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Natural Running Program Reduces Injury Among Air Force Personnel

Posted by on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 @ 10:35 am | 3 Replies

 

Capt. Levi Severson (in white hat) is a Newton athlete and certified Natural Running coach.

(This article originally appeared in L.A. Air Force Base Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Quarterly newsletter.)

Written by Captain Levi Severson, SBIRS CTF & Air Force Marathon Team Captain

Most individuals in the Air Force recognize the importance of fitness to our mission, especially given our deployment tempo. What you may not know is running has risen to the #2 cause of recreational injury in the USAF (2010).

In addition, the Fitness Assessment (FA) failure rate is above 10% on average, and as high as 28% at some bases. The overall cost of injury and FA failure is high when medical, physical therapy and administrative time, are factored in.

These problems led to creation of the USAF Efficient Running Working Group (ERWG) last year. Thanks to the initiative of several doctors and other running-industry leaders, the knowledge gleaned from the natural-running movement will hopefully make its way to Airmen everywhere via Health and Wellness Centers and make running more fun for all.

The ERWG has yet to be approved for implementation, but the intent is to provide education on form, online support, year-round training programs, teaching strategies, instruction on interpreting video gait analysis, certification of instructors, and education for medical staff. Due to my involvement with AF Sports and experience with teaching natural running form, I have recently been more involved with the ERWG and wanted to share some of the concepts with more Airmen.

The Relationship Between Form, Footwear and Injury

You can reduce your chance of injury by relearning the biomechanics you had as a child. I doubt the children in our lives put much thought into how they run since it is more natural to them. However, after years of running in shoes with an elevated heel and being coached to run with a heel strike, adults find it challenging to relean “natural” form.

Starting in the late 1970s, running shoes began featuring increasingly cushioned heels, which creates a six to 14% ramp angle. This angle tilts your posture forward and puts you off balance. This instability increases unnatural forces on the knees, hips and back.

What is Natural Running?

An AF Sports team member, Lt Col (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella, describes the fundamentals of natural running on www.freedomsrun.org under the “training” tab. His critical points are:

- Land with bent knees with feet landing softly under your center of mass. Resist landing on your heel or taking overly long strides, which causes a loss of momentum. Run over the ground, not into it by visualizing riding a skateboard or Razor scooter. Ideal ground contact is with your foot under your center of mass.

- Touch down quickly with your foot in such a way that generates a “tap, tap, tap” sound, rather than “thud, thud, thud.” Keep your knees low and pick up your heels. A high knee lift is only for sprinters.

- Short strides and a quick cadence results in less vertical bounce. Like throwing a ball between two points, the ball travels higher if the points are farther separated. The ideal cadence is about 90 steps a minute. Build up gradually to this.

- Focus on the core and prefect posture. If you can teach your core muscles to lift your legs as opposed to pushing off with the small muscles of the feet, you have discovered new power. Think “run tall” and straighten your spine. Connect the dots between your ear, shoulder, hip, and bony prominence of ankle.  Initiate a slight forward lean from the ankles (not the waist). This harnesses some of the power of gravity.

- Practice running down a very gentle hill. When you allow yourself to relax and lean gently while maintaining good posture, and let your feet land under you to avoid braking- you are harnessing the power of gravity. This can be applied on the flats as well.

- Bend your elbows bent 90 degrees and don’t cross your hands in front of your body. Arms drive back, not forward. Relax your breathing and movements. Respiration occurs in the lower lung fields so learn belly breathing.

In addition to Lt Col Cucuzzella’s highlights above, there are a variety of programs out there to help teach the movements and make it easier to visualize. These programs include Chi-Running, Cady Stride Mechanics, Evolution Running, Radiant Running, and Pose Tech Training that can all be found online.

The Transition Process

I had a lot of success after picking up the book Chi Running by Danny Dreyer and over a period of 4 months, gradually applying the book’s principles. Eventually I was able to throw away my orthotics after 14 years of use and began wearing flat shoes (Newtons). Again, the transition to Newton shoes was a slow process where I started out wearing them one short run per week and eventually was wearing them every day after two months.

I often get asked about running shoes and typically make recommendations based on my experience and knowledge of various products. When choosing footwear, consider your running surface (dirt, trail, grass, cement, pavement, etc).

Generally speaking, if you are running on more manmade surfaces, a more protective shoe is preferred. For more detail on this topic, another great book covering the connection between form, footwear and training is Natural Running by Danny Abshire.

