Newton Sir Isaac (and Lady Isaac) Guidance Trainer: $149.00

By Cid Cardoso, Jr.

Newton burst onto the running shoe scene about three years ago with some bright orange, red and yellow shoes with pods in the forefoot and a weird double wedge looking logo. Their initial push into triathlons (and more specifically Ironman) paid off as they were immediately accepted by a significant number of age groupers and pros alike, including some of the best in the sport, like Michelle Jones, Craig Alexander and Heather Fuhr to name a few. Now, they introduced the Sir Isaac and Lady Isaac Guidance Trainer, a “Newton starter shoe”, designed to expose the average, more heel-striking runner to the Newton concept of mid to forefoot running in a less radical transition.

The Newton shoes work on the premise that the most efficient way to run is to strike more on the mid to forefoot part of the foot. Developed by Danny Abshire, an expert in making athletic orthotics with substantial experience with professional athletes in Boulder and an avid runner, these shoes have been in the making for over ten years. I first heard of the concept around 1998-1999 when I first met Danny and at the time he was looking for the materials necessary to make his concept work. Since then, he not only found the right materials but along with company founder Jerry Lee, set up the manufacturing facilities and distribution channels to successfully sell these shoes worldwide.

Newton’s design concept came about by observing humans running barefoot and noticing that strides are the most fluid and speed is achieved with the least amount of effort when we strike in the forefoot manner. 

Due to our physiology (little padding and virtually no shock absorbing features in the heel) we will strike more in the middle to ball part of the foot, perhaps with a quick heel strike and an immediate forward roll. Shock absorption occurs in the arch of the foot, before the foot becomes more rigid for propulsion at toe-off. As a result, Newton shoes are specifically designed to favor mid to forefoot landing. This will increase running speed (without additional effort) because the fluid stride is not disrupted by hitting the heels hard (which is actually similar to hitting the brakes) and the stride speed is actually increased slightly, by moving the foot quicker to the push off phase.

Newton uses a patented Action/Reaction technology to facilitate the flow and efficiency of the runner’s stride. The Land-Lift forefoot contains a series of pods attached to an outsole membrane that covers some holes in the midsole. When the forefoot hits the ground, these pods or “actuator lugs” are pressed into the hollow chambers inside the midsole pressuring against the elastic membrane (what they refer to as “Action). This membrane then forces the lugs back out and pushes the knee up in the beginning of a new stride (referred as Reaction). The forefoot landing generates forward motion, like Newton’s third law of motion that states that, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”

Unlike conventional running shoes where the amount of shock absorption actually decreases with time and wear, the shock absorbing power on Newton shoes remain basically the same throughout the life of the shoe. As long as there are pods and the membrane’s structural integrity is not compromised, the shock absorption will essentially remain the same. The shoe is finally worn out when the pods are gone due to wear.

In the Sir Isaac and Lady Isaac Guidance Trainer, the pods are not as pronounced. They are probably about one eighth of an inch high, in relation to the rest of the sole as opposed to the quarter plus inch height of the original Newton Performance Trainers. The outsides of the outer-sole are also raised slightly to minimize the forefoot pressure caused by the pods, while still guiding the runner into the mid/forefoot. They also have a carbon rubber outsole both in the forefoot and heel for greater overall durability.

I must first confess that I’ve been a Newton fan for a year now. As a result, for me going from the Newton Stability Trainer (one of the original shoes in the Performance line) to the Sir Isaac Trainer was practically the opposite effect of going from a regular shoe to the Sir Isaacs Trainer. Surprisingly, they felt very similar to the Stability Trainer. They still made my feet “want” to roll forward into a jog, perhaps a little more subtly. However, while it took me a few days and several runs to get to the point where I got completely used to lugs in my Stability Trainer, the less pronounced lugs on the Sir Isaac Trainers felt “normal” after just a few minutes. 

I found that running with the Sir Isaacs, the forward motion feeling was very similar to that of my Stability Trainers. When switching back to regular running shoes after wearing my Newtons, I often felt sluggish at first. With the Sir Isaacs Trainers, I still felt nimble and fast. Still, the more substantial heel on the Isaac Trainers should definitely help in the initial conversion of heel strikers to midfoot strikers. In my case, this difference was noticeable when I got tired and my form started to fall apart. For example, I had some great track workouts with my Stability Trainer but then felt awful during the cool down. My assessment was that during the cool down, I was heel striking on a shoe that basically offered no heel (or very little padding) to strike on, so the inefficiency was compounded.  With the Sir Isaacs Trainers, when my form gets sloppy the inefficiency is not as pronounced (which can be good and bad as forcing me to focus on good form often results in running faster with less effort).

Marketed as a “Guidance” trainer, the Sir Isaac Trainer offered me more than enough stability with its’ dual density midsole and a wider mid/forefoot base. At 10.9 oz (for a size 9), it is still incredibly light for a trainer. Like the Stability Trainers, I did have to go up half a size so make sure they fit with the pods in the correct place relative to the metatarsals. This resulted in a lot of forefoot room but that was not an issue for me. They did also fit wider than the Stability Trainers so people with narrow feet beware. The closer nit mesh was still comfortable and flexible.

Newton is no longer a novelty company although they are still very small compared to the Asics and Nikes of the world.   Researching the internet you can find lots of debates as to whether the Newton running concept actually can make you faster and more efficient and also whether their design will work for everyone.  My opinion is that the original performance models, including the Stability Trainer, probably were not for everyone (at least not right of the bat). However, the Sir Isaacs and Lady Isaacs Guidance Trainers should serve a much larger population of runners. I personally like the concept and the focus on running form as well as biomechanics. I also give them credit for thinking outside the conventional box of shoe design. They have taken the Ironman circuit by storm in a relative short time and are now expanding into the running market as more runners get an opportunity to try them. At $149, the Sir Isaacs Guidance Trainers are also less pricey than the Performance Trainers, putting them more in line with other running shoes. They also come with a 30 day money back guarantee so why not give them an honest try?

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Cid Cardoso, Jr., owner of Inside Out Sports, has been doing triathlons for oer twenty years.  Last October, he competed in his 21st Ironman – his sixth appearance at Kona.  A veteran of ultramarathons, he has competed in Team RAAM twice.  He has seen equipment evolve with the sport and continues to test new products to assess their impact in performance.  He trains, works, and resides in Cary, NC, with his wife, two daughters, and son.  You can reach him at cidjr@insideoutsports.com