What Is Natural Running?

  • Another message from Danny's inbox

    Dear Danny,

    I've been a runner since July 2, 1979. This past summer, with my 67th birthday looming on the horizon, I began increasing my mileage, with the objective of making my 1,200 mile annual goal (which I haven't achieved in more years than I care to talk about). When I began picking up my weekly mileage my knee pain increased in direct proportion to the increase in distance. I found some relief in various inserts but it was always temporary and I was constantly looking for some new and better inserts.

    In the midst of one of those searches I stumbled upon newtonrunning.com. I knew after only a couple of minutes of reading and watching that it was what I had been looking for. I checked for dealers, found none in Alabama, but one in Clarksville, TN where my wife and I would be working in the coming week. A call to the store let me know they were out of my size but had my wife's so I ordered mine off your site and two days later, at the store in Clarksville, we purchased a pair for my wife Christina, and another for our business and running partner Adrienne Wall.

    I completed my first run in Newtons the night of September 24th and I've not run in anything else since. I've thrown out all my inserts along with my Asics, but, most important, my knee pain is gone and both my distance and speed are up. I look forward to every run like a kid anticipating cake and ice cream and for a 67 year old with 30+ year of running behind me, that is saying a lot.

    The truth is there aren't words to convey what I feel. A line from a 60's pop song states my dilemma, "How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?" Thanks to the shoe you designed and built, I've now logged over 1,200 miles for the year and I should easily exceed 1,500; next year I'll go over 2,000, something I've not done in over 20 years.

    "Thanks" isn't nearly enough to say to you but it's the best I can come up with. If I can ever assist you in promoting Newton Running, don't hesistate to let me know how.

    Your to count on,

    Bert Carson

    Huntsville, Alabama

  • Shoe Geometry 101 - Running Shoe Re-Evolution

    By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running

    At the start of the first American running boom in the 1970s, most people were running in fairly lightweight shoes that consisted of a rubber outsole a thin foam midsole and a lightweight nylon upper. Although simple by today's standards, some of those early shoes were pretty good at allowing the foot to move naturally without the need for excessive muscular force and allowed a runner to obtain afferent feedback from each foot's interaction with the ground.

    As footwear technology advanced over the years, running shoes generally became cushier, softer, thicker, heavier and, in some respects even more comfortable. But, while some of the innovations were driven by performance, the end result in many cases was anything but performance-oriented. And that's why, 30 years later, thousands of runners run with inefficient mechanics predicated on a heel-striking gait. Not only is that form not optimal for running fast, it can also lead to numerous overuse injuries.

    The biggest culprit of modern running shoe design is that most training shoes have large, overbuilt heel crash pads that encourage and really only allow a heel-striking gait. Even if you wanted to run with a natural midfoot/forefoot stride pattern, the geometry and heel height of many shoes will not allow your foot to land naturally or parallel to the ground because the hefty heel gets in the way.

    What is Natural Running?

    Simply put, natural running is the way the human body was meant to run in its purest form - namely, barefoot - across a solid surface. That means running with efficient mechanics centered around landing lightly on the midfoot/forefoot (the ball of the foot, but not the toes) and quickly lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing off with excessive muscular force.

    In order to accommodate that style of running, a runner needs to be able to feel the ground and interact with it accordingly just as when barefoot.

    And to do that, the runner needs to be wearing lightweight, minimally designed running shoes. The afferent feedback from feeling the ground encourages your body to run with light footsteps, upright posture, a relaxed arm swing and a slight forward lean.

    That important feedback is obtainable via minimalist, lightweight running shoes designed to allow the foot to strike the ground with a natural midfoot/forefoot gait but is impossible to receive wearing thickly cushioned shoes and a heavy heel-striking gait. Practicing natural running form can be simple, but it may take time to unlearn old habits and learn proper technique. Ultimately, natural running can help make a runner stronger, more efficient and less prone to overuse injuries.

    What Are Minimalist Shoes?

    Minimalism in its simplest form involves picking shoes that allow the foot to move more naturally than standard shoes allow. But not all minimal shoes are created equal. Newton Running shoes were designed to be an extension of the feet, enhancing ground contact without the jarring impact shock of the road, sidewalk or hard-packed trail below.

