in studies, so does recruiting for the military – crap in equals crap out. If you’re recruiting from a wide sample of people that have spent the last 18-22 years of their lives sitting on a couch, eating fast food, and playing video games, that’s what you’re going to get as your Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine. The challenge is for leaders to be examples and to enforce standards and reward success. The latter is what I fear the military (at least the Army) falls short in.

    For the person commenting that they ran in boots, with steel pot and weapon in hand, you still see that today. It’s not common in the training environment, but I know the units that I’ve belonged to, it was a daily occurence. Especially, in the combat arms units. The “softening” of the military is, I’m afraid to say, representative of what we’re encouraging as a nation and society.

    Also, something to consider is that kids are joining the military these days with the knowledge that they will deploy and possibly close with, engage and destroy the enemy. They’ll do this many times over. So the need for “battle focused training” is an antiquated Cold War statement. They get plenty of it with today’s operational environment and rapid deployment schedules. Not to mention when they return to home station, many units require combat focused physical training and shoot house scenarios.

    As far as the thought of not wearing VFFs…. who really cares? If you read born to run, you’d recall the running coach who ran with his shoes on the wrong feet to prove the point that it’s form when running, not the shoe that causes injury. I own two pair of VFFs, but I’m a little old school and have never worn them in PTs. Instead, I wear my Nike Frees.

    I feel like I’ve rambled on long enough, but to capture all my points again- the military isn’t “obese,” it’s representative of our current national sample. VFFs do look crazy… it’s the first thing we all thought when we saw them. Finally, Soldiers PT, they PT hard. It’s probably the REMF units that fall short in this department. AATW!

  12. Anyone who references a Runner’s World article no longer holds any relevance to real runners. I don’t want the people defending my country jumping into wearing VFF’s either. The number of injuries we see because of people going into minimalist running is astounding. Smart move by the Army if you ask me.

    • Brian says:

      But they did not ban them because of injury, they banned them because of how they look. Typical military example of being short sighted and unable to see the forest for the trees.

    • Thomas says:

      What is a “real” runner? Whether I make the cut or not, I like to judge texts on their own merits. What’s wrong with that particular Runner’s World article? And what’s the evidence for your “astounding” injury statement? A recent article in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association concludes otherwise: “Although there is no evidence that either confirms or refutes improved performance and reduced injuries in barefoot runners, many of the claimed disadvantages to barefoot running are not supported by the literature. Nonetheless, it seems that barefoot running may be an acceptable training method for athletes and coaches who understand and can minimize the risks.” Source:

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  15. SGT Michael says:

    The Army is about perception, not reality. ‘Appear professional, Appear to be efficient, Appear to be to have common sense.’ If some Commander, CG et al. has a beef with something they don’t like, they’ll change the rules/ regulations to suit their own end. The Army is the least professional organization I have ever been in.

    “Train to standard” is the mantra leaders love to spew. ‘Train to standard’ means you must do PT for 60-90 minutes, regardless of how hard you workout-or not. Hmm, imagine doing Fran for 90 minutes! Quantity, not quality. Just look busy until it’s time for the cool down phase is what it really amounts to. Then you need to go do an actual workout after the work day vs. when it should’ve been done-during morning PT.

  16. The Army who makes these decisions has not in 12 years concerned itself with true battlefield focus, nor does it do so today. As one person already stated, in 2005 it became much harder to get rid of PT failures and fatbodies, not to mention people who came up hot on urinalysis. “Battle focused” is simply a buzz word used by the inept to excuse the fact that they have little to no innovation or imagination when it comes to training of any sort. When I was on active duty any PT besides running 5 miles was discouraged. The general perception was that any soldier who could run five miles in the required 40 minutes was a “good soldier”, and any soldier who could not was a “bad soldier”, regardless of any of the soldier’s other strengths. There are plenty of fat soldiers in the Army, both on active duty and National Guard. If the Army policy-makers truly cared about the battlefield, they would be less concerned with the numbers game of recruiting, retention and basic training graduates, and more concerned about finding ways to replicate training and implementing the most rigorous PT available.

    Running in boots and uniforms is all well and good, but that too will jack peoples knees and ankles up unless they have good running form and are slowly conditioned to such things. Same thing for running in body armor, which is something that my platoon did years ago, before 9/11. What causes the most injuries that I’ve seen is overzealous leaders who want things to be “hard” without considering the current condition of their troops.

    Most likely I will buy a pair of Nike Free’s, or whatever their called, and wear those while thumbing my nose at this misguided decision every chance I get.

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  18. Jeff says:

    22 years in the Army and after training in Five Fingers for a month, I ran my second fastest 2 mile run ever in them.

