“If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” That’s unfortunately the mindset I need to bring into my review of the Newton Distance running shoe which I purchased during a trip in Singapore a few years back and used on and off for a period of time following that. The marketing department at Newton Running pull out all the stops, here are part of what is promised:
At Newton Running, we have taken great care to research and design our shoes to actively support you as you rediscover and strengthen your natural running motion. Newton running shoes give you highly responsive cushioning and protection plus enhanced ground feel – a rare combination. All of our shoes are designed to provide a more level-to-the-ground platform with minimal drop – like your feet – to help you find the right position as you run. Our shoes are also lightweight and comfortable. – Newton Running website
So does it deliver and fulfill Newton’s oft-used phrase of delivering the “ultimate experience in natural running”. Unfortunately not, not even close.
Initial experiences with Newton running shoes
The first thing I noticed when donning the Newton running shoe was that while it is light-weight, similar in feel to most traditional racing flats, it instantly lends a very artificial feel to your running style. You’re up high, with even the more scaled back models of Newton shoes featuring significant layers of cushioning.
Newton’s strategy of creating “zero-drop” has been to raise the front of their shoes to the same height as the heel by inserting lines of thick foam on the front of the foot. These “rubber bar codes” made the shoe extremely unstable on trails, to the extent that I would call them “ankle-traps”. During a 12km run around the MacRitchie Reservoir trail in Singapore, I thrice went over painfully on my ankle as the shoe simply “flipped” violently. This is simply a design flaw: the “zero drop” concept needs to be discarded, and quickly, in favour of simply “flat”. There is nothing natural about having your foot raised off the ground, even if it is raised evenly from toes to heel. This alone sabotages any attempt to feel natural while running in these shoes compared to, for instance, the VivoBarefoot Aqua Lite.
Cushioning and sole of the Newton runners
Newton market their minimalist shoes as providing a very natural ride but yet boast that:
“With Action/ReactionTM technology, you will immediately experience a highly responsive and engaging cushioning that protects and loses less energy with every step you take. Some people have described our cushioning as a “trampoline,” only more fun.” – Newton Running website
One of the fundamentals in the ChampionsEverywhere coaching model is the importance of compliance and how you need to learn to make yourself compliant in the face of the harder surfaces you run on. Cushioning in general is therefore a huge impediment for being able to coach yourself a natural running style effectively and teach yourself to use your own shock absorbers. The Newton shoe feels hugely compliant, as much or more as most traditional runners, and is completely ineffective in this for learning how to stop relying on shoes and adapt a more natural running style.
Quality of the Newton running education and marketing
I believe it should be clear at this stage that while Newton running are trying to be “part of the solution” and are sending a lot of the right messages on their website, their shoe designs contradict all best practice for how a barefoot technology shoe should be designed: a narrow toe-box, a very compliant sole, a traditional division of shoes into neutral, supination and pronation gaits (a known fallacy) and it provides very little or no feel for the ground. What frustrated me about the marketing of the shoe I bought was that one the one hand typical barefoot supportive language is used (“our feet are brilliantly designed” etc.) only to be followed by the usual shoe manufacturer techno-babble (“biomechanical sensor plate” etc.). Full quote below:
Our feet are sensitive and brilliantly designed to ensure that we step efficiently and lightly. Unfortunately, highly cushioned shoes often obstruct this communication with the ground. Enter our biomechanical sensor plate, which allows you to sense the ground so you can stride more efficiently and lightly – some might even say intelligently, the way nature intended. – Newton Running website
I abandoned wearing my Newton shoes because not only were the unstable but they caused posterior tendon soreness in my legs regularly. To this problem, Newton Running may fall back on the well-worn defense that I need time to transition and build up the necessary strength and form to run with the new shoes. But there are two problems with this: 1) the shoes have several design characteristics that directly sabotage the ability to learn good form and 2) building up strength to run incorrectly is undesirable and will eventually lead to new problems down the line.
Why did Newton get it wrong?
From watching the videos on the Newton Running home page, I can see why some of the design flaws are incorporate. Firstly, Newton uses traditional narrow toe boxes and assume that Morton’s toe is a natural phenomenon. They are unaware, or at least not engaging with the theory of, how the natural foot actually looks and the necessity to rehabilitate it and provide for a wide toe-box. Secondly, they consider the degree of supination and pronation, that is – the degree of inward or outword roll of your foot, as an individual characteristic that you need to assess with a self-test before you then conveniently choose a matching shoe for your particular “impairment” (neutral, pronation etc.). As Tony has repeatedly demonstrated, the degree of supination and pronation is largely down to your landing and your landing is down to your posture. Newton Running put posture at the top of their list of running form guidelines as well, but do not draw the necessary conclusions from it and their shoe design suffers greatly from this “missing link”.
Newton running should be commended for putting effort into a certification programme for coaches and form clinics, because education is all-important, but they need to look at the facts they work with another time and reconsider their approach to running shoe design completely. You simply cannot make the step to claim to be a natural running shoe manufacturer if you still feature narrow toe-boxes, heavily compliant and raised soles and shoe models which include “guidance technology”. It can be painful to change course when you are deeply invested in a model but I hope, for Newton’s sake, that they will redirect their resources into a better direction. We are all only learning about natural running, in many ways, in an unnatural world, but when you put yourself out there with claims of providing the “ultimate experience in natural running” and a certified coaching programme, then you are also accepting a significant responsibility for teaching the right methods and providing the right facts. Unfortunately, having tried a Newton Running shoe and read their website material, the company currently falls short of this expectation. On balance, it is fair to mention that any traditional running shoe would fare as badly as Newton, or worse, should we review them on these pages. But since we’ve given away all such hi-tech monsters, I daresay we need not elaborate further on our opinions on them!
Rating: Under no circumstances to be purchased as a natural running shoe. Unstable and harmful to acquiring correct running technique. Half a star for marketing effort, decent design and low weight of the shoe.