    Newton's reduced heel height and sleek geometry allows the shoe to stay out of the way as it approaches the contact with the ground, and along with enhanced forefoot communication, allows the runner to strike lightly at the midfoot/forefoot instead of using a heel-striking motion that requires heavy breaking and excess muscular force.

    Newton Running's patented Action/Reaction Technology™ encourages natural running or a barefoot running gait and enhances the shock absorbency, leverage and energy return throughout the gait cycle, ultimately helping achieve a faster cadence and more efficient mechanics. Newton's independent lab research shows the system returns up to 28 percent more energy and reduces impact up to 44 percent when compared to training and racing shoes offered by leading running brands.

    Practicing natural running form can be simple, but it may take time to unlearn old habits and learn proper technique. But it also requires having the appropriate footwear to allow your body to run the way it was designed to run. Once you learn to run naturally, you'll put yourself in position to run faster and healthier for the rest of your life.

    Click here for a video about Choosing the Best Shoes for Your Needs.

    Danny Abshire is the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot/forefoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years.

  • Tracing our Greek Running Roots

    Greece 2009 004From Danny Abshire's inbox:

    You probably don't remember me but you helped me out a ton at IM Wisconsin in '07 and I've been getting PB's at every race since then. Won't run in anything else! I just thought you'd like to see Newton represented in Athens, Greece in 2009...the 2,499th anniversary of the running of Pheidippides! My younger brother and I recently completed the the Athens Greece marathon. What makes this story unique is that Steven and I are both 100% Greek and have never been out of the country to see our relatives that live in Athens. It was also my brother Steven's first marathon. I have run Boston, raced 5 Ironman Triathlons (3:32 pb Ironman marathon thanks to Danny) but was more emotional after this race than ever retracing our Greek heritage roots and history and running the original route of Pheidippides. I ran with my brother every step of the way taking pictures and helping him with nutrition and he finished strong and healthy. We started together and finished together. Next year will be the 2,500th anniversary - an amazing milestone in marathon history. My race report with pics can be found at www.trigreek.blogspot.com.

    Greece 2009 011Thanks for your consideration!
    Chris Mandelaris

  • Preventing Stress Fractures

    Earlier this week, the New York Times published an interesting story about a common injury that many, many runners suffer from - stress fractures. The article references a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise which, "offers hope that, at least for runners, simple alterations in their stride or in the strength of their legs might reduce their risk for the most common type of stress fracture."

    I'd encourage you to read the whole article, but here's the most salient point:

    "The researchers determined that reducing stride length by about 10 percent seemed to reduce the stress on the tibia enough to lower the risk of a stress fracture.

    Why, though, should shortening your stride affect your tibia at all? “Think of it this way,” says Brent Edwards, lead author of the study and now a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois, in Chicago. “If you spend less time in the flight phase of running” — meaning in the air — “you’ll hit the ground with less force.” On the other hand, you’ll hit the ground more often. But in Mr. Edwards’s models, the reduction in pounding from an abbreviated stride outweighed the shock from a few additional strides per mile."

    Shortening your stride is one of the key tenets of the proper running form that Newton teaches (see #3 on our 10 Laws of Running Better). Running coaches like Danny Abshire have known for years that over-striding can lead to injuries, and now it's nice to have some empirical data to back it up.

    Also, here's a great image the Denver Post ran a few months ago that illustrates many of the benefits of proper natural running form.


  • Freedom's Run

    If you live in the mid-Atlantic, this is a race you should really check out – the inaugural Freedom's Run in Shepardstown, WV on Saturday, Oct. 3. The marathon course winds through four national parks (that's gotta be a first) and there's also a half marathon, a 10K and 5K. Newton Running is a proud sponsor of this race that seeks to promote healthy living and the incredible heritage of the area.

    Here's a short video about the race.

    Our friend and fellow natural running fanatic, Dr. Marc Cucuzzella, is the race director. He's a major proponent of Chi Running one of the country's foremost experts on running biomechanics and proper running form.

    Check out this video of Dr. Mark using a Razor Scooter to demonstrate proper running form at a local fun run. Pretty cool!

  • How to Reduce and Avoid Common Running Injuries

    Efficient form and lightweight shoes are the keys to staying healthy

    By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running

    Do you think a running shoe with a thickly cushioned heel pad and rigid medial post can keep you from suffering common running injuries such as plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome or shin splits? Think again.