After a year and a half of improving my running form and wearing flatter running shoes, I improved my marathon time significantly and experience fewer injuries. my goal is for participants in the ERWG to find more enjoyment in running, the FA easier to pass, and your improved health.

As more the ERWG progresses, I will pass along updates. Good luck and happy training!

Special thanks to AF doctors Lt Col Mark Cucuzzella, Lt Col Dan Kuland, and Lt Col Antonio Eppolito for allowing me to reference their research and publications for this article.

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Causes and Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis

Posted by on Monday, March 14, 2011 @ 8:40 am | 1 Reply

This post is by Dr. Mark Cucuzella, a Family Physician at Harpers Ferry Family Medicine and Associate Professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine.

The plantar fascia (PF) is a strong ligament that runs from the heel to the metatarsal heads in the front of your foot. This ligament helps absorb the shock that occurs when your foot contacts the ground. It has function in the windlass mechanism recreating the arch on takeoff.

Plantar fasciitis is the common term for what should be more accurately termed Plantar Fasciosis. itits is an acute inflammation caused by a trauma or infection. osis is chronic degenerative condition.

No evidence exists for an ideal treatment of this condition without identifying and treating the causes, which can be many. Since we have no literature to guide us, I offer this advice based on my experience treating hundreds of runners and guiding them in self corrections.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

The PF is designed to manage a relatively small amount of stress. The intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot are designed to receive signals from the fascia and in turn manage the majority of the load. When those muscles are dysfunctional, the load is transferred to the PF, which is unable to handle it, and results in tearing.

You can repair these tears by using palliative methods, but PF may return as soon as you resume running. The only way that you can actually fix plantar fasciitis is to address the root cause: weak foot muscles. (Thank you Lance from Barefoot Science for the insight).

Several structural causes can contribute to PF:

  • Weak intrinsic foot muscles
  • A misaligned and weak first toe
  • Tight, shortened calf muscles
  • Tight plantar fascia

Other important contributing factors:

  • Increased mechanical stress from running or other activity
  • Obesity
  • Suddenly switching from supportive footwear that inhibit intrinsic foot muscles to flat shoes (flip flops) or barefoot
  • Poor walking and running mechanics
  • Wearing overly supportive footwear weaken the foot and make it less stable.

How Do You Correct Plantar Fasciitis?
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Morton’s Neuroma Sufferer Finds Relief

Posted by on Monday, February 28, 2011 @ 4:37 pm | 2 Replies

mcdc7_mortons_neuromaWe at Newton Running try to not to toot our own horn too often, but we do like to share success stories from Newton customers. In this case, M.D. of Vancouver, British Columbia, found relief from Morton’s Neuroma with Newton Running shoes. Here’s her story:

“Yesterday while shopping for a new pair of running shoes for my husband, a very cute shoe caught my eye, the Newton Terra Momentus. I asked to try them on and fell in love at first wearing. I have been struggling with Morton’s Neuroma in my right foot for over a year and had reached the point of accepting that I would just have to get used to the pain.

As soon as I tried in the shoe, I realized that the point of contact was at the mid foot, thereby avoiding the metatarsal and the neuroma. I got excited. I took a quick jog outside and got more excited and bought the shoes

I couldn’t wait to get to the gym this morning to give them a real test drive. Sure enough, I could do all the high impact moves that I wasn’t able to do before. The only thing that held me back was my own fitness level rather than the neuroma!”

–M.D.

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Natural Running as Positive Deviance?

Posted by on Thursday, February 3, 2011 @ 11:28 am | 1 Reply

Over 150 people turned out (and another 50 or so were turned away due to lack of space) for last week’s speaker panel  discussion about natural running in Sheperdstown, West Virginia.

Event attendee and blogger Pete Larson (www.runblogger.com) was struck by the turnout in a small town in West Virginia, which has a reputation as one of America’s most obese states. “I couldn’t believe it!” Larson wrote on his blog. “Here we were in a state renowned for it’s inactivity, and I had to weave my way through a crowd of people who were squeezing into a room like sardines.”

Dr. Mark Cucuzella, organizer of the event, titled The Re-Evolution of Running: Discover Pain Free Movement for Life, attributes to tremendous response to a phenomenon called positive deviance. “That’s when large change happens as a result of observing and following what is happening in a small sector, and then applying it widely,” he says.