  19. Pilgrim says:

    The real problem is that senior leaders are taking the easy wrong. It’s easy to order a motivated fit soldier to change his shoes. It’s hard to tell a lazy, obese soldier to change his diet, adopt a demanding PT regime and enforce it. What’s more “professional”? A soldier with long hair and funny shoes that can walk 20km, take a break, put on his body armor and conduct a raid, or a morbidly obese soldier with a “good” hair cut, reflective clothing and “authorized” shoes. The bottom line is that easy, measurable decisions like this are now the basis of our “decision” making. Instead of “shoot, move, communicate and medicate”; it’s a legion of policy enforcers far removed from the realities of war who are too busy trying to operationalize their thesis instead of trying to enable the man on the ground. Uncomfortable situations like looking another man in the eye and telling him to get in shape or he loses his job are things that our betters flee from like squirters from an objective. In the interim, we who simply ask someone to “send me” will suffer.

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  21. Eric says:

    C’mon, you can’t be surprised that RA soldiers and Airborne and above units have different standards. In my experience as an 82nd infantry soldier, our unit was issued new everything before many other units. Maybe we were guinea pigs. Bottom line though, if the CO thought that VFFs were a good idea he’d order up a pallet of them and we’d use em. That’s the way it works at unit level, at least from my experience.

  22. jay says:

    Fitness in the military is complete garbage. The fairly new fitness trend in Crossfit style workouts and correct shoes i.e. vibrams, are making the average person who tries this more fit than ever. Fitness programs in the miltary are lowest common demonator. My SAR workout today is case in point. I was absolutely miserable the whole time. Yea, you can sing a lame ass cadence and count reps, you are a boss….give me a break.

    Only SpecOps is any good. There are so many worthless fat asses collecting a check on the 1st and 15th yet they are worried that vibram shoes are unprofessional.

    As far as those who down crossfit and crossfit style workouts you probably couldn’t get through a WOD in less time than a Girl Scout.

    And yes, crossfit CAN improve your running. You do have to go a bit above the WODs though. If you are a “runner” as in long distance than is the way to go.

  23. The argument that a human foot with colour looks unprofessional is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in 10 years of service. If your making that argument please just leave. Real warriors don’t have time for this nonsense.

    • Gunrunner says:

      And real warriors know they are part of a team, a unit, a single band of brothers that work together, in uniform.

      The ban has to do with running in a formation, not banning use on your own time.

    • Rob says:

      Real warriors should learn to read. The ban includes anytime a soldier is in PT gear, not just running in formation.

    • Gunrunner says:

      No. Wrong.

      Wearing clown feet while in formation is banned. . .implicit while running in formation is the fact you are in a PT uniform.

      Running in clown feet on your own time in your own clothes (not a uniform) is not banned.

      Real warriors can read and comprehend.

    • Rob says:

      “Implicit”…No, explicit. You are not allowed to wear Five Fingers (clown shoes don’t compartmentalize toes, genius) at in in PT gear, regardless of whether or not you are in uniform.

      “Those shoes that feature five separate, individual compartments for the toes, detract from a professional military image and are prohibited for wear with the IPFU [Improved Physical Fitness Uniform, i.e. T-shirt and shorts] or when conducting physical training in military formation.”

      See that “or”? That separates two different situations…in formation and out of formation.

      but please, by all means, continue to lecture me about reading comprehension, warrior

    • Gunrunner says:

      Apology for late reply. Doing real work in the real world, dealing with real stuff that affects real lives.

      Context of my post replying to a comment about banning (as in “banning” all use), implicit was correct.

      The rest of your post was blathering noise, oh great academic.


    The bottom line is the regular army is scared of anykind of change. The only reason the banned VFFs is because they look a little funny. i purchased the BILKA LS and it took a week for anyone to notice they wer VFFs. there is some 60 year old general somewhere in the pentagon, that dosnt do pt anymore that made this descision. its completely ludicris that you can say they look un professional. when there NCOs that havnt passed a PT test in years that wear regular running shoes. the truth is i can get a 300 score without trying with my VFFs. so who is really unprofessional?

    • Eric - H says:

      agreed, some old general in the officeagon also approved the new PRT fitness structure because we were “breaking” too many soldiers. I understand that we want to keep our troops ready for combat but if they can’t hack the PT then perhaps the ARMY is the wrong profession for them. Not everyone can do the job and it is amazing with all the restrictions placed on regular army soldiers that they are even able to accomplish the tasks set out for them. We are lucky enough to have the special forces/ops sections of the army that are not affected by this policy and that is why they continue to do great work and have the success they do. Moving on to new techniques and training methods is what special sections do best and it is only a matter of time before their TTPs make their way over to regular army. I just see this as a small speed bump the army has laid out for itself.

  25. G says:

    Who cares. They look dumb in PTs. No one complained when the army took away berets. Maybe bc it wasn’t an essential piece of the precious crossfit attire.

