"No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess."
- Sir Isaac Newton, 1643-1727
When I reviewed their original Gravity trainers last September, I made reference to the fact that Newton was barely a three-year-old business founded by a pair of guys with very little industry experience prior to entering the high-performance running shoe game. The company was named after a historic scientist, and offered a product whose design flew in the face of all the conventional wisdom of the day. Newtons were some of the most expensive shoes on the market, and required athletes to abandon the running form most of them had used all their lives.
In other words, success of the concept was something of a bold guess.
However, as another scientist of some renown – a fellow by the name of Albert Einstein – once explained, everything is relative: motion, space, and even our notion of time. In fields of different gravitational potential, time actually moves at different speeds; gravitational time dilation, as it’s called, predicts that clocks will run more slowly when they’re closer to the center of a field with massive gravitational pull.
Now before you press rewind ‘cuz I blew your mind, let me put it this way: sometimes, four years is a very long time to be involved in something – especially if that something is an area (or field, in our analogy) that new players have been moving towards (gravitational pull) in increasing numbers with every passing month. And that’s exactly where Newton finds itself nowadays: right smack in the center of this whole “natural running” supernova that has emerged, where four years is a relative eternity compared to all the other companies rushing to develop something similar.
From the outset, the Gravity has been Newton’s flagship model, a top-of-the-line performance trainer that has attracted a large number of elite athletes - triathletes in particular – as well as amateur runners who want the biomechanics of barefoot or minimalist running without actually giving up the comfort and performance aspects of a standard running shoe. Most of its features like actuator lugs, action/reaction technology, and land-lever-lift technique have already been explained in my previous review, so rather than re-writing them here, I’m giving you the link above to check it all out.
This is also a good time to make a certain disclaimer: hardcore barefoot runners and minimalist proponents tend to dislike Newtons. The shoes are too heavy, too high off the ground - 26mm in the heel, 23mm in the forefoot - and, well … just too much shoe to accurately mimic barefoot running. While all of those points are well taken, it’s also worth noting that Newton doesn’t claim to make minimalist shoes; their main selling point is replicating the mechanics (and therefore, nearly all the benefits) of barefoot running while incorporating advanced technology features to improve comfort and performance.
Newton has a lot of science on its side, and contracts third party researchers to compare factors like decreased impact forces and improved energy return between its shoes and the most popular cushioning or performance trainers currently on the market. If you’re going to claim that your shoes help people run faster, you’d better be able to back it up; thanks to ongoing lab testing and comparative analysis, Newton does.
Anecdotally, I can attest to the fact that Newtons make it easy to run fast. I’m currently in a high-mileage buildup for the spring and summer, and probably 90% of that mileage is either barefoot or in minimalist shoes (typically Soft Star, VivoBarefoot, or Vibram). Given the rough, hilly terrain I frequent, and the length of the runs I’m doing, most of my mileage tends to be the slow and steady variety. However, once or twice per week, I lace up my Gravity trainers for a tempo run or track workout, and I can still keep a 6-minute pace for a handful of miles.
Best of all, when wearing Newtons, I don’t have to sacrifice the midfoot/forefoot gait pattern I’ve developed in minimalist footwear simply to run fast. Although the heel and midfoot are both elevated, the difference in heights is a mere 3mm, which is the flattest platform you’ll find in a standard trainer. My posture, footstrike, and muscle recruitment are all the same as when I’m running barefoot; the only difference is that my feet are a lot more comfortable.
The 2010 version of the Gravity generally has the same style and fit as its predecessor, with a few tweaks that I would mostly call improvements. One change in the wrong direction is that this version is slightly heavier – 10.3oz compared to 9.4oz last year. Everything else is for the better: a more durable outsole, a higher-rebound EVA midsole for improved energy return, and, most noticeably, a more subtle blue option to make up for the screaming reds and oranges of models past. The upper is still incredibly open and airy, with plenty of room in the toe box for your toes to function independently and naturally.
Another aspect that remains the same is the price point of $175, which remains the biggest barrier to entry for many users. Last fall, I argued that the high ticket price helped ensure a commitment to practicing midfoot running form. Now that I’m a more dedicated minimalist runner, I’ve come to appreciate the value of Newtons a lot more than I used to.
I love having a “standard” shoe option that I can wear for days when I want to hammer out some fast miles, or when I want to get another 15-miler to finish the week when my legs and feet are thrashed from the 60 or 70 they’ve already done, without having to revert back to a forward-sloped high-heeled cushioned trainer. (And if I ever wanted to race a marathon again instead of running just for fun, I would definitely use Newtons to help me do it.) In that regard, they’re fairly unique among all other shoe companies, with the possible exception of the $225 ECCO BIOM – so by comparison, the Newtons seem like something of a bargain.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that Newton’s bold guess to promote unconventional running form has been a success. The extensive experimentation and study of barefoot mechanics they've applied since the company's inception are now drawing in consumers and competitors alike, as more and more people are discovering the advantages of midfoot running. If you’re happy in your peripheral orbit of traditional footwear, there’s probably no reason for you to try these. If, on the other hand, you’re finding yourself pulled toward the expanding field of natural running, you’ll probably be quite happy giving in to this particular force of Gravity.
*Product provided by Newton Running
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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