Monday, September 21, 2009
Why I Decided to Write This Review
There are really two reasons I decided to write this review of Newton Gravity Trainer Running shoes. The first has to do with the fact that I am an award-winning foot surgeon and podiatrist who has chosen to limit my practice to elite, competitive and recreational athletes. For this reason, I get questions about running shoes from a lot of runners. I am frequently asked about “new trends in barefoot running” as well as about shoes like Newtons that reportedly create more of a barefoot-type running experience. I always prefer to answer such questions on the basis of scientific theory as well as personal experience.
The second reason is that I am an age-group Ironman triathlete who has aspirations of qualifying for Kona one day. So I have a very personal interest in discovering any and every way to increase my own biomechanical efficiency, decrease my risk of injury, and run faster. Newtons (in theory) should to do all three, so I thought I should give them a try.
As I opened the box and lifted my brand new Newtons from their tissue paper nest, the scent of new running shoes filled the air. And these shoes felt light as air themselves. I was extremely surprised to sense that these “trainers” actually felt quite a bit lighter than any other pair of running shoes I have ever owned. I also noticed the generous use of mesh in the uppers. While this certainly helps keep them light, I was also pleased because my feet are always hot. And in my shoes, there can never be too much cooling aeration.
In looking at the soles, the four forefoot lugs caught my eye. They protruded slightly more that the rest of the forefoot and heel. This, of course, is the business end of the Newton Running concept; where science meets the road, so to speak. It was obvious looking at the profile of the shoe, that the lugs should make it easier to land on the forefoot instead of the heel. I figured if these don’t get me to land on the forefoot, nothing else will.
Science or Gimmic?
Naming your product after the Father of Physics creates a pretty big pair of shoes to fill. After all, the laws of physics set some pretty strict rules to follow. There is a section on the Newton Running website called “Newtonian Science.” Within that section is a distillation of the laws of physics that affect all runners. Basically, it describes the science without all of the cumbersome math usually associated with physics.
In a nutshell, running is all about energy. And there is only so much to get you from start to finish. You must use your energy to cover ground. If you land on your heel and slow down, you use up valuable energy in braking. If you then have to re-accelerate to get going again, you use up more energy. This leaves you with less energy to get you to the finish in good form.
The Newton Running “Active Membrane Technology” is part of the patented components of Newton Running shoes and is one of Newton’s proposed keys to stop wasting energy and thereby start running more efficiently and faster. By writing this review, I hope to determine whether or not this is true and if the shoes can actually live up to Sir Isaac’s name.
Expectations vs. Experience
I will have to admit that when I first read about Newton shoes I was skeptical. I understand that all energy lost in a running stride, in theory, could be harnessed and returned. But when I first heard this notion applied to the elastomeric lugs on Newton running shoes, I envisioned Wile E. Coyote with coiled bedsprings attached to his feet bounding down a desert highway in pursuit of the Roadrunner. But I put my imagination aside and decided to trust the voice of reason and experience.
When I first laced them up, I noted a perfect fit. As a men’s size 12.5, I seem to (more often than not) have trouble finding shoes that run true to size. For that reason alone, I am always sheepish about ordering shoes online. The Newton Running website claims that shoes should be ordered “true to size” and they were precisely that. Great fit!
Standing in my Newtons, the most perceptible difference (as compared to my old running shoes) was a slightly lower heel height. This, of course, is also by design. Its really partly a lower heel, but more a relative drop from the thicker lugs on the forefoot. But I realized that in order to run faster, more efficiently, and get to Kona, I would need to learn to more consistently avoid landing on my heels anyway.
The Right Shoe for My Foot Type
With the first few steps, the shoes felt soft and cushy. Given my high-arched “rectus” foot type (most often referred to as “neutral” or incorrectly termed “supinated”), I knew I would appreciate the give in these shoes.
For anyone with a rectus foot type, cushioning is key. The reason is because a person with a lack of pronation (the opposite of a “pronated foot” or flatfoot) simply cannot absorb impact effectively when the foot hits the ground.