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  28. Brad says:

    The military continues to remove itself from the basic fundamentals of being combat effective: fitness, marksmanship and common sense.

  29. Andrew says:

    and this is why I joined the Air Force! I am a USAF officer and have worn my VFFs in my PTUs for over a month now with no problem whatsoever. I asked my squadron commander as well as checked the AFI myself, and their really isn’t any conflict with them. If they did get banned, however, I would just wear another less-obvious minimalist shoe like a Merrell or a Nimbus. Airpower!

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  32. Mase says:

    As a member of the US ARMY, currently deployed, I believe this is just a bunch of doggy doo doo. I wear VFF’s and so do many people here that crossfit. I do agree that the Navy looks all jacked up mixing and matching what ever they want with their pt uniforms, but alot of them are in better shape then the people in my unit. I also agree that the Army needs to change their mind set from “the profession appereance” to enforcing fitness. The amount of pt failures is absoulutely mindblowing and don’t even get me started on the obesity and overweight issues. I thought the new Army Joint Cheif of staff was about listening to the soldiers and changing the Army for the 21st century. I guess I was wrong.

  33. Neptune says:

    Goes to show you how ineffective our military can be when it has too much command interference.

    These old Generals are afraid of change – it’s the same reason why Donald Rumsfeld and General Franks were afraid of letting ODA’s from SOCOM be the tip of the spear of taking out the Taliban after 9-11. They just don’t get it.

    Clear and simple: special operation forces/special forces units either do very intense PT, SEAL FIT, or Cross Fit. The majority do the last two. If you are not in SF, most likely you are half-assing it unless your unit does Crossfit; which is extremely unlikely.

    Special Operators can grow their hair, grow their beards, fully customize their ARs, and workout how they want. The regular Army on the other hand, is still rocking the high and tight cut – how is that not stupid?

    The shoes shouldn’t be the priority of the ban – regular PT should. If anything, Crossfit and SEAL Fit should be mandatory in all units deployed into combat.

    Faster – Harder – Stronger – Who do you think killed Usama Bin Laden?

  34. Neptune says:

    Before 9/11, American generals at the Pentagon were worried about fighting a war against the Russians – a battle like Operation Barbarossa during WWII were tanks would lead the way. This, all the awhile American Special Operation Forces Commanders were training to fight an unconventional war against terrorism – who was right?

    This is an unconventional fight that we have had to improvise and adapt to. Now SOF does Cross Fit and SEAL Fit as a way to stay in peak condition, maybe the rest of the military should follow suit.

    10yrs NSW SMU

    • Ed (the real one) says:

      Tank battles against the Russians vs a brush war in South Asia. Only one of those posed a genuine existential threat to US national interests. You tell me, who was right?

    • Neptune says:

      Special Forces – we’re not fighting against the Russians. Lets focus on the now and not the shoulda-woulda-coulda.

  35. Todd says:

    I just herad about the ban. Not the craziest thing I’ve heard this month though. I have been told for the past tw0 years how the Army is taking physical fitness to a new level, down. The new PRT program is more designed to prevent injury then fitness. The new Army bible on physical fitness has many different programs including weight lifting. However the great minds in command positions here have decided that even though the Army spent millions on a new gym 2 mins away from my Battalion, we are not authorized to conduct PT there. So we still do it on the asphalt in the parking lot. Morons

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  38. I agree that they shouldn’t be nixed JUST because of their looks. That’s silly. If they had other reasons for not allowing them, then I could understand.
    I do understand on one level, though, because my sister is in the Air Force and they aren’t allowed certain colored shoes for PT tests. In that case, it’s still a matter of appearance vs. efficiency.
    It’s a shoe, though, and you should be able to wear whatever is best for your body.

  39. Brandon says:

    I believe it to be more serious than the Army’s lack of emphasis on physical fitness. It is another symptom of the Army’s overvaluation of appearance and symbolism over utility and reality. This is particularly detrimental to the nation given that relevant value the Army places on concepts and ideals determines life, death, freedom, and oppression. Few if any other organizations owe society a greater dedication to a utilitarian approach than the military. In spite of this undeniable truth everything from overarching mandates to day to day decision are governed by the archiac and illogical.

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  41. Thomas Rid says:

    Thanks to everybody for your contributions to a fascinating debate, and for spreading it so widely. We’re stunned, frankly: with about 20,000 views and more than 1,000 recommendations, this is now the most popular post ever on Kings of War.

    A personal note with a link to this debate that we sent to the responsible officer at the Army was left unanswered. Well, I guess the tone in this thread (and post) may have been a bit rough at times.

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  43. chad says:

    Too much testosterone in the army again.

    This is the same as saying some guys don’t like pastel colors because it makes them “look gay”.

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