Natural Running Efficiency: Using Elasticity in the Lower Leg

Posted by on Thursday, July 28, 2011 @ 11:09 am | 212 Replies

By Douglas Bertram, MTCM, L.Ac.. Director of Field Marketing at Newton Running

Several studies have shown a direct link between Achilles tendon length and the amount of energy the tendon can store. The tendo-muscular structures of the posterior lower leg often become shortened by wearing shoes with an elevated heel. Shorter tendo-muscular structures significantly reduce the elastic recoil potential; therefore it is recommended to wear level running shoes. The ramp angle or heel-toe drop is determined by measuring the difference of height between the heel and the forefoot of a shoe. A heel-toe drop of more than 3-4mm will start to change the ability for the tissue of the posterior leg to store and release energy.

The plantar fascia also acts as an important spring. When landing on the mid-foot/forefoot with the foot under the center of mass, the longitudinal arch should lengthen. This lengthening of the arch stretches the plantar fascia and aids in shock absorption as well as increased elastic recoil. By releasing the stored energy from the plantar fascia, significantly less active muscular effort is needed to lift the foot back off the ground. Less active push off means less wasted energy. In order for the arch to naturally lengthen there must be enough room in the shoe. Ridged structures “supporting” the arch do not allow for this natural motion. Stiff running shoes and rigid hard plastic orthotics might have a place for some foot pathologies, but will significantly alter the natural spring mechanics of efficient running.

A slow cadence has the same effect of reducing efficiency. Optimal cadence is around 180 steps per minute because this is the speed of which tendon is able to store and release energy. It is the frequency of elastic recoil. Shoes that are made of soft “cushioned” EVA foam will slow down your cadence because it interferes with the body’s ability to sense the ground. The more “cushion” between your foot and the ground, the more time your foot will stay on the ground due to a reduction in afferent feedback. The quicker the foot can find the ground, become stable and release, the quicker your cadence will become. Most people will speed up their cadence by 10 -15 steps per minute by running barefoot or in lightweight firm shoes (firm under the ball of the foot, not the arch). Look for a shoe that offers a good amount of protection, yet gives good afferent feedback. This will help you take advantage of the passive energy of elastic recoil and make you a more efficient runner.

Finding The Proper Fit

Standing with your heels pulled to the back of your shoes, you should have at least a thumb’s width in front of your longest toe. Many people wear their shoes too short, too narrow and laced too tight. The unshod foot freely spreads upon loading, allowing the spring-like mechanism of the longitudinal arch to lengthen, and the transverse arch (from the 1st to the 5th metatarsal head) to widen. The spreading of the foot aides in both shock absorption and stabilization, as well as helps facilitate the mechanics of elastic recoil. If the shoe is too narrow and the arch too stiff, natural motion of the foot is prevented.

Lacing a shoe too tightly is a habit that forms from running in a shoe with a significant ramp angle, where the foot tends to slide forward, thus creating the need to lace tightly to prevent this motion. When transitioning into a level shoe, there is not the same need to stop this forward motion. The foot needs room to rise and fall to be efficient.


212 thoughts on “Natural Running Efficiency: Using Elasticity in the Lower Leg

  1. Aiyana P

    I tried on the Gravitas and the Lady Issac tonight, and I couldn’t make up my mind. I have a shortened achilles in one leg due to surgery years ago, and I am really interested to see which shoe works better with my orthotic, which I didn’t have with me. Very interesting to learn about the Achilles tendon length and it’s effect on recoil. I’m going to keep reading your articles and saving my pennies! I could tell such a difference in running with the Newton’s on!

  2. patricia

    Love reading your articles! Well I purchased my Newtons at a running store and now know that they are a size too small according to this article and they tied my shoes too tight…I knew they tied my shoes too tight (so I fixed that asap, I hate tight laces) but the shoes felt like they fit. I guess in a few months I will try a 1/2 size up. I love my Newtons!

  3. Mindee Larsen

    Thanks for the amazing contest. Awesome article. I run 6 miles a day so these would be AWESOME! Also tweeted @mindee7

  4. hminnesota

    I just confirmed my belief the cons of tightening the shoe laces a bit more. Thanks for the great article and contest.

