This was one of my favorite parts of the Newton running symposium. I knew I loved my Newton Running Shoes… but after hearing this info I was even more convinced.  Again – I’m not forcing Newtons on anyone – there are definitely good options out there for all different foot types… so focus more on the ‘bad’ here and learn what type of shoe to avoid!!

Remember before I asked if you were heel striking and mentioned if it was hard NOT to heel strike in your shoe then the heels were probably too big.  In the running symposium by Newton, they showed slides of a few different running shoes that had been cut in half lengthwise.  They measured the angle of which the heel sloped to the forefoot area.  Basically the larger the gradient (angle percentage) the bigger the heel and the harder it would be to land on your forefoot.

This is a picture of Asics Gel Kayano.  You can actually see how the shoe slopes down to the toe!!

Now look at a cross section of Newton Running Shoes.  They are virtually flat!!  Only a 1-3% gradient depending on which of their shoes you get.

This info is taken from the Newton Running Blog:

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. 

So what about racing flats??

Yes, those are flat shoes – however they offer little to no padding so if you aren’t an experienced forefoot runner I’d strongly discourage you trying these.  If you were to heel strike without any padding, you could really damage your foot.  Another reason why I’d discourage jumping right into Vibram FiveFingers.  Also – racing flats wear out a lot faster than regular running shoes.

So are Newton’s the only shoes that are flat like this?

Actually no!  Of course I think Newton Running Shoes are the best choice for a number of reasons ;)  However, after a little research, I found the Saucony Kinvaras seemed to have a very low profile (not sure on the actual percentage… but I found they had a 4mm drop which is pretty darn good!!  I reviewed the Kinvaras here – but couldn’t get past them hitting my ankle in a weird spot.).  One of my friends just purchased the New Balance Minimus and seems to love them so far!!  They also have a very low profile at 4-5mm drop!!

Here is a list of gradients of various shoes (link to full blog post where I got most of this info)

  • Merrell Barefoot Dash, Bare Access, Pace Glove (0mm)
  • Vibram (0-2mm)
  • Newton Performance Racer (2 mm/1.3%)
  • Newton Performance Trainers (3 mm/2.0%)
  • Saucony Kinvaras (4mm)*
  • New Balance Minimus (4-5mm)*
  • Newton Guidance Trainers (5 mm/3.3 %)
  • Asics Piranha 3 (6 mm/4.0%)
  • Biom (8 mm/5.3%)
  • 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%)
  • Brooks Beast has a 16 mm drop and 10.7% grade

*note: this wasnt in the link above, took a little googling to find it.  I’m not sure of the percentages though.

This may still be confusing and overwhelming.  Think of it this way… 

We’ve all seen the road signs like the one at the right.  This warns truckers of a steep incline on a road.  Most warn at an 8% road grade (rise/ run as a %)… so if some of these shoes are greater than 8% … well I think they should put a sign on them too!!! ;)

But other than heel striking is it really that big of a deal to have a big heel??

Yup.  It is.  Have you ever had a black toenail from running??  What do you think caused it?? A few things could have actually,…. your shoes may have been too tight or perhaps they are the right size when standing still but when you run (especially on a down hill) the slope of the shoe actually slides your foot forward causing it to rub the end.. causing – black toenails!!!  Yuk.   I’ve seen people lose toenails and it’s NOT pretty.  A lot of people even say “well I’ll just lace my shoes tighter”…. that creates a whole slew of problems which again I’ll cover in another post.

The bottom line is try on shoes – and see if you can avoid a heel strike in them.  Go for a jog around the store or their treadmill. If you can do a run and not land on your heel they are probably fine for you!!  Don’t worry about getting close to flat… as long as you can avoid a heel strike you are good to go :)  If you keep scraping your heel or landing on it – keep trying on shoes ;)

Happy *injury free* Running ;)

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One Response to Dissecting shoes – more on the heel problem

  1. Nicole Orriëns says:

    Thanks for this interesting post! I've been reading about 'heel strike' in Barefoot running, and have been trying out Saucony progrid mirages.

    I love how they feel, but of course then I wore them all the time, and got hurt. So now I limit myself to wearing them once a week.

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