Cucuzella is also a family doctor and owner of Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking store in Sheperdstown, West Virginia.

Blogger Miss Zippy shares in this recent post what she learned from the panel of experts that included Danny Dreyer, founder of ChiRunning, Jerry Lee, CEO of Newton Running, Dr. Jay Dicharry, PT and Director of the SPEED Clinic at the University of Virginia, Dr. Peter Larson, Blaise Dubois, running injury authority, among others.

Natural running symposia are held across the country and overseas. For a complete listing of upcoming events, visit the Newton Running website at http://www.newtonrunning.com/community/natural-running-symposium-form-clinic.

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Special Presentation on Pain-free Movement January 28

Posted by on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 @ 1:30 pm | 2 Replies

Running-injury prevention leaders from around the globe are gathering in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a three-day conference to discuss best evidence and best practices to prevent and treat running injuries. As part of the gathering, the group will meet the local community and share stories, experience and knowledge.

“The Re-Evolution of Running: Discover Pain Free Movement for Life” will be hosted by Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking, the Bavarian Inn, and the Running Clinic Canada on Friday night January 28, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bavarian Inn.

Guest panelists include leading clinicians, researchers, teachers, writers, athletes and footwear experts from around the globe:

Danny Dreyer

  • Founder: Chi Running and Chi Walking
  • Asheville, NC; Internationally-acclaimed injury-prevention coach, ultramarathoner and best-selling author

Dr. Craig Richards

  • Newcastle, Australia; General Practice, Sports Medicine, Runner
  • One of world’s lead researchers on running injuries and footwear

Jay Dicharry, PT

  • Director SPEED Clinic University of Virginia
  • International Authority on Gait Analysis and Running Injury

Dr. Peter Larson

  • Professor of Biology St. Anshelm College New Hampshire, Marathon runner
  • Author/host of world’s most widely read site on running innovation- www.runblogger.com

Blaise Dubois PT/Sean Cannon, PT

  • Quebec City, Canada; International Leaders in running injuries
  • Authors and Instructors of over 40 international conferences

Jerry Lee

  • Boulder, Colorado; Co-Founder and CEO Newton Running
  • Innovator in first shoe company with primary mission of injury prevention.  Ironman competitor

Ian Adamson, MS Sports Med/BS Biomechanical Engineering

  • Boulder, Colorado; Director of Research & Education-Newton
  • Ultramarathoner and 7-time world champ Adventure Racer

Dr. Daniel Kulund, USAF

  • Chief Health Promotions Pentagon
  • Physician, Innovator of Running Medicine. Opened first true “Runners Clinic” in the 1970’s.

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella,

  • West Virginia University, Coach USAF Running Team, National Level Masters Runner
  • National speaker/teacher of healthier running; sub 2:35 marathons in 4 decades

Jeff Horowitz

  • Arlington, Virginia; Editor at Competitor Magazine

Speakers will share their most important discoveries and then allow questions and conversation with the audience.

“This is an amazing privilege to have all of these leaders in one room together willing to share and converse with the public,” says Mark Cucuzzella, MD. Over 60 percent of runners are injured every year. If the CDC were to evaluate this data they would shut down running events. Insurance companies now are reevaluating the advice to get fit if it involves running and the subsequent injuries and costs of expensive imaging studies and treatments. We need to develop entirely new approaches to running injuries and staying healthy for life”

The event is free to the public and geared toward walkers and runners of all abilities.

Date: January 28 2011, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Location: Bavarian Inn, Shepherdstown, WV  25443, www.bavarianinnwv.com

Free to the public.  Coffee and dessert will be provided. Cash bar.

For those wishing to dine prior to the event, call the Bavarian Inn at 304-876-2551 to make a reservation.

For more information, contact  Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking or  phone 304-876-1100.

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Beware of Barefoot Running Injuries

Posted by on Tuesday, June 15, 2010 @ 9:17 am | 19 Replies

by Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running

People have been experimenting with barefoot running for a long time, but in recent years the activity has gained mainstream notoriety and science-based credibility.

Most coaches, elite athletes, physiologists and other medical experts agree that running barefoot in very small doses on soft surfaces can help improve your running mechanics and teach your body to land lightly at your midfoot, but they also agree that you should wear some kind of running shoes most of the time.

