Shortly after reviewing the Newton Terra Momentus shoe last fall, I received an advance copy of the book by Newton cofounder Danny Abshire. That book is now available to the public, and I have an additional copy to give away at the end of this post - but first, the review.
I have to admit that I was intrigued to hear what Abshire had to say about the whole barefoot and minimalist running phenomenon, because his business and professional background sometimes seems at odds with the underlying philosophy of barefoot activity. Before starting Newton Running , he spent many years making custom orthotics for athletes in a variety of sports, ostensibly to ensure a level position and proper balance of the lower extremities regardless of what type of footwear was used. And Newton has made its mark in the endurance sports community by straddling the two often-disparate worlds of natural foot motion and high-tech shoe construction.
So what exactly is natural running? Is it the science of correcting and augmenting the position and motion of our feet towards a certain set of objective parameters (weight distribution, center of balance location, lower leg geometry, and so on)? Or is it the willingness to let go of all the science and conventional wisdom of the modern shoe era and let your feet function as if they were completely unencumbered? And was this simply going to be a 170-page advertisement for Newton shoes? Those were some of the questions I had before starting the book.
With those thoughts in mind, Natural Running is a very interesting read. Abshire – along with contributor Brian Metzler, who has written extensively about barefoot running for Running Times and Outside magazines – explains the basic biomechanics of midfoot and forefoot running, and how the modern running shoe has progressively prohibited runners from practicing this technique. He presents a nice synopsis of how the conventional wisdom of running shoe design has evolved over the past four decades, and how recent biomechanics studies are causing the entire industry to rethink everything they thought they understood about how their products contribute to performance and injury prevention.
More than anything, though, this is an instruction manual for how to give up your heel-striking habit and learning to run more forward on your feet. If you think of Chris McDougall’s ( see my review of that book) as the battle cry for running naturally, consider Abshire’s book the field manual. He emphasizes proper posture, forward weight shifting, and the correct positioning your center of gravity, which in turn leads to a shorter stride length and correct foot strike. In addition to detailed explanations, the book is filled with multiple photos and diagrams that make the concepts of natural running form very easy to understand.
Abshire’s approach is fairly conservative, which is generally a good thing, with several reminders to adjust your running pattern gradually and to progress from traditional to minimalist footwear in small doses. From my standpoint he’s a little overcautious when it comes to true barefoot running – for example, recommending that you get your feet screened by a doctor to determine whether they’re they right “type” to run barefoot – but I wholeheartedly agree with his assertion that you get virtually all of the biomechanical benefits from a good pair of minimalist footwear as you do going barefoot.
Speaking of footwear, let’s return to one of those questions I had to start with: whether Natural Running was mainly an extended promotional brochure for Newton shoes. To his credit, Abshire keeps his bias towards Newton fairly well-contained, with his emphasis strictly on natural running form, without much regard to the kind of shoes you’re wearing. Of course, most people (myself included) will tell you it’s a heck of a lot easier to do this with minimalist footwear, but Abshire essentially leaves this decision up to you.
As an instruction guide, I was fairly impressed with how extensively and effectively Natural Running makes the case for changing your running form away from heel striking and toward midfoot or forefoot striking. I’ve already sent my copy of the book into circulation among my fellow training partners, and I’m happy to be able to offer an additional copy to one reader as well. Leave a comment below this post, and I’ll pick one random winner to receive a free copy of Natural Running, with the winner announced this weekend.
Otherwise, the book is now available in bookstores, and for as well as other online booksellers.
*Book provided by Backbone Media **See other book reviews on sidebar at right.