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September 28, 2009

Newton Gravity Running Shoe Review

“Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;

God said, "Let Newton be," and all was light.”
- Alexander Pope’s epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton, 1727

**
There’s a biomechanical theory that describes the act of walking – and by extension, running – as nothing more than a controlled fall.

The physics go something like this: your body’s center of mass sits at a point near your pelvic area, and your natural base of support is like a small circle drawn around both feet. In standing, the center of mass hovers directly above the base of support, which is a position of stability. But as soon as you shift your weight forward, the center of mass leaves the base of support, and your balance is disrupted by a downward-directed force; you’re essentially tipping over forward. The act of taking a step not only initiates walking, but – more importantly, from a safety standpoint – prevents you from falling on your face.

As for the force that creates this instability and pushes you forward? That would be gravity, as first described by Isaac Newton.


It’s no accident that Boulder, Colorado-based Newton Running Company took the father of modern science as its namesake; in the same revolutionary manner that Sir Isaac changed the way we see the physical universe, the shoe company’s intention is to change all the rules you thought you knew about normal running motion.

By business standards, Newton is a completely radical company: they’re barely three years old, and were founded by a couple of guys with no manufacturing experience who decided to enter the industry with the most expensive shoes on the market. And they introduced themselves by telling all of us that we run wrong. It’s a wonder they lasted three weeks, let alone three years. For that reason alone, you figure the product must be something pretty distinctive.

The Newton Gravity

The company's co-founders aren’t complete neophytes when it comes to running, however: CEO Jerry Lee is an avid marathoner, and Chief Technological Officer Danny Abshire is an experienced ultrarunner, with repeat Leadville 100 finishes under his belt. And their passionate belief that conventional running mechanics were flawed is gaining more and more widespread acceptance with each passing day, and has captured the attention of some of the biggest names in endurance sports.

Newton’s team of professional athletes includes the best triathletes in the world: Craig Alexander (known for his blazing run splits), Michellie Jones, Heather Fuhr, Paula Newby-Fraser, and Natascha Badmann among them – that’s five Ironman World Champions, if you somehow needed a reminder. You won’t find a more impressive roster of athletes anywhere. The company also supports several young marathoners and triathletes who subscribe to the idea that the mechanics supported by Newton shoes not only increase your running efficiency, but improve your overall speed as well. (Curiously, given Abshire’s ultra background, Newton hasn’t really targeted the trail running community yet; more on that a bit later.)

Helloooo ... Newton! Sir Isaac goes along for the ride.

The Gravity is Newton's top of the line neutral performance trainer, with a price tag steep enough to do a double-take. So what makes these shoes so special? That’s where Newtonian physics come into play again. Specifically, Newton Running builds shoes specifically for midfoot running, encouraging you to "fall forward" with each step, and mimicking the mechanics of barefoot running as closely as possible.

(Admin note: the Newton website has a wealth of video content discussing everything from proper midfoot running form to shoe technology and construction and social reponsibility. I'll probably embed one or two of them in a future post, but if you want to have a look around for yourself sometime, click here.)

The underside of the Gravity makes it awkward to do a traditional heel strike while running. Rubber “actuator” lugs extend almost a half-inch from the base of the forefoot, and the bulk of the heel area is purposely minimized. The lugs are designed to act as the primary cushion on impact, and then as a lever to propel the body into the next stride. Once you’re accustomed to the different feel, you find yourself landing naturally on the actuators in the forefoot, as you would if running barefoot.

(The familiarization period is no trivial matter: if you’re used to running in traditional footwear, Newtons will require some significant adaptation. Newton clearly cautions runners to adjust to the shoes in small doses, and to expect some muscle soreness after the first few runs. In my case, having run so many barefoot miles already, I had no problem with the adjustment – perhaps another testimony to the Gravity’s effectiveness at mimicking barefoot running.)

Close-up view of the actuators

The actuators also promote increased speed with their patented Action/Reaction technology. Remember Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, where every force has an equal and opposite counterforce? That’s the principle behind this Action/Reaction idea. The technology is designed to absorb and then return your own energy back to you with each stride.

When your midfoot lands on the ground, shock absorption comes as the actuator lugs are pressed into hollow chambers in the shoe's midsole via an elastic membrane. Then as your forefoot levers inside the shoe, the lugs release their stored energy to help propel you forward. The materials involved with this process are supposedly much more effective than typical air cushions, gel, or foam models; the science page on Newton Running’s website claims that they’ve spent over 12 years researching and developing their technology, with 9 US patents. From personal experience, the net effect is a feeling like you’re rolling smoothly from one stride into the next.