  5. Rob Rypma

    Great thought provoking article! The more I read about Newton the more excited I become about these shoes. I have received recommendations to purchase from some very respected runners and coaches. I only wish there was a store in my area so I could try some on before making the purchase.

  6. Daniel Salyers

    Great idea for a contest. A little bit of learning mixed with a fun contest. Here is hoping this gets me my gravity trainers!!

  7. Marinda Salyers

    I agree about not having your laces to tight. I learned the hard way. I fist had many runs with numb toes…now I always run with looser laces.

  8. Amy Gosch

    I’ve always had looser laces, because tighter ones hurt! Even on other running shoes. I have horrible memories about my soccer cleats…they wouldn’t stay on my feet without being laced tight, but man did those tight laces hurt. Probably was a sign I should have gotten new ones, but I never did… But I regularly get comments on how loosely my laces are tied on my running shoes, because I can slip in and out of them without untying them. But any tighter does hurt.

    I love my Newtons. Even got a pair for hiking.

  9. 'becca

    I moved from up a 1/2 size, putting me in a whole size larger than normal when I purchased my 2nd pair of Newtons. The first pair has fewer miles, but I can’t even imagine trying to run in it. It seems way to tight and so it gets left out of the show rotation.

  10. Joe Herman

    How do you recommend a transition to natural runing for those of us with particularly tight achilles, and plantar fascia? Previous attempts have been painful. Winning the free pair of Newts would be a good start ;)

  11. anotherjeff

    It seems almost counterintuitive, more steps = less injury but once you’re broken in it’s not a problem. I almost didn’t want to go faster at first because I was worried I’d tire out.

  12. Neil Guess

    The more and more I educate myself from your postings regarding natural running makes me wonder why not only myself but the entire running population from the beginning runner to Nike and Asics research and development teams that we all don’t run in level shoes. Love my Sir Isaac S.

  13. jeff pritchard

    After 25 years of running, I don’t take change easily…….but this is one change I will make!

  14. Kim C

    i always have trouble finding the right shoe for me….thanks for the advice on how to find a proper fit. i admit, i am one who ties my shoelaces to tight.., now i know why i need to break that habit.

  15. Roni MCachrsn

    Buying and running in my Newtons has helped so much, in so many areas, with my running. I can’t image wearing any other shoe. I love them!

  16. ManofGod

    I think this is great information. As a runner who uses multiple 4 mm drop or lower shoes, I definitely have noticed the benefits of a flatter shoe. I transitioned to lower drop shoes after my first half marathon. I saw run photos and noticed that I was severely over striding and heel striking. Before that race, I had begun researching different running forms and methodologies. I was two thirds of my way through my training when I discovered information on the lower drop shoe. It was too late to incorporate a new shoe with a 4 mm drop into my routine. At the race, I purchased a 4mm drop shoe from the expo. After finishing the race and recovering, I tested the new shoes. Immediately, my min/mike times wen down by 10-15 secs. I only purchase low drop shoes now. After much testing, I have found that I prefer a shoe with some cushion. I run in zero drop, zero cushioned shoes to work on my form. I am not a forefoot striker, but I mostly land on my midfoot on my right foot and mid to heel on the left.
    To sum it up, I believe each runner has to experiment to find the balance of what is optimal for their biomechanics and comfort.

  17. Andrea Wells

    I recently changed from a highly cushioned shoe to one in which I am using a stiff, plastic insole. The upside is that the pain I had been experiencing in my knees, ankles, and hips has mostly gone away, and the downside, of course, is the wondering if things could be even better in a pair of Newtons. I am definitely considering a pair for the future. Thanks for the great article and for the many inspiring FB posts!

  18. Erin

    Great article, but I have a silly question that has been bugging me for awhile. How does one find their cadence? I have no idea how many steps per minute I take when I run.

  19. Beau Carlson

    Love my newtons. Switched from rotating lunar, free, and air max to sir isaacs. I am cheap so I kinda choked on the price. I popped the lug membrane at 75 miles and was taken care of at Road Runner. Deffinently getting a new pair when I wear these out tho.

  20. MLyons

    Very informative article. I started investigating more about form after an injury put the brakes on my running. I love the Newton shoes because they just make sense once you understand how the foot works while running as stated in the article.

