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.

18 thoughts on “Popular Mechanics: How Barefoot Runners Shape the Shoe Industry”

  • Dave

    What a bizarre article. In the beginning, it looked like they were heading in the right direction, then they finished with that strange looking shoe with a diving board device attached to the heel.

    I've converted from being a heel striker to more of a midfoot/forefoot striker because I couldn't run anymore due to ankle and knee issues.

    Real, meaningful studies need to be done to show the risks associated with running style. In my own experience, I know for a fact that heel striking and wearing the cushioned heel running shoes are terrible for you. It may take awhile, but any deviation of movement - such as running - away from how your body wants to move is going to create wear and tear that is going to reveal itself at some point.

    It is nice that more attention is being brought to this issue.

  • Jennifer Brackert
    Jennifer Brackert May 14, 2009 at 8:14 am

    The chart of Newton's shoe performance looks impressive, until you look at the actual shoe models they chose for comparison. The Brooks T5 is a racing shoe, not a trainer. Would anyone doubt its forefront would be much less cushioning than any training shoe? The Asics chosen, the GT-2120 is a mid quality shoe - you'll find it on Amazon for under $60. Why didn't Newton choose to compare their shoe to Asics top cushioned trainer ( which is still less expensive than all Newton trainers)? I am not knocking your shoes, but your integrity.
    I entirely agree with the forefoot running movement, gave up heel striking years ago ( and in pain) and am excited about the concepts behind Newton shoes. Your cheap science though really undermines my faith in your message. If you're going to present "scientific" evidence to sell your shoes, please apply scientific rigor.

    • Sir Isaac


      Thanks for your comment on our shoe testing. Because we've basically had to create the tests from scratch (no one was evaluating forefoot cushioning before us), the 'science' is still evolving. A few responses:

      1. The forefoot of our trainer is identical to our racer so comparison with the Brooks T5 is valid.
      2. The GT-2120 has virtually the same forefoot as their more expensive models, but is a much bigger seller.
      3. The Mizuno Waverider tests the best of any shoe we know of, Saucony Hurricane is another top selling, performance shoe.
      4. Testing is on-going, we haven't tested everything yet (but there is a lot more data on the way.)

      Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more results. For example, we've just recently tested the Ecco Biom and the K-Swiss Kona.

      Sir Isaac

  • John Passacantando
    John Passacantando August 10, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I am a very happy Newton convert, having been successfully running in a pair I bought on June 30. The forefoot strike makes logical sense and works. What I don't understand is why the heel is still so thick, as the 22-18 and 23-18 ratios given in this blog indicate. In other words, the heels of Newtons are as thick as on the New Balances. Why not just make them level like with racing flats?

    Thank you.


  • Ian


    Good questions.

    Racing flats are actually 20-10 which is still a 10 mm drop, anything but level (or flat for that matter!) Newton Performance Racers are 22-18, a 4 mm drop (less than 1/6 inch), which is very close to level and as you can see are 60% less drop of a "racing flat."

    The 4 mm drop or lift, depending on how you look at it, allows people adjust more easily to a lower geometry. Some people still find this adjustment stressful, which you would expect considering just about everyone has been running in shoes with the 1/2 inch lift for the last 30 years.

    Any adaptation of this magnitude, effectively stretching out the posterior soft tissues of your lower leg by 1/2 inch, takes time and patience. The classic "pushing over a wall" calf stretch is a good representation of what people want to do when running. They are chronically shortening their tendons etc. and want to stretch them out again. Same thing with the hamstring stretch.

    The reason for any thickness in a shoe is to provide cushioning and in Newton's case energy return as well. You could make a very thin shoe like a Vibram five fingers but achieving adequate cushion and energy return with today's technology is difficult or impossible, at least for a price people would pay for a shoe.

    Technology exists to incorporate microprocessor controlled on-the-fly adjustment (used in above the knee prosthetics), but your shoes would be $50K each.

    As it turns out we are studying the effect of zero drop shoes on gait patterns and lower leg biomechnics. Early indications are that it is a reasonable evolution for people accustom to a 4 mm drop.

    Happy running,

    Dir. Product Development
    Newton Running

  • John Passacantando
    John Passacantando August 11, 2009 at 6:18 am


    That is a very helpful reply. Which leads me to two more questions if you don't mind:

    1. If our bodies could make the adjustment, would a shoe with zero lift be optimal biomechanically?

    2. If so, might you roll out a shoe that takes it down a notch, or down to zero for those of us already training on your low lift shoes?

    Lastly, I want to compliment Newton on the shoes and on the information that goes with them. I converted my stride with a pair of Newtons beginning six weeks ago. The information was key. The sales rep at a terrific running store (Pacer's in Arlington, VA) knew her stuff. Combining that with all the information on the Newton website made this experiment possible. You are very clear about the pains and adjustments one feels in the achilles and ankles when making the switch. It came on like clockwork but, with regular rest, also faded quickly. The soreness is gone even with runs up to 10 miles.

    Keep up the great work.


  • John Passacantando

    OK, so no reply, just let me clarify what I am asking for here. I don't want trade secrets and I really don't need you to give me some kind of inside scoop on upcoming products. I am an aging boomer with a running addiction. Your shoes are terrific. Your company philosophy is stellar. I just want you to think of yourselves, in addition to being some kind of cool, Outside Magazine, buff 20 something ultra tri-athlete shoe company, as MY shoe company. And if I run regularly, every 3-6 months I will need new shoes for road, trails and races. I don't want to be a pro. I have a career. But I want you to be my running shoe company. Think about things that way when you think about what new products to roll out. Charge me more, it's OK. I don't want anything to do with unfair labor, cost cutting that hurts people or the environment. I want to know that manufacturing is fair to workers, ecological, clean. Get it? I want more.


