Barefoot Running Goes Ballistic

Barefoot running was one of the most talked about trends in the running industry last year. From the bestselling book Born To Run, to the explosive growth of the Vibram Five Fingers, runners everywhere seem to be talking about barefoot running.

Well, the buzz about barefoot running is about to hit a fever pitch. As we've talked about in previous posts, Harvard anthropologist Dan Lieberman has been studying the evolution of human running for several years. Dr. Lieberman has just published the results of his study in the journal Nature and the mainstream media is running (cough) with the story.

For those of you who listen to NPR on the drive home, you might have heard this story on "All Things Considered" today.  The story is also available on and features a pretty interesting video:

Not surprisingly, Vibram Five Fingers are also getting a lot of attention from the media (Vibram sponsored Lieberman's study). The Five Fingers clearly help people to try barefoot running, while providing some protection from rocks, glass, etc.

How do Newton Running shoes compare to Vibram Five Fingers?

As we talked about in the previous post, Newton's are built for Natural Running but some of you may be wondering how Newtons compare to Vibrams. Amanda Brooks asked just that on her blog, Run to the Finish, and Newton Running's Director of Education and Research, Ian Adamson, had this response:

"Running Newton Shoes and Vibram Five Fingers have many similarities, at least from a form perspective. The primary difference is the cushioning and energy return provided by Newtons, which is largely absent in Vibrams.

Newton Gravity Trainer: 3mm heel-to-forefoot drop / 2.0% gradient Newton Gravity Trainer: 3mm heel-to-forefoot drop / 2.0% gradient

Both Newton Performance Racers and Vibrams have a 2 mm heel lift, or toe drop depending on how you look at it. This translates into a 1.3% gradient in the shoe, also referred to as ramp angle or drop. Newton Performance Trainers have a 2% gradient, which although very small, can be felt by aware runners. Regular running shoes have a much steeper angle, up to 15% depending on the shoe.


Asics Gel Kayano 15: 22mm heel-to-forefoot drop / 14.7% gradient Asics Gel Kayano 15: 22mm heel-to-forefoot drop / 14.7% gradient

Barefoot running forces you to run efficiently and preventatively with respect to injury. Vibram's allow people to experience barefoot running with an added layer of protection from harsh surfaces, while Newton's go one step further, adding forefoot cushioning and  a significant energy return component.

Newton shoes are much kinder to the body's structure and musculature when transitioning from a traditional running shoe to barefoot, and allow you to perfect a natural (barefoot) form while providing protection and cushioning.

Newton's Action/Reaction Technology has been carefully designed to facilitate afferent feedback, which means the nerves in your forefoot feel the ground very quickly through the shoe. This is achieved through the outer lugs and internal semi-rigid chamber that is connected to the biomechanical top plate adjacent to your foot inside the shoe.

Traditional shoe cushioning mechanisms dampens afferent feedback, hampering proprioception and thus hindering your ability to self-regulate the impact of your foot strike. Studies show that runners strike much harder in cushioned shoes, one of the causes of injury. Running barefoot or in shoes that allow you to sense the ground encourage you to run protectively."

Bottom line is that both Vibrams and Newtons encourage a barefoot or natural running style, but Newtons make it easier for most runners to transition their form after years of wearing 'traditional' running shoes.

9 thoughts on “Barefoot Running Goes Ballistic”

  • Matt

    Well I went from asics gel kayano 15 shoes to the five finger sprints I have now basicly over night with no transition. All I did was start by walking around in them a few days and then today I ran a mile. I plan on increasing the distance a little each day. It was easy for me to transition to them. You guys have fun running in marshmallow shoes while I build muscle on my feet and ankles that you have never used before.

  • Pablo

    I'm starting to think that the forefoot cushioning present under the Newtons, while addressing one problem (less drop from heel to toes) is creating an "unknown". Now there's a cushioning protuberance under the balls of our feet. Who knows how that will affect our stride, stability, balance and distribution of impact along our soles? It's just an unknown. I'm a fan of Newton shoes. Just a wondering, curious fan.

  • [...] research funding was backed by Vibram Five Fingers so take it how you will. Newton has weighed in on some of this recently too, in an effort to show the world how their shoes can mimic the minimal [...]

  • Tim

    Personally, I find the whole notion of barefoot running an anomaly unless running natures trails. My wife (an aesthetician) says its a podiatric nightmare.

  • [...] too technical, read this) sparked a quick response at the running front which was aptly titled: Barefoot Running Goes Ballistic. Well, as a Newton Running blog, the post quickly turned into a Newton vs Vibram discussion. But [...]

  • Jessica

    For Newton - one of the biggest differences I see is that your shoes still offer "guidance." Which, according to many barefoot ideas, is the opposite of what we need. The point is to let your feet do the work - and become stronger. While your shoe may be less than a built up Nike/Asics/etc., and promote a midfoot landing (definitely part of the barefoot idea), it still is a shoe that changes how a person runs, and how they physiologically react as they run.

  • Adrian

  • Elias

    Don't need my wife for judgement as Tim does :-) and have been running in VFF for a good month now. Converted from heel- to midfoot stride and find it unbelievable how soon my foot changed and became incredibly more muscular within that month. Suffering from flat feet before but my arches started to lift just by building up muscles. Never suffered from any pain, building up mileage slowly.
    The probably best argument for at least including some barefoot training into your exercise is that homo sapiens ran without running shoes for almost 2 million years so that is what we are built for, not for using running shoes.
    If you do want to change to barefoot I would recommend to take it slowly, though. Shoes have weakened your feet too long so you need to get used to it.

  • j 41 shoes

    Hi,that’s a damn good checklist!any chance you could make it into a pdf for us all?


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