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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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Preventing Stress Fractures

Posted by on Thursday, December 3, 2009 @ 11:44 am | 4 Replies

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an interesting story about a common injury that many, many runners suffer from – stress fractures. The article references a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise which, “offers hope that, at least for runners, simple alterations in their stride or in the strength of their legs might reduce their risk for the most common type of stress fracture.”

I’d encourage you to read the whole article, but here’s the most salient point:

“The researchers determined that reducing stride length by about 10 percent seemed to reduce the stress on the tibia enough to lower the risk of a stress fracture.

Why, though, should shortening your stride affect your tibia at all? “Think of it this way,” says Brent Edwards, lead author of the study and now a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois, in Chicago. “If you spend less time in the flight phase of running” — meaning in the air — “you’ll hit the ground with less force.” On the other hand, you’ll hit the ground more often. But in Mr. Edwards’s models, the reduction in pounding from an abbreviated stride outweighed the shock from a few additional strides per mile.”

Shortening your stride is one of the key tenets of the proper running form that Newton teaches (see #3 on our 10 Laws of Running Better). Running coaches like Danny Abshire have known for years that over-striding can lead to injuries, and now it’s nice to have some empirical data to back it up.

Also, here’s a great image the Denver Post ran a few months ago that illustrates many of the benefits of proper natural running form.

barefoot-running-b


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“From heel striker to forefoot runner – Why I love my Newtons”

Posted by on Friday, July 10, 2009 @ 9:20 am | Leave a reply

We just came across this terrific post from Johnny Hammond, a 43-year-old age-grouper triathlete and runner in the UK. It’s an interesting story about his nagging running injuries and how his transition to forefoot running and Newtons has dramatically helped.

“At the beginning of my winter training this year, I started training with a new triathlon coach who wanted me to change my running style from heel striker to forefoot running. He said it would increase my speed and running efficency, and reduce my risk of injury. I was apprehensive at first and questioned his judgement.

I’d struggled with a left shin splint injury for the past 3 years and had gone to a lot of expense to get special orthotics and the right running trainers to try and ward off this recurring injury. But, I was still finding it hard to run longer distances without my shin splint (left tibia post to be precise) flaring up, so I decided to give forefoot running a go.

At first, I found it really hard to run on my forefoot without my heels dropping so my coach suggested that I invest in pair of Newtons, initially as a training aid. He told me that the Newtons would ‘put me up’ onto my forefoot and help me to progress from heel striker to forefoot runner.

I’d also heard the buzz about Newtons on the triathlon circuit and decided to find out what all the fuss was about. £120 later and I was sporting a pair of lightweight orange and white Newton Distance S trainers, a far cry from my bulky motion control Asics running shoes (also £100 plus shoes).”

Read the rest of Johnny’s post here.

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The (Popular) Science of Newton

Posted by on Friday, March 6, 2009 @ 9:43 am | 4 Replies

Although he doesn’t actually test Newton shoes, Adam Weiner from Popular Science offers an interesting take on the science of Newton Running technology in this article, Will Barefoot Running Cure What Ails Us? I love his intro:

“First of all, let’s set the record straight. Man is a natural long distance runner. Despite impressions to the contrary foisted on us daily from our predominantly sedentary and ‘well-fed’ modern lifestyle, it is interesting to note that for long enough distances a well-trained human can outrun just about any other creature on the planet.”

Weiner then further evaluates:

“In fact, consider the following: Man evolved to run barefoot, and shoes arrived on the scene only in the last few tens of thousands of years or so. Try running barefoot some time (preferably on a softer surface like grass) and pay attention to your foot strikes. You might find that it’s almost impossible to land heel first. Your command central (your brain) just won’t let you do it. Too much jarring. Your bare heel isn’t designed to handle that pounding. The evidence supports that landing nearer the middle to front of the foot is the most efficient way to go.”

Check out the full Popular Science story here.  We’re going to try and get Mr. Weiner in some Newtons so he can actually try them for himself.

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Running Form 101

Posted by on Thursday, February 26, 2009 @ 8:34 pm | 1 Reply

danny-abshireGood form is the key to efficient running and preventing injuries

By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running

When most people take up running for general fitness or to train for a marathon, they don’t think twice about how to do it. They buy a pair of running shoes, lace ‘em up and start running.

While that simplicity is one of the things that makes running so desirable, if you start running without learning proper form, you could wind up being woefully inefficient, and, worse yet, set yourself up for a variety of debilitating injuries.

What is Good Form?

To run efficiently, you have to understand your body and how it naturally moves across a surface with as little muscular force as possible. Along those lines, the tenants of good running form include running with short strides and a quick cadence, landing lightly on the midfoot/forefoot area (the ball of the foot, but not the toes), and quickly lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing off with excessive muscle force.

A slight forward lean and a relaxed arm swing are also key components. To view an example of good running form in action click on the “Run Right” video here.

Land/Lever/Lift

To illustrate what Newton Running calls the “Land-Lever-Lift” technique, take the simple test of running barefoot across a smooth floor. More than likely, you’re naturally going to land lightly at your midfoot/forefoot and quickly pick up your foot to start a new stride. Your body doesn’t allow you to land on your heels because it isn’t engineered to accommodate the blunt force trauma of repeated heel striking.

Two of the biggest mistakes distance runners can fall prey to are:

1) Excessive heel striking that causes abrupt braking of forward momentum, and then pushing off too hard with the toes to start the forward motion again; or

2) Using only propulsive muscles,(the calf group, hamstrings and Achilles tendon) by running too far up on their toes like a sprinter and not using the body’s natural cushioning system.

Each of those form flaws puts too much vertical movement into every stride, and that leads to inefficiency and considerably more impact, muscle and tendon stress on the body.

If you’re landing hard on your heels and excessively braking and then pushing off, you’re going to strain the muscles used for braking (especially the quadriceps group and the anterior tibialis along the front of your lower leg) and propulsion (calf and hamstring muscles), as well as the connective tissue in the lower leg, ankle and foot (plantar fascia and Achilles tendon), and that can lead to a variety of injuries.

And if you’re too far forward in a sprint position, you’re overusing your calf and hamstring muscles and putting a lot of strain on your Achilles tendon.

Good Form Matters

You wouldn’t enter into any other sport without learning proper form, so why do it in running? For example, if you bought a brand new pair of golf clubs and went out and hit 100 balls at the driving range without any instruction or idea about proper swing technique, you’d probably have inconsistent form and very mixed results, plus you’d wind up tired and very sore the next day.

Good form because it leads to efficiency, which equals less impact and that equals injury prevention. The key is running relaxed and having the awareness to just touch the ground and lift quickly on every stride.

Danny Abshire is the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years.

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