“Throw your shoes away for good? Sure, if you have perfect mechanics and you’ve been living barefoot all of your life,” says Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a West Virginia University professor and 2:25 marathoner who has studied barefoot and minimalist runners in relation to running injuries. “But that’s not the majority of runners. Most runners absolutely need to wear shoes when they run.”

What Shoe Type is Best?

If you’re used to running in a traditional training shoe with a built-up heel, running barefoot can be a fascinating experience of freedom and can be the first step in developing natural running mechanics. Running unshod your foot naturally seeks out the ground by landing at the midfoot/forefoot, where it receives sensory interaction, or afferent feedback.

This sensory input immediately tells the rest of the body how to move efficiently with light footsteps, a high leg cadence, a relaxed but consistent arm swing, an upright posture and a slight forward lean from the ankles. This same feedback can be gained while wearing some types of lightweight shoes, but traditional trainers with thick levels of foam dampen the sensory interaction and make it much harder to interpret the ground, especially with the heel-striking gait those shoes promote.

How Run “Barefoot” in Shoes

Landing lightly at your midfoot and picking up your foot quickly to start a new stride is the most effective way your body knows to propel and protect itself while running. Conversely, your body generally doesn’t allow you to land on your heel if you’re running barefoot (especially on a hard surface) because it isn’t engineered to accommodate the blunt force trauma of repeated heel striking.

True, the calcaneus (heel) bone is a large bone, but it was designed to take the lower impacts of a walking gait and help balance the body as it rolls forward, as well as to help support and balance the body in a standing position as the rear point of a tripod.

Accepting large impacts on the heel bone from heel-strike running on the roads barefoot sends tremendous shockwaves (or impact transients) up your body. Those impact transients can have numerous negative affects upstream as your body tries to offset that force and remain balanced, including various forms of tendinitis, illiotibial band strains and adverse sheering in the pelvis and lower spine.

“It’s no different than somebody hitting you on the heel with a sledgehammer with 300 to 400 pounds of force,” says Dr. Daniel Lieberman, the Harvard University evolutionary biologist who concluded in a study released in January 2010 that running with midfoot footstrikes, either barefoot or in shoes, is better and less impactful than heel-striking. “So if you’re going to do that, it makes sense to wear shoes. A shoe makes that comfortable. A shoe essentially slows that rate of loading enormously — by about sevenfold in a typical shoe — and that’s what makes it comfortable and that’s why a lot of people can wear shoes and heel-strike.”

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Newton Running’s Take on Barefoot Running

Posted by on Friday, January 29, 2010 @ 2:13 pm | 3 Replies

In the past few days we’ve been inundated with calls and messages from friends, customers and fans asking, “Did you see NPR.org barefoot running story or
BBC barefoot running story story about barefoot running?”

The answer is yes, we’ve seen Dr. Lieberman’s studies at Harvard and it clearly validates what Newton Running is all about.

Please read the open letter below from Newton Running co-founder Danny Abshire and our Director of Education, Ian Adamson.

Our Take on Barefoot Running

Many of you have seen or heard the numerous national news stories about barefoot running in the past few days. This news comes on the heels of the recently published study, Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners by Harvard University anthropologist Dan Lieberman.

Dr. Lieberman and colleagues concluded that modern, cushioned running shoes change the way humans run and hypothesize based on their biomechanical findings that forefoot and some midfoot strikes may make runners less prone to some kinds of injury. (He explains his hypothesis in this video).

That comes as no surprise to us at Newton Running. Our company was founded on the belief that the lifted heel in modern running shoes promotes improper form and can contribute to various injuries. Our shoes are designed specifically to accommodate and enhance natural running foot-strike and gait and are based on decades of research and observation on shoe technology and running mechanics.

Running barefoot is not a viable option for most people, except for short training sessions on forgiving surfaces. Plus, the transition to barefoot running or ultra-minimalist shoes can be difficult and/or painful for runners who have spent their whole lives running in heavily cushioned and overly structured shoes.

Newton Running shoes feature a geometry and design that facilitates your natural gait and protects you from harsh running surfaces. We offer the only viable alternative to both modern running shoes and barefoot/ultra-minimalist shoe running.