One way to describe pronation is to say that it is the motion in the joints of the foot that absorbs energy as the arch collapses. But in my case, in a sense, the joints are locked. There is an absence of pronation during walking and running. This means higher impact and higher risk of injuries such as stress fractures, shin splints and some types of tendonitis.
How Newtons Might Help Me Run
The Newton Gravity Trainers have the potential to help lower my risk of injury in two ways. First, the lugs are soft and provide ample impact reduction to compensate for my biomechanical deficiencies in terms of using my joints to absorb energy through pronation (this is important). Second, they should be able to convert my running style to one that reduces the impact the road will deliver to my chasis (this is more important).
The highest impact that a runner can sustain is by landing on the heels. The higher the arches, the higher the impact. Every time the foot lands heel-first out in front of the runner, a braking force is applied by the foot and lower leg. This slows the runner. The energy loss is essentially converted to friction, heat and that pounding sensation hammering through your legs.
By contrast, when you land on your forefoot, the 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments work together to absorb that impact. By landing on the part of the foot that is by nature more flexible, the force is spread out and dissipated more naturally.
This is where the barefoot running concept comes in. It is well known that barefoot runners land on the forefoot and never on the heels. Landing on the heels is a learned behavior resulting from a lifetime of reliance upon shoes. Barefoot runners simply run more efficiently and should be at lower risk of injury.
But you cannot just go run barefoot and expect to become someone who has the running style of a life-time barefoot runner. First, the risk of injuries such as stress fracture and tendonitis is very high when running barefoot. Second, you still have to train the brain to restructure your stride to run “like” a barefoot runner.
The First Ride on My Newtons
With the first few strides I immediately noted something unusual. I was landing on my forefoot.
After reading the instruction card that says the goal should be to “land, lever and lift,” I assumed that I would have to put a lot of effort into landing on the forefoot, levering off of the lugs (without pushing off with my toes) and finally lifting my knees and feet. But in fact it was all very simple and natural.
I tried to focus on keeping a high cadence and short stride, leaning forward slightly at the ankles. And just like that, I was landing more consistently on my forefoot. The few times I landing on the heels, it felt rather unnatural. This is likely due to the excess stretch of the Achilles tendon. As promised, the shoes were gently keeping me off of my heels.
Having gotten my new Newtons only a couple of weeks before Ironman Louisville, I knew I wouldn’t have time to adequately break them in before the race. These shoes require a slightly more conservative break-in period.
I wore my Newton’s for five runs of 2 miles before I tried anything longer. Then three miles, then four and so on. Before long I was out on the road for a 10 mile run. I am pleased to say that my first 10 mile run in the Newtons went very smoothly. I was relaxed and felt like I was moving well. And in fact I was. I can honestly report that it was the easiest 10 mile run I have had this year. Maybe it only felt that way because I had recently recovered from an Ironman, or maybe I am becoming a more efficient runner.
I can say that for me personally, I believe Newton Gravity Trainers are proving to be a valuable training tool and are changing the way I run for the better. As an award-winning podiatrist and foot surgeon caring for athletes, I would recommended Newtons to any of my patients who have had a history of injury, or simply hope to run more efficiently. It seems the greatest benefit is, of course, for those demanding efficiency such as marathoners and Ironman triathletes.
At the time of this writing, I am doing all of my long runs, bricks and speed workouts with Newtons. No pain, no injuries and no complaints. I love my Newtons. In about six weeks I will apply the true test: Ironman Florida. I plan to run the race in them and will post a follow-up review to update you on my progress. With the changes I have seen thus far, I am fully expecting to set a substantial new run split personal record. Who ever said physics can’t be fun!
Dr. Christopher Segler
Award Winning Podiatric Surgeon
Stay Fit, Go Long, Run Fast, Be Strong!
Disclaimer and Disclosure: This product review is meant to serve strictly as opinion and personal experience regarding the product described above. None of the content herein is meant to serve as medical advice, but is for informational purposes only. The opinions are exclusively those of the author and are not meant to necessarily represent those of Newton Running. The author of this product review is not affiliated with Newton Running, is not a shareholder in the company and has no relation to any stakeholder in the company.