    • Sir Isaac

      Hi John,

      Apologies for my hiatus, work beckons constantly in a micro company.

      Great feedback and thoughts, you are talking our language and philosophy. After all we are more than just a shoes company and do many things, publicized and not because its RIGHT. Everyone who works at Newton is passionate about the running, the business and the products. In fact we span the gamut from 20 something social media mavens to 60 something lifetime runners, pro and ex-pro athletes, and recreational runners. Many of us, OK there aren't many of us, so some of us are here because we are on second or third careers and simply want to contribute to the greater good - encourage the athletic lifestyle, give back where it counts, maintain social responsibility and environmental awareness. It isn't always easy, or even economically smart at time, but it is RIGHT for us.

      Regarding zero drop shoes, we are working on them in the form of a sub 7 oz racing flat. We do have a concern that people used to running in the standard 12 mm heel lift will not take the time to adjust and give themselves problems. Obviously easier to adapt to out performance trainer first, then the racer and finally the light weight racer.


      Ian (Adamson)

  • John Passacantando


    Thanks. I will surely buy a pair of those racing flats when they come out. In terms of feedback that might be useful for new converts, here's something I learning since I last wrote to you. I followed all the advice on the website about how to slowly change my stride over. I had temporary aches and pains: all shins, calves, ankles. Nothing severe. All minor adjustments. As they evaporated, I began to increase my mileage. I was extremely happy with the results. Then my ego took over and I cranked up a really long run, compared to what I had been doing. No problem. I did this several more times capped with a two hour run on a gnarly mountain trail.

    Over the next several days one of my heels swelled up pretty badly. I ultimately had to stop running for two weeks. Eased back into it and now I am floating along again with that midfoot stride. What happened? As I got tired on those long runs I let my form get sloppy, straightened up, instead of using the forward lean, and started landing with more and more weight on my heel. I didn't even realize it. It's worth emphasizing even more to your readers.

    Keep those shoes coming.

    Thank you.


  • Newton, Clog & Moc Runner
    Newton, Clog & Moc Runner May 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Glad to know you're working on a zero drop sub 7 oz racing flat. I'm ready. I'd like to see it with a wide and roomy toe space, and without a turned-up toe box.

  • Allen Reid

    Hi Ian,

    I think Newton is trying too hard to build shock absorption and energy return into their shoes. Once a person has adjusted to the barefoot style of running, a flexible light-weight moccasin can be the perfect running shoe. The body learns to cushion the stride and the tendons work to provide energy return. We need a very light weight shoe that stays on the foot and and protects us from pointy things. Such shoes are available for $87 dollars.


  • Harry Hollines

    Ian, can you provide an update on the status of a potential zero drop shoe by Newton? I run exclusively in Terra Plana Evo's and KSOs so I would be very interested in having another shoe option. I like to rotate shoes so I would buy a pair but I only run in zero dropped shoes. I also run in the Nike Free 3.0 which I have the cobbler zero drop. I hear what you are saying about potential injuries but unless you are a heel striker, there should not be a major adjustment to a zero drop shoe with enough cushioning (at least 6mm sole) for beginners. I prefer less than 6mm but that would work for me.


  • Katie Jones

    I have been running in the Universal racer for months and after a fairly long breaking in period now love them. I have just bought a pair of All Weather trainers for longer runs - in the North of England will need the extra protection! The shoes are really wide over the forefoot though, and i normally have a wide foot. The material is folding when I pull them tight enough. Do they come in different widths or is this just not the shoe for me? Maybe I should try a size smaller but might then sacrifice length. Advice please!

    • Sir Isaac

      Hi Katie,

      Don't worry if the forefoot is wide. Newtons are designed that way so that there is sufficient room for your foot to spread upon impact, thus dissipating some of the forces generated by the strike. In fact, you shouldn't over-tighten the laces—it might feel strange at first to wear your shoes relatively loose but you will get used to it after a while and it will allow you to get the most out of your shoes. Thanks for being in touch!

      Sir Isaac

  • Kris

    Sir Isaac,

    My foot is wide due to a bunion. I popped right through the Sir Isaac (marketed as up to "D" width) even though in a D width my Asics 2130s last ~300 miles before breaking through. (The Asics have more plastic there where my bunion is.)

    Should I move to the Sir Isaac "Wide" and not be concerned that it is too wide?

    Secondly, I have worn orthotics that have been made by Active Imprints in my Asics. Should I be getting a new set of those custom to the Sir Isaacs? Or should I be trying to break away from using them as I transition to Newton Running shoes? Is there guidance from Newton in terms of orthotics? Especially when I'm using ones from Danny's company?! I was a plantar fasciitis sufferer until I got the orthotics. Bingo, gone...

    Thanks for the info!

  • James Dunn

    I am all for a low heel to toe drop. I was quite dissapointed when I tried on a pair of Newton's. They have something worse than a heel to toe drop. When I landed on my forefoot like I do when running barefoot, they have no support under the toes and jam my toes into the ground. Just putting some lugs under the forefoot with a big drop off under the toes seems very unnatural to me. Maybe this works for flat footed runners that never push off with their toes but I didn't buy them. I just need a flat rubber sole to keep from being poked by rocks, thorns, glass, and acorns. I need a toes guard for the occational trip over an unseen stob. That is why I have no interest in the Vibram Five toe shoe.

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