Newton Running Shoe Design

1. Typical running shoes feature a thick, padded heel and a steep heel-to-forefoot ramp angle (gradient), which encourages heavy heel striking, increases shock loads and dampens afferent feedback (the ability to sense the surface under your shoes). Newton Running shoes have a negligible gradient (between 1% and 3%), which allows your foot to land with a reduced impact and take advantage of your body’s natural suspension system. (click images to enlarge)

heelprofile_illo

2. Newton Running shoes provide industry-leading impact force reduction and energy return with our proprietary Action/Reaction Technology™ strategically placed on the sweet spot under your forefoot.

sweetspot

3. Newton Running shoes are built with a biomechanical plate positioned directly under your metatarsals to enhance afferent feedback and allow your feet to spread naturally under load. The soft foam in regular running shoes dampens and blocks valuable protective feedback at foot strike. Without feeling the ground, runners will impact and push harder, creating the possibility for injury.

4. The anatomically designed upper and midsole allows your foot to move naturally throughout the gait cycle. In contrast, most modern running shoes are highly structured, rigidly encasing your foot and preventing natural movement. Over time, this weakens the foot and creates overuse of propulsive muscles/tendons, increasing the likelihood of running injuries.

Coaches around the world routinely use barefoot drills to improve running form. Newton Running has created the first natural running shoes for everyday training and racing that encourage barefoot running form. Join us in the Natural Running revolution.

Sincerely,

Danny Abshire Co-founder and CTO
Ian Adamson Director of Research and Education

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Barefoot Running Goes Ballistic

Posted by on Thursday, January 28, 2010 @ 12:54 pm | 9 Replies

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 NPR.org 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.

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Do Running Shoes Cause Injury? Our Response

Posted by on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 @ 12:00 pm | 15 Replies

Newton Running shoes are minimalist in that they have a heel-to-drop between 1 and 3%, depending on the model.

 

There’s a great discussion going on over at RunnersWorld.com about a new study that links running shoes to injuries here. Here are a few thoughts that our Director of Education, Ian Adamson, would like to add to the dialogue:

  • There are several on-going, multi-year studies at Harvard, MIT and the University of Newcastle (AUS) that are looking at injury related to footwear. Harvard department of Anthropology is about to publish a study that dissects unshod human running gait and injury (or lack thereof.)
  • If the only injury from running shoes is Achilles tendinitis, is the implication that the other “running related injuries” such as neuromas, plantar fascitis, blisters, bunions and joint problems would be present in if people didn’t run?

How Shoe Geometry Affects Running Gait

I’m on the front line seeing runners who present with all of the above and more, and the vast majority are treatable with appropriate shoes (the closer a shoe reflects the geometry of the foot the better, although protection from man-made and unnatural surfaces is prudent), especially a lower heel/ramp angle combined with proper form coaching.

There is no doubt in my experience (running competitively since 1973, 12 years as a professional athlete, 10 years in the shoe industry, 10 years as a bio-mechanical engineer) that lifted heels in running shoes introduce an unnatural geometry that interferes with our natural (and injury protective) gait.

Ramp Angle Comparison in Minimalist Shoes

It would take a lot to convince me that strapping 1/2 to 1″ foam to your heel doesn’t alter your stride. If you cut virtually any running shoe lengthwise you can see the drop from heel to the ball of the foot. The Nike Shox as noted above is one of the worst offenders. It used to be that 24 mm heel height (1 inch) and 12 mm (1/2″) forefoot was standard, but those numbers have changed dramatically in the last few years. Some popular running shoes are up to 35 mm in the heel.

The old standard drop (24-12) gives an 8% grade in a Men’s US size 9 shoe, but most are now far in excess of that, up to 15% in some cases. An 8% road grade (rise/ run as a %) is where most states give truckers a warning. Racing flats can be better in terms of being more level, but virtually none are actually level. The best on the market are:

It is interesting to note that some perceived “flat” shoes are not: Nike Free 5.0 (10 mm/6.7%), Nike Zoom Streak XC (11 mm/7.3 %), Nike Luna Racer (12 mm/8.0%), Brooks T6 (13 mm/8.7%). On the other end of the spectrum, the Brooks Beast has a 16 mm drop and 10.7% grade.

My personal experience: ran track and cross country barefoot and injury free through high school. Ran in Dunlop Volley tennis shoes through college (no heel lift http://www.volleys.com.au/flash/index.html), injury free. Was given a “modern” running shoe with a heel lift by a sponsor in 1989 and sustained my first running related injuries. Started back with level shoes again in 2007 (Newton) and viola, injuries gone.

–Ian Adamson

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Shoe Geometry 101 – Running Shoe Re-Evolution

Posted by on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 @ 12:00 pm | 7 Replies

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.

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