Review: Shiny new Newton trainers
Traditionally the ability to “buy speed” has been limited to the bike leg of a triathlon with the addition of an aero whatsit here or a tri bar thingy-ma-bob there. But in recent years, the go-faster trend has expanded to include swimming (eg the Speedo LZR race suit and, more specifically for triathlon, swimskins from companies such Blue Seventy) and now running, thanks to the much anticipated and hyped Newton trainers.
Without getting too technical, as I am in no way qualified to do so, the key concept behind the Newton trainer is to get you to run more naturally on your mid to forefoot, something that we nearly all do barefoot but not so many of us do when we have a pair of trainers on our feet. When running on our forefoot our foot lands more under our centre of gravity allowing momentum to be maintained more easily while with a heel strike we hit the ground out in front of our centre of gravity effectively “braking” our momentum with every stride. Take a look at all top runners and you will see they all run on their forefoot with a high leg cadence.
Just recently I was in the market for a new pair of running shoes. I’d had a keen eye on the Newtons mainly because I’ve also spent the last year working to improve my running technique. For us lesser mortals running on the forefoot is initially hard work as amongst other things it involves good tall posture, a solid core and developing a decent set of calves. Mentally, it’s also easy to slouch back into old habits.
I got myself videoed at specialist running shop Achilles Heel, Glasgow, before buying, something that proved to be very useful because I saw that I pronate slightly (most of us do) and so I benefited from the stability version of the Newton, the “Motion”. This was despite having neutral trainers before and having no injury issues.
When taking them out of the box the first thing you notice, apart from the striking colour scheme, is that these trainers are light, similar to what most of us would consider to be the weight of a racing trainer and the racing version of the Newton is lighter still. Once fitted you are immediately aware of the four “lugs” that act like mini shock absorbers under the forefoot. These lugs also reduce the contact area with the road so in theory there should be less resistance to slow you down. I find the trainer quite unstable for anything other than running in a straight line so they are not really suitable for doubling up for, say, a circuits class.
But it’s out on the road where the Newtons really strut their stuff with their lightness added to a real a ping off the tarmac provided by the unique forefoot cushioning. These shoes feel better the faster you run in them and on the few runs I’ve done I’ve found that my heart rate is lower for a given pace so presumably I am running more efficiently, too. The lugs under the forefoot also act a little like a “sweet spot” does in golf giving you feedback so you are always aware of where your foot is striking the road. This constantly reinforces better technique.
Admittedly there may be an element of “The Emporer’s New Shoes” going on here as it’s not difficult to believe somehow in the “magical” properties of the trainers, which of course could be giving me a mental boost. However, even after weighing this up I do still feel that I’m running appreciably faster than when wearing “standard” running shoes, just so long as I’m trying to run in the correct manner. Which leads me on to my only niggle with the Newtons.
These shoes will benefit the faster and technically better runner far more than a heel strike plodder, so much so that people may end up dong themselves an injury if they buy a pair of these and assume that the shoes will sort their running technique. In my opinion, due care should be taken before buying a pair of Newtons. Indeed the Newton website does recommends that you taper the transition to these trainers with short runs and build into them slowly by alternating with you existing trainers. I’d add that people should be honest with themselves about their running style before even considering these shoes and I would also recommend that they get themselves some proper advice from a specialist running shop such as Achilles Heel before making any purchase.
That said, if you already run on your mid/fore foot – and you have £120 to spare – these trainers could easily prove to be a secret weapon in your bid to break a race PB this year. That’s what I’m hoping anyway.