Pretty good forefoot flexibility, too

It’s tough to quantify the tangible impact of Newton’s speed-enhancing features; by all accounts, Craig Alexander and Natascha Badmann were pretty darn speedy even before they started using Newtons. I can attest, however, that if you’re a comfortable midfoot striker, these shoes make it easy to run fast.

I’ve previously documented my frustration with the slowness of this whole barefoot running experiment: slow accommodations to rough surfaces, slow progression of mileage, and above all, a VERY slow average running speed. My response to that has been to really crank up the intensity for several runs in my Newtons over the last several weeks. I’ve done short interval workouts and longer tempo runs, and been very impressed with their performance.

Very airy - and very red! -mesh upper

Overall weight of the shoe is a mere 9.4 oz – a number that’s closer to racing flats than everyday trainers. The uppers are very comfortable, consisting primarily of an extremely open mesh pattern that is perfect for cooling in warm climates, but terrible for keeping debris out if you happen to mix a few trails in with your asphalt. (Newton has developed another model, the Sir Isaac, with a closed mesh upper and a bit more traction for running on dirt. It’s still classified as a road trainer, but it appears that Newton is making slow strides towards creating a true trail running shoe. If all goes according to plan, I'll review the Sir Isaac this winter.)

Finally, there’s the matter of price. The Gravity retails for $175 from the Newton website, and I found very little variation in my brief Google shopping search. That’s a significant jump above most high-end running shoes – and if you’re just looking for a comfortable high-mileage trainer without making a serious effort to adjust your running form, you’re completely wasting your money with these.

Part of the cost of admission, then, is making a commitment to practice midfoot running – and the high price tag makes you take that commitment seriously. These shoes would also be a great option for any of the following:
  • Those who’ve struggled with injuries and want to learn a more efficient running pattern, but aren’t ready to jump completely into the wild uncharted waters of barefoot running.
  • Practiced midfoot runners who want a lightweight, comfortable shoe for fast workout days or racing. (Newton does make a race-specific shoe that is one ounce lighter, but the Gravity is a better multi-purpose shoe for training and racing.)
  • Triathletes who want to run like Craig Alexander (OK, I made that one up … )
  • Barefoot runners who want some basic shoe protection for super-long runs or easy recovery days while maintaining most of their customary biomechanics.
Historically, revolutionary ideas take time to be accepted; nobody’s really certain whether today’s incontrovertible evidence will hold up to some new scientific approach much further down the road. That’s how it’s going to be for Newton Running shoes for a while: a core group of believers, a vocal group of skeptics, and a whole lot of time for the rest of us to decide what seems to make the most sense.

Count me in on the side of the believers.


See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

19 comments:

Bruce 9/29/09, 2:52 AM  

Great review. I picked up a pair of these myself - an ex trial pair so they were well under half price which helped seal the deal. After two short runs I'm not sure I'm a believer just yet. I think I expected more cushioning from actuators and I actually thought they were a bit stiff through the forefoot/toebox, due to the presence of the actuators. Looking at your picture of the bent shoe you can see it flexes at around the arch and not so much up near the toes.

RICK'S RUNNING 9/29/09, 5:40 AM  

Maybe you could test these shoes out on a treadmill say running at a set speed, maybe 10 mph and take heart rate readings, then run in a pair of normal shoes [ same weight] and see if the newton gives a lower heart rate for same speed!
The newton is very pricey, maybe Spira shoes would be a better option.

Brandon Wood 9/29/09, 8:40 AM  

Great review!

I have been a Newton runner for about the past year after beginning to transition in my former shoes which about killed me.

I think an important point is that Newton Running, the company, is not just about selling shoes. They are a company whose core philosophy of "running better" is based on getting people up and moving and doing what we were all born to do; run. I have met and spoken to several people from Newton, including Danny, Jerry, Ian and Tory and from top to bottom, they've never tried to "sell" me anything (not that they'd have to try). They just want people to run!

Amazing shoes. Amazing Company. More amazing people.

BW

www.brandonsmarathon.com

Tomas 9/29/09, 10:22 AM  

Thanks for the review. I bought the Netwton Gravity trainers about 3 months ago... I love them.

But you better listen to Newton people when they are talking about the transition time - take it slowly. My first run was a 15 mile run and the next day I could not get out from my car :o)

Overall great shoe, don't know if it improves your speed but at least it makes you think you are running faster. They are absolutely worth a try.

