Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shoe Review: Newton Motion / Motus (old model)

For the last couple of years I've done the bulk of my running in Brooks Adrenalines, which I totally {heart}. (Spoiler - my mother just gifted me a pair of 12's, which I am super psyched about!) They are sturdy, reliable, comfortable, and serviceable for just about anything from intervals on the track to marathons. I have a feeling that no matter what other fancy makes & models may find their way into my little stable, I will always keep a pair or two of these around. (Unless they end up going the way of the Launch, that is. Cold, Brooks. Cold.)

That said, I've been on the look out for a slightly lighter shoe that falls somewhere between the Adrenalines and racing flats and still has a little stability to it. There are many, many intriguing candidates, so mostly I've been going on recommendations from folks I trust and looking for good deals. I know a lot of people who have been super happy with Newtons and read countless other positive reviews, but Newtons don't come cheap, so I'd been reluctant to take the plunge. But when the new model of the Motion (or Motus, as it's called in some places) came out, the price dropped on the old one, I had few other discounts up my sleeve, and the only remaining (reasonable) size in stock was one I could wear, I took it as a sign.

Some basic info about the shoe:

At 7.7 ounces, Newton doesn't actually consider the Motion a light-weight trainer; in that category, they offer the Distancia (neutral light-weight trainer, 6.8 ounces) & the Distancia U (universal light-weight trainer, 7.0 ounces). The descriptions of the two are basically identical, so hell if I know what the difference is, or what is meant by a "universal" trainer. (If you know, please share in the comments!) The Motion is still lighter than anything else I own that's not a racing flat, though, and Roadrunner Sports where I bought them classifies them as "performance stability."


On the website, the uppers are described as made from "highly breathable, fast-drying, open screen mesh," which is true. They are also described as having "minimal anatomical support strapping" and "metatarsal stretch panels." I have no idea what those statements are referring to, so I can't remark on them. (Again, if you know, please comment!) I can tell you that the insoles & outer soles felt surprisingly solid the first time I slipped them on, given the weight of the shoe.

Another reason I've been interested in checking out Newton's is the company's reputation for socially responsible manufacturing. The shoe also has a number of green features, including 100% recycled yarn shoe laces, webbing, insole topcover and 10% recycled outersole rubber.

I have heard rumors here and there that Newtons can last up to 2000-3000 miles, but thus far I've been unable to find anything that substantiates these claims, and the official website claims only that if you take care of them well, "you should expect to get the same amount of mileage out of your Newton shoes as your current running shoes." The "Science" section of the site does describe the shoes being tested up to 1000 miles for the purposes of examining how the materials hold up, but they include a note that the reason for going up to 1000 miles was that it was so far beyond what they'd reasonably expect someone to put on a single pair mileage-wise that any problems would be guaranteed to show up.

Re: the technical details, one of my pet peeves about running shoe companies is when they list a whole bunch of high tech-sounding features but don't explain what any of it actually means or why we should care. For example, the Motion offers you:

  • Biomechanical metatarsal sensor plate
  • Dual-density medial posting to forefoot
  • Met-flex enhanced forefoot flexibility

Does anybody who doesn't work for Newton actually know what any of that means? Every time I see this kind of thing, I have a sneaking suspicion that the company in question is just hoping that all the fancy words will impress people enough purely by virtue of their fanciness that they will just buy the shoes. Just to be sure these weren't specialized running shoe industry jargon with which I just happen to be unfamiliar, I googled all of these terms, & in every case the top 50 or so results were from the Newton site or articles about Newtons, usually as part of a list of features with no explanation. So Newton, if you're reading, please explain this stuff. Using jargon no one understands to sell shoes is hella sketch.

(Update- I did find a Runner's World review of a different Newton shoe that described the biomechanical metatarsal sensor plate as "essentially a triple layer of plastic plate, foam plate and sockliner." Feels a bit anticlimactic, no?)


The Motions were quite comfortable right out of the gate. By far, the most unusual thing about these shoes are the "external actuator lugs" under the ball of the foot. These puppies are why this shoe doesn't actually look like a minimal drop shoe; the heel looks the same as most running shoes, but the lugs lift the forefoot so that the insole is almost level. Sure, the sensation was a little weird at first and took some getting used to, but wasn't uncomfortable.

External actuator lugs.

Quoth the Newton website:

"When your midfoot/forefoot LANDS on the ground, the technology's four external actuator lugs are pressed into hollow chambers inside the shoe's midsole via an elastic membrane (ACTION). This movement absorbs shock. As you LEVER inside the shoe, the lugs release their stored energy and propel you forward through a burst of energetic return (REACTION) from the Action/Reaction Technology™. You then LIFT your knee and begin a new stride."

I am always suspicious of shoe construction gimmicks that claim that something about the way the shoe is built can actually make you run faster or more efficiently than you would in another shoe of the same weight, but then again I definitely don't claim to be an expert when it comes to the construction of running shoes so who knows. For me, these claims alone would not be a convincing reason to pay triple digits for shoes.

The instructions that came with the shoes suggested limiting runs to a mile or 10:00 of running every other day in order to adjust to "the Newton way of running," but as far as I can tell, "the Newton way of running" really isn't all that shockingly differently from the way many folks have been running for years. Yes, if you've been running in shoes with a 10-15mm heel drop, you will probably want to ease into these guys, but that's not about wearing Newtons; it's about wearing any low drop shoe. (Also FYI, you can heel strike in Newtons without a problem. The heel is maybe not quite so built up as in more traditional shoes, so that may wear them out faster, but you can certainly run in Newtons easily without converting to a mid/forefoot strike.)