    Recent research and news reports are confirming what those close to the sport have known for years: running shoes with thick midsoles, extensive anti-pronation devices and large heel crash pads don’t prevent injuries.

    The key to preventing running injuries is to run with lightweight shoes and efficient, low-impact running form. Running in heavy, overbuilt running shoes can put more strain on a runner’s body, reduce proprioception necessary to engage proper form and make a runner’s feet and lower legs overwork braking and propulsive muscles and connective tissue — a combination which can actually make a runner more prone to common overuse injuries.

    A recent study at the University of Newcastle in Australia concluded there is no scientific evidence to support claims that running shoes with elevated heel crash pads and elaborate anti-pronation systems prevent injuries in runners. The findings have been published in the March 2009 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

    “Since the 1980s, distance running shoes with thick, heavily cushioned heels and features to control how much the heel rolls in, have been consistently recommended to runners who want to avoid injury,” Dr. Craig Richards, one of the researchers, said in a press release announcing the results of the study. “We did not identify a single study that has attempted to measure the effect of this shoe type on either injury rates or performance. This means there is no scientific evidence that [those shoes] provide any benefit to distance runners.”

    Dutch researchers have previously found that between 37 and 56 percent of recreational runners become injured at least once each year. The most common maladies are found in the feet and lower legs, but others include pelvis and lower back injuries.

    “Not only can we no longer recommend a shoe [with an elevated heel and pronation control system], but the lack of research in this area means that we cannot currently make any evidence-based shoe recommendations to runners,” Richards said in the release. “To resolve this uncertainty, running shoes need to be tested like any other medical treatment, in carefully controlled clinical trials.

    “This will ensure that only running shoes with proven benefits can be marketed and sold as therapeutic devices. Until this occurs, health professionals will not know whether the distance running shoes they are recommending are beneficial, harmless or harmful.”

    A recent story in the London Daily Mail confirmed what the Australian report suggested in an excerpt from a new book called “Born to Run” by journalist Christopher McDougal. That story referenced Dr. Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, who offered the startling conclusion that: “A lot of foot and knee injuries currently plaguing us are caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to overpronate (ankle rotation) and give us knee problems.”

    To run efficiently, you have to understand your body and how it naturally moves across a surface with as little muscular force as possible. The tenants of good running form include running with short strides and a quick cadence, landing lightly on the midfoot/forefoot area (the ball of the foot, but not the toes), and quickly lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing off with excessive muscle force. A slight forward lean and a relaxed arm swing are also key components.

    To illustrate what Newton Running calls the “Land-Lever-Lift” technique, take the simple test of running barefoot across a smooth floor. More than likely, you’re naturally going to land lightly at your midfoot/forefoot and quickly pick up your foot to start a new stride. Your body doesn’t allow you to land on your heels because it isn’t engineered to accommodate the blunt force trauma of repeated heel striking. Unfortunately, most contemporary running shoes have been designed for running form that demands heavy heel striking and dampens the afferent feedback which allows the foot to sense the ground.

    Two of the biggest mistakes distance runners can fall prey to are 1) excessive heel striking that causes abrupt braking of forward momentum, and then pushing off too hard with the toes to start the forward motion again; or 2) using only propulsive muscles,(the calf group, hamstrings and Achilles tendon) by running too far up on their toes like a sprinter and not using the body’s natural cushioning system. Each of those form flaws puts too much vertical movement into every stride, and that leads to inefficiency and considerably more impact, muscle and tendon stress on the body.

    Danny Abshire is the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years.

  • Land-Lever-Lift Technique

    danny-abshireGood form is the key to efficient running and preventing injuries

    By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running

    I've been coaching efficient running and injury prevention through optimal running form, foot support and footwear for years. It would be naïve to go by the results of sponsored elite athletes and satisfied customers, but the initial results of a study started last spring at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reinforced my ideas.

    The study, conducted through the Chemistry of Sport class taught by Dr. Patti Christie, took 25 athletic individuals with various running abilities and put them through an eight-week distance running program. The research was based around running 4x800m or 4x1600m repeats while holding a constant heart rate.

    The first set of intervals was done in traditional EVA foam-midsole running shoes the participants started the program with, while the latter was done in Newton Running Trainers (Gravity and Motion). That preliminary data revealed that all of the runners who completed every workout recorded faster times in the final interval wearing Newton shoes. Results showed that 77 percent of the runners ran faster on two or more intervals wearing Newtons and 55 percent of the runners were faster on every interval.

