Natural Running Efficiency: Using Elasticity in the Lower Leg

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”

  • Theo

    Very good article!

  • Thomas

    It makes so much sense, yet our bodies and other shoe manufactures have strayed away from those basic and simple principles.

  • David Asetoyer
    David Asetoyer July 28, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Elastic recoil is enhanced when I wear my Newton Running Shoes!

  • Codie Williams

    I found this article through your facebook page. This is is just amazing. I bought my shoes a few weeks ago and have been breaking in my legs slowly! My achilles are most certainly feeling it! My pace has already improved significantly and it has cleared up the tendonitis I had in my knee. The 180 BPM section was exactly what my physical therapist told me! INCREDIBLE!


  • Audrey Parpart
    Audrey Parpart July 28, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Very good article, and goes along with all the things I've read on barefoot/natural running. As one training for her first 5K, and wanting to run it barefoot/natural, it's good to know that Newton Running knows there stuff!
    I'm currently at that 180 steps per minute, and need to work on maintaining that throughout the run.
    Of course would love a pair of Newtons to train in!

  • Jen


    Would any pair of Newton shoes fit the criteria listed above?

  • Russ

    Super article! A great explanation of how all that anatomy works.

  • Andrea Kavouklis
    Andrea Kavouklis July 28, 2011 at 7:11 am

    This helps to explain my experience that Newtons are a flat out faster shoe. But I heard there is actually a University study that proves runners run faster in Newtons. Where can we see this study?

  • Chris

    I completely agree with this. When I went to a mid-sole stride and increased my cadence my times began to drop but I felt more comfortable running. Newtons of course helped :O]

  • Rosey Bertoluzza
    Rosey Bertoluzza July 28, 2011 at 7:11 am

    I never would've imagined that I needed my foot to flex the way Newton has described. I always crammed my foot into a running shoe that I thought was my size. Thanks to Newton's and their great explanation, I have been able to fit myself properly for their shoe and be almost completely injury free since. I've always been a forefoot striker so always had problems with conventional shoes. With a bigger shoe size, my foot flexes the way it is suppose to, as mentioned above. Thanks Newton Running!!!

  • Robert Stuart
    Robert Stuart July 28, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Do heel lifts for Achilles issues defeat the purpose of level running shoes?

  • Jerry

    In the last month or two, I've been experimenting with a more rapid cadence and have noticed significantly less tendonitis in my Achilles.

  • Jeff DeGarmo

    I was trying to explain to someone the other day about the 180 step optimal cadence. This will help clarify what I attempted to tell them. The Newton Distancia trainers are on my wish list. I have a birthday in a couple of months. Hope my wife is reading this, too!

  • Charles

    Fascinating! I hope I win the shoes.

  • Kris Kuhn

    I agree with how cadence affects efficiency! My running has definitely improved since I've started concentrating on 180 steps per minute. And I love running in my trail Newtons! Hoping to try the road version soon!

  • Jake Castonia

    Great article. It really explains a lot of mysterious feelings I was having when I ran in regular, big drop running shoes. I have recently made the full transition into Newtons, and now that o have, it feels very awkward running in anything else. I also was not aware of the lacing issue. I will try to loosen my laces a bit.

  • Jessica

    Interesting bit on the afferent feedback! More info for my arsenal of natural running info.

  • Cara Garcia

    I can vouch for the effect of Newton's on running ability, I used to have horrible knee pain if I ran for more than a mile or two. I started running in Newton's less than a year ago and I'm doing a marathon in a couple of weeks - no more pain! My feet also used to hurt if I walked around barefoot for too long (without any support) and since I started running in Newtons that hasn't happened at all.

  • Takahiro Ito

    I previously had lots of running injuries that prohibited me from training and competing in races. Ever since I changed to Newton, I have not had a single problem. Thank you.

  • Rich

    Very good information here. I have been running in newtons for a while now but have been using a plastic orthotic insert. Thanks again for the great info.

  • Chelsea

    I am very happy with my Lady Isaac Newtons, and I can say that wearing them has definitely made me a more efficient runner. I wear them everywhere, on the trail, in the park, on the roads, on the track! I can't wait to try a racer shoe next!

  • Darren Wrigley

    great article, i usually use yankz instead of laces but i'll have to check that they are loose enough.

  • Lauren

    These are great tips, and all things I have seen improvement in since I have transitioned to a more natural form of running in my Newtons! I would love to see a post about drills and exercises for increasing cadence...I still seem to struggle, especially on my long runs, with keeping a high cadence.

  • Autumn Thompson
    Autumn Thompson July 28, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Very informative. This really helped. My feet sometimes tingle or start to feel numb when I run. I new it had to do something with my shoes, but now I have a clearer explanation. Thank you!

  • David Pittman (@DP_Turtle)

    I had heard most of this before (having attended a Newton clinic at my local running store), but I didn't know about not lacing the shoes too tightly. Good tip!

  • Jarrett Wyatt
    Jarrett Wyatt July 28, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Great point about tight lacing. I'll make a note to myself to loosen them up a bit.