Tomas

TrailClown,  9/29/09, 12:39 PM  

This is a potentially dangerous shoe. Talk to any prominent podiatrist (for ex. Dr. Pribut, a Washington D.C.-based doc who has a nationally known web site) and they will tell you that if a shoe bends that much in the middle, you are asking for trouble. Those who are elite runners will undoubtedly benefit from Newtons, as will those who have practiced barefoot running, but more of a warning needs to be issued. I don't know why this has to be an either/or situation re: heel striking. Some people's bodies seem to do well with heel striking, and those people should stick with rigid trainers (Asics, etc.) and not get caught up in the hoopla. For a race, yeah, throw 'em on in a 5K and fly, but as a long-distance trainer, beware.

IronmanDiet.com 9/29/09, 1:31 PM  

My friend who's into Ironman and marathon racing is on his second pair and loves them. As for me the price is a bit steep--guess I'll have to wait for Newton to send me a pair to review on my own blog...hint, hint.

Anonymous,  9/29/09, 6:20 PM  

I've been running in Newton Shoes for about 1 1/2 years. I am not an elite runner. I am average at best. I spent much time previously not liking running because I had trouble with injuries. I read about these shoes after reading the book CHI RUNNING. As I made changes to my running form, I decided to take the leap and purchase a pair of Newton Shoes. I just completed Ironman Wisconsin wearing these and I would never go back. I gradually got used to the shoes - doing exactly what the manufacturers suggested and I have NEVER had an injury from them. Never. I think the whole philosophy in the company is fantastic and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to run without pain.
Obviously, if you're a heel striker and you don't have injury issues - don't change a thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Gretchen 9/29/09, 10:02 PM  

These actually look quite a bit more interesting than most of the other barefoot-type shoes you've reviewed. Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for the nerdy science thing. Sounds like you're right though about the commitment factor that's required. Interesting to see the slew of comments from those who clearly love the shoe.

Bob 9/30/09, 10:35 AM  

Great review...go to www.trisports.com and if you are a first time customer, you will get 15% off your order. With these shoes, that makes a difference.

Donald 9/30/09, 10:55 AM  

Bob - How long is the offer good for? Any coupon code to apply? I'll post an update announcement in the body of this review.

Bob 9/30/09, 11:09 AM  

Donald,

What I saw was a link on the home page at the top right corner to click on if you were a new customer. Once you clicked on that link, the 15% discount would be automatically applied to your order. I don't know how long it will be effective. There is a link at the bottom of the home page which says "Instant Coupons". There is one for $15 off any order over $99. Still, the 15% offer is better. Hope this helps!

Bob 10/1/09, 6:22 AM  

Donald,

Here's the coupon code for 15% for new customers: sb15-w

Again, I don't know how long it will last.

Dave 10/1/09, 9:30 AM  

Warning: Buddy ran a double marathon and ran the second half in newtons....didn't really train with them...and now has some ITB issues that have arisen...he attributes this to the shoes as he ran 5 50 milers in 5 months.

Notleh,  10/2/09, 3:27 PM  

I like the idea behind these and may try them one day. Maybe one night when I am drunk enough to plop down $175 bucks. ;-)

John 10/3/09, 5:52 AM  

First I have been running in Newtons for the last year and a half. I have tried multiple other shoes on the market and wound up with many injuries. I am not fast, I am your average age grouper triathlete and runner. I thought that I was running the correct way and found out that I was still heal striking though I was not having injuries. I have change to a mid-foot strike and have continued to improve. A word of caution, as the Newton website stress you need to take the time to adjust to the shoes. They wear from the outside in and you will see wear on the shoes do not be concerned. Once I learned this piece I learned more from my shoes. I still occasionally drag my heals. These shoes are not for everyone, though there are people out there that can benefit from them. Give them a try, you will have the support from the Newton Staff. Hope this helps, the goal is to run pain free. Enjoy......

Malcolm 1/28/10, 11:21 AM  

How long do these runners last? Typical runner last me 3mths-6mths

Donald 1/28/10, 6:17 PM  

Malcolm - I'd guess the lifespan is similar to your regular running shoes, since there's still a midsole material that breaks down after a period of time. My average lifespan is about 500 miles per pair.

Anonymous,  2/1/10, 8:22 PM  

just want to say that ive been running for about 5 years. im 16 years old right now and had an excellent few years in age group. (i was breaking 10 in the 2 mile in 8th grade). since i got into high school ive been suffering from injuries non stop every season. I have been injury free for a couple months now. Only thing different is, i am a COMPLETE forefoot runner. My heels literally never touch the ground. I had no soreness or any adjustment period, but it may be because of that.

Anonymous,  2/6/10, 11:19 AM  

I know a MD who is sponsored by Newton. He has 1500 miles on his current pair of Newtons. He puts a little Shoe Goo where he experiences extra wear and can wear them for much longer. He's a little resourceful, but this might help people who are wondering how many miles you might be able to get from these. If you're on the Born to Run bandwagon then shoes that are old will give you better results anyway. :)

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