    "The results were statistically significant," says Christie, who is continuing the study with a new group of runners this spring. "It indicates there is a more efficient way to run. And if you combine the Newton Running technique, 'Land-Lever-Lift' with the Newton shoes, there was definitely a significant difference."

    If you were to run barefoot along a smooth sidewalk, your body wouldn't have you impact on your heels because it isn’t engineered to accommodate the blunt force trauma of repeated heel striking. Through increased forefoot communication with the ground Newton shoes allow for the body's natural propensity for a light forefoot landing, foot leverage and a lifting of each new stride (instead of pushing off) known as the "Land-Lever-Lift" technique.

    Newton Running's patented Action/Reaction forefoot technology encourages Natural or Barefoot Running Gait and enhances the shock absorbency, leverage and energy return in the forefoot. Newton's Independent lab research shows the system returns up to 28 percent more energy and reduces impact up to 44 percent when compared training and racing shoes offered by leading running brands.

    The basis of natural form and midfoot/forefoot running gaits has been around for decades, much of it derived from the super-efficient form elite runners have been employing for years.

    "It’s not new, it’s just that most runners have either gone away from what they used to do or they were never taught the proper way to run in the first place," says Malcolm Balk, a Montreal-based running coach, form guru and competitive masters runner who teaches The Art of Running workshops in Canada and the United Kingdom. "I think the most important thing is that you need to keep braking to a minimum if you want to reduce muscular effort and the impact that goes with it."

    Danny Abshire is the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years.

  • Popular Mechanics: How Barefoot Runners Shape the Shoe Industry

    popularmechanicsThe Popular Mechanics website recently featured an interesting, if somewhat controversial, story about barefoot running and the shoe industry.

    The background and science referenced in the article support the entire premise upon which Newton Running is based. Namely, humans evolved to run on their forefeet, not their heels. But, the running shoe industry has been building shoes with exaggerated heel cushioning for over twenty years and thus millions of runners have learned to be heel-strikers.

    Newton Running believes that forefoot/midfoot running is the most natural, efficient running form and our shoe technology is based upon that philosophy.

    Check out this quote from the Popular Mechanics story:

    "Sean Murphy, manager of advanced product engineering at New Balance, says shoe companies often fall back on what he calls the 22-12 solution-placing 22 millimeters of material under the heel of the shoe and 12 millimeters under the forefoot. "Shoe companies have been stuck in the paradigm of the 22-12 for years," Murphy says, and people buy them in part because it's the feel they've grown accustomed to. "We're just now building products for people who tend to run more on their forefoot, like many ultramarathoners."

    Newton Running shoes measure 22 - 18 mm for the Racers, 23 - 18 mm for the Trainers.

    shoe-testing-470-858-0409All the major shoe companies are still testing the heel cushioning on their shoes. Newton, on the other hand, has been rigorously testing forefoot impact on its shoes, compared to other top selling brands. Check out these results provided by Knight Mechanical Testing. (Click images to enlarge).


    Measurement of Forefoot Shock Absorption


    Measurement of Forefoot Energy Return


    To summarize these tests:

    A runner in the Brooks T-5 would feel:

    • 69% higher shock load on foot strike than the Newton Motion All Weather
    • 80% higher shock at 250 miles
    • 83% higher shock at 500 miles

    A runner in the Newton Motion All Weather would experience:

    • 27% higher energy return than the Asics GT 2120 at 50 miles
    • 28% higher energy return at 250 miles
    • 26% higher energy return at 500 miles

    Newton Running is clearly on the forefront of a revolution in the running world. Read the full Popular Mechanics story here.

  • Popular Science Review Part Deux


    A couple weeks ago, PopSci.com featured a cursory review of the science behind Newton Running technology in a post by Adam Weiner.  While the story was generally positive, it also seemed a bit subjective since Mr. Weiner had not actually tried running in a pair of Newtons. So we contacted him, sent him a pair of shoes to test and he just posted a follow up feature. Check it out here - it's a terrific, interesting review.  If you're so inclined, be sure to add a comment at the end of the story, so PopSci will continue to run features like this.

  • Danny Abshire Video Series

    Newton co-founder Danny Abshire is featured in this terrific video series on running form, flexibility, footwear and preventing injuries.

    There are five videos in the series. Check them all out here.

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