  • Brian Lueb

    Happy relaxed feet in enough space = happy relaxed running

  • Kendall

    I need to find a good pair of shoes, and change my running pattern. I currently have plantar faciitis in my right foot, and am having problems with it.

  • Steve

    The plantar fascia piece of this article really hit home to me. I've suffered mild cases of plantar fascia and think that part of the problem is in my bulky shoes. Great article! I'm in on trying some Newton's.

  • Alicia Levesque
    Alicia Levesque July 28, 2011 at 7:18 am

    About six months ago, I switched from Newtons to Brooks Green Silence. Although I loved the way the shoes looked, got many compliments on them, I am regretting the switch to this day. After only 2 months of using the Brooks, I developed Plantar fasciitis. Without thinking it could be my $100 shoes, I continued to wear them, drastically reducing the length of my achilles tendon. Not only was it extremely painful (and still is), it has really slowed my pace down. I have switched back to Newtons and am slowly fixing my problems. I can not stress the importance of proper shoes, and for me, Newtons fit the bill!

  • Scott Balin

    LOVE my Newtons. I am on my third pair and am a firm believer in their technology!
    Great article...I was a "tight lacer" back in the day!

  • Robert

    Great shoes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You gotta try them cuz you won't be disappointed!!!

  • Carter Nevill
    Carter Nevill July 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Thanks as always for the great advice and guidance. Every day is a journey and a chance for improvement--both in form and mind. The more natural my form becomes, the more I can channel my energy to the mind and the pure enjoyment of motion.

  • Sreenath Raparti
    Sreenath Raparti July 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

    By decreasing the tension on the Achilles tendon we, as a result reduce strain tibial bone and muscle structure and when we do this it allows for much more potential in our running ability.

  • Lisa Albrecht
    Lisa Albrecht July 28, 2011 at 7:20 am

    I have a confession to make. A few months ago I experimented with a different type of shoe and within two weeks I had severe issues on the arch of my foot and a seriously unhappy achilles. Immediately after starting to run in Newton's again, I experienced relief. I have experienced all of the above issues first hand. I won't make that mistake again.

  • Wendy Mader

    Great article. I definitely need to wear a half size larger shoe, especially while racing an Ironman/marathon. Thanks Newton!

  • John

    This is spot on. When I made the shift to forefoot strike I dropped a minute off my pace immediately with minimal perceived extra effort. Huge difference in efficiency. Also opens the door to being able to run in almost any shoe on the planet.

  • Jessica

    Thanks for the information. I find myself buying shoes with less and less drop as time goes on - for weight and because it's greatly improved my stride and speed.

  • Erika

    I always wondered how much room should be at the top of my running shoe. After losing a big toenail it's nice to know the rule about the thumb's width. Thanks!

  • Ben

    I was just discussing this concept with a non-Newton training partner. Now I have some data to back up my point! Thanks!

  • Gena Barnhill
    Gena Barnhill July 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

    This was enlightening for me, because even though I have Newtons, I never realized that lacing my shoe too tightly could be affecting my form as well. Understanding the science behind the natural form just allows it all to make sense. As a new Newton owner, I have noticed that my cadence has increased naturally. I tried running slower to conserve energy in extreme heat on one run, and it was actually much harder. Love my Newtons! Great article that helps explain the basics of "why". Thanks!

  • Eric Bloemers
    Eric Bloemers July 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Newtons have been a god send for me!! last year I was battling with a painful stress fracture and knee problems, and now after a natural running clinic, I have no more problems!! Newtons ROCK!!

  • david harper

    Brilliant article. Can't wait to try newton efficient running.

  • Bas

    For treatment of Plantar Fascitis, patients are told not to go barefoot, yet the boot-splints to treat it provide dorsiflexion. By not going barefoot, aren't patients forced into plantarflexion in most shoes? How do Newtons fit in here?

  • Erik Golbiw

    Very interesting article about proper FITTING shoes. Will this help lead to reduced damage to my big toes (black toenail syndrome)?

  • Pam Kassner

    I have owned a new pair of Newtons every six months since they first came a hat...socks and hopefully soon your Tri kit.

  • mark freid

    I have been wanting to try Newtons, have always worn a traditional shoe but am up for a change.

  • Rachel

    It's so good and encouraging to finally hear something that makes sense about running. I've run all my life and now I'm a collegiate athlete. I've been having foot problems for almost a year now and after being in orthotics and multiple doctor visits, the doctors just told me it would be better for me to stop running. I told them that wasn't an option. Soon after, I discovered Newtons. I've been running in mine for about 2 months and I'm having almost NO problems. Now that I understand how my Lady Isaacs are supposed to fit, I suspect my running will improve even more!

  • Cameron Debity
    Cameron Debity July 28, 2011 at 7:27 am

    Excellent article. Though transitioning to a more natural form of running has been tough on my lower legs, research like this motivates me to press on in the process. I can now run 4.5 miles in my Newtons without any pain! Stride is much more efficient too!

  • Gizelle

    I can agree more than high heal will make the achilles tendon short since I started running with Newtons last year it became more obvious I really pity people running with those high heal running shoes. Keep the good work Newton!


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