If I'd been running solely in Adrenalines, starting out with a 10 miler in these probably would have been too much too soon, but I think the modest heel drop in the Mirages (5-6mm?) & various racing flats (4mm) over the last six months to a year prepared my calves & Achilles for this shoe pretty well. I could definitely feel that my feet had been doing some extra work (which is good; I'm trying to make them stronger & gradually wean myself off of the orthotics altogether), so I personally would probably not run a 15-20 miler or a marathon in these without building up to it, but they are totally solid enough for that & more.

(**A quick note, because I can see it coming up & it's a fair question -- My bizarre heel pain has been going on since February, long before I started trying to transition out of the orthotics or do any significant amount of running in anything other than Adrenalines, so I don't think it's shoe-related.)

In terms of footstrike, I've probably been a 75/25% forefoot/midfoot striker for something like ten years, but in the last few months I've been having some discomfort in my left forefoot that almost feels like bruising. This was where the big squishy lugs came in really handy -- thanks to all the Action/Reaction Technology™, I could barely feel the road. This was the first time in a long time that I can remember running on concrete without my left forefoot feeling tender every time it touched the ground. My main issue with attempting anything longer than a 10K in racing flats is the lack of forefoot cushioning; I can totally see racing a half marathon in these, even without orthotics.

The top of the shoe rubbed uncomfortably against my big toes a little at first, but that went away as I broke them in.


The website describes the Motion as having a "variable fit," which I don't understand. (A variable fit seems like something you'd want to avoid, no?) With a new shoe, I generally get a size 8, and sometimes find that I need to go with a 7.5. Based on my first run in them, I would probably go with a 7.5 instead of an 8 if I were to get them again. They felt a little big, and with this shoe in particular (and maybe all Newtons?), I think you *definitely* want to avoid too big -- those giant actuator lugs need to sit perfectly & snugly under the ball of your foot, and if you're sliding forward in the shoe, they can end up pressing against the part of your arch just behind the ball of your foot, which is uncomfortable and I'm guessing probably not good for your feet in the long run. They also felt a bit big all around. I feel like I have slightly wide, slightly thick feet and thus usually don't have to lace my shoes up very tightly (or sometimes actually have to loosen them). With these, I had to cinch the laces up pretty ridiculously tight to keep my foot from sliding around in the shoe. All that said, the 8 is totally functional for me.


Like I said before, for a shoe that's advertised as promoting a "natural" running style, I was surprised at how hard & solid the Motions actually felt when I first slipped them on. I spent the first day just walking around to get a feel for them, and found myself shaking my head at the absurdity of some of the statements on the website. For example, "Newtons allow your foot to feel the ground as if you were running barefoot." Sorry; no. Not even close. What Newtons allow your foot to feel are the giant slabs of rubber between your foot and the ground. You can argue that they make it a little easier to land on the ball of your foot, and that the lugs make doing so nice and comfy without having to suffer through the toughening up process that you might have to endure with minimalist shoes like Vibrams or Merrell Dash Gloves. You cannot argue that running in Newtons lets you feel the ground as if you were running barefoot. In these puppies, the ground is a distant dream.

They do feel SUPER light for such a solid shoe, though, for which I suppose we have the "highly breathable, fast-drying, open screen mesh" and some of the mysterious jargon above to thank.

In terms of flexibility, the Motions remind me a lot of my Saucony Mirages, but to a lesser extreme. Both shoes are decidedly more flexible than the Adrenalines, but less so than either of my racing flats. The Mirage is slightly more flexy than the Motions -- that, I can't run more than a few miles in without orthotics and have to pay very close attention to every foot strike. The Motions, I ran 10 miles in without orthotics right away, with no problems. (I think the extra cushioning from the actuator lugs helps a lot there.)

Eventually, I would like to be able to run longer distances in a shoe where I can feel the ground (I really enjoy this on the track and in shorter races), but for me right now, the Motion seems to be a good compromise -- light & fairly flexible, but still with cushioning & enough stability where I still need it.

Bottom Line

I like these shoes, both from a practical and philosophical standpoint. They are light and comfortable, feel great, and I am willing to pay a premium for socially & environmentally responsible production. I do not care for the cult-like vibe of the website and the amount of Kool-Aid they seem to be pedaling. Sorry, Newton; you are not the first company to create light, low/zero drop shoes or to promote mid/forefoot running. I would totally recommend these to a runner friend, but you will not see me pushing Chi Running books or Pose Method seminars. As far as I can tell, this shoe would probably work equally fine for just about any running technique or style.

4.5 / 5 stars


  1. Hi

    how about pronation on these?
    so you find them "true to size?
    thanks for thorough review...

    1. You're welcome!

      The store where I got them, Roadrunner Sports, sells them as a "performance stability" model, meaning they've got more pronation support than a neutral shoe, but they're stripped down enough that it's definitely not the same as a beefier stability shoe like the Adrenaline. So it really depends on how much support you find that you need.

      I generally can wear a 7.5 or 8 & these were an 8. They fit pretty well but I could also see going with a 7.5. So yes, I'd say they're pretty true to fit. :)