  21. Brian Hawkins

    I was a forefoot striker before switching to Newtons so I was a little reluctant to change to something new. I did as much research as I could to include the videos on the Newton website, articles such as these and talking to runners that have worn Newtons. Finally after several months I gave them a shot. What I discovered was that even though I had a fairly efficient gait, the built up heel on the unmentionable brand I was wearing still got in the way. Since wearing the Gravity I have increased my efficiency and have improved overall as a runner. I wont wear another brand ever again.

  22. Shan

    Newton fit is truly different. My dress shoe size is a 7.5, my regular running shoe size is an 8.5. and my very comfy Newtons are a 9.5.

  23. Silvia Toma

    So true, I’ve been working to increase my cadence due to plantar fasciaitis issue and I’ve been running with a light shoe (Newton universal racer) and my foot issue are gone and I’ve gone from a 11 min mile to an 8:10. Thanks for the great article.

  24. Brad Patterson

    Great article, I have been interested in trying a pair of newtons for quite some time.

  25. dani lindblom

    i love newtons because they are so light. i feel like i am running faster and use short, quick steps.

  26. Rick Wintheiser

    These shoes are FANTASTIC! I credit them and natural running with my lack of any substantive injuries to date! I also have increase my cadence and am working my way to +170.

  27. Eva Esquivel

    I love my Newtwons. I wear the Motus Motion and get a lot of comments from other runners on my running style. There are only two stores in San Antonio that sell them, so they are a topic of conversation when I am with a new group. I like the information about lacing the shoes and having room for your foot to move. I heard there is a way to lace your shoes to save your toenails. Do you have any suggestions?

  28. Daniel

    I’ve noticed this! I used to have to lace up my running shoes really tight, but in my two years of running in newtons now they feel much better loose. It does mean that I have to run with a soft sock since there is some abrasion with the shoe’s insole. So here’s my suggestion, Newton: switch to an insole with more skin friendly surface. It’d be great to be able to run without socks!

    Oh, and can’t wait for the MV2!

  29. Danna

    Love my Newtons too! Last year I developed shin splints while training for my first half marathon. I didn’t want to quit training, so I splurged on Newtons in an act of desperation. They have been well worth it. Training continued, beat my race goal by 5 minutes, and I’ve put many more miles on them since. I’m most excited about the MV2s!

  30. Greg Kredell

    I attended a Newton running clinic last weekend and learned so much great information on why proper posture and mechanics are so important to running. Everything I have read from Newton has been 100% accurate and I am looking forward to becoming a certified coach for Newton and ambassador for the revolution! The Natural Running Movement is the only wayto go!

  31. Jarrod McGee

    “Optimal cadence is around 180 steps per minute because this is the speed of which tendon is able to store and release energy. It is the frequency of elastic recoil.”
    ….the first time I’ve ever heard WHY 180spm is the optimal cadence. Great article. Thanks!

  32. fernando

    I use to run and I would always get pain in my knees after the first mile. I would keep running because I thought if it didn’t hurt then it wouldn’t be so hard. After a while I stopped running altogether. Got some newton’s less than 2 months ago, took a clinic in San Diego, and I haven’t felt any pain in the knees and I am up to 4 miles. I am very overweight so the fact that I have this extra weights and my knees do not hurt is amazing. Looking forward to my first marathon in January with these puppies.

  33. Ken Fisher

    Great post! Oddly enough, I recently began to realize after reading “Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running” (by Danny Abshire) the importance of understanding how the foot operates, and how important it is to allow for freedom of movement. With that, I began to allow my toes to spread and loosened my laces. What a difference! I also began added another “body check” into my routine…how are my arches supporting my run?

    Again, great post! Thanks!

  34. Gary Krienitz

    I love my newtons. The old neutral trainers had a design that led the mesh to tear in the front upper near the little toes. I dont know why this happened to me it just did. Maybe I started running to far forward on my tip toes. This being said, I had a major blow out in my right shoe just prior to the Ragnar 200 mile relay from Madison to Chicago. The local running store was out of my size Newtons and I ended up running in the Nike free 5.0. MISTAKE. I developed so many Achilles problems from running in those shoes. I ended up needing physical therapy and ART. Don’t ever run in anything but newtons. I have gone through several pairs of newtons since then and everything is pain free. Oh bye the way. Customer service contacted my local running store via email and they replaced the torn shoes for free. Thank you Newton

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