Pumped-up kicks: The shoe tech taking your training to the next level5 minute read
Your kicks should look good and feel good. Whether you're training for fun or competing in a marathon, the right shoe can help to improve comfort. But, with so much clever marketing out there, choosing the right pair can be as tough as (toe) nails.
The modern running shoe was arguably born in 1960 when the New Balance Trackster hit the market. It was the first mass-produced runner, and had the added benefit of offering multiple widths. Most importantly, its deep and rippled sole provided better traction, absorbed shock and claimed to help prevent injuries.
The underlying science behind running shoes is biomechanics – the study of how forces acting on the body can affect it. Almost six decades since the original Trackster, we’ve witnessed a range of sporting shoes that incorporate the most advanced materials and innovative designs to cater for every sport and physical activity.
It is always strongly advised to consult a podiatrist or physiotherapist if you have a foot injury or are experiencing pain.
Here's a look at how the latest kicks and their claims to protect your feet and boost your performance. Whilst the technology of shoes offers a wide range of features the most important consideration is the shoe is right for you and you should get expert advice if you need help when making your decision.
Keeping it comfy while preventing injury
Joggers must provide enough support, balance and cushioning to assist in prevention of painful foot and ankle injuries such as Achilles tendon pain, heel pain and shin splints. Thanks to decades of development, biomechanics has aided in injury reduction while producing a range of footwear to suit wearers with different needs.
Many shoe brands have already advanced beyond a regular foam support sole to more sophisticated systems that claim to offer both better cushioning and running performance. Examples include Reebok's Harmony Road runners – which use a granular foam material to provide maximum wearer comfort and strong elastic properties – and Adidas energy-returning UltraBOOST shoes, which work on a similar principle with their 3,000 sole 'energy capsules'.
And, it's not just soles that have become more advanced.
Adidas for example now offer a 'torsion' system that claims to allow independent movement between the heel and forefoot for stability and a smoother run, while the Brooks Transcend shoes use a 'Guide Rail' support system which they say helps keep your stride aligned when tiredness sets in.
The future is now
Beyond improving comfort, stability and traction, there are running shoes– already available to consumers – that use the latest fitness apps and advanced manufacturing to make training even more fun and effective. These include:
Electronic fitness tracking has been taken to the next level with devices like the Nike “Sport Pack”, a tiny device that slots into the shoe's footbed. Its built-in accelerometer can detect and record various sports metrics, including number of steps, jump height and even pushups. Using Bluetooth to link up with Nike's training and basketball apps, it turns the shoe into your own virtual fitness coach.
Various shoe brands have tinkered with midsole designs in an effort to overcome the durability and performance limitations of foam. One result of this research is the Adidas Springblade Ignite. This high-tech show utilises a group of 'blades' under the rear foot which are designed to provide exceptional cushioning and energy return. In the same vein are the Nike Shox, which use an array of small hollow rubber columns in the shoe midsole to provide superior shock absorption and energy efficiency.
Next-generation manufacturing and materials
To produce shoes that are more fine-tuned and personalised to the wearer, some brands are moving away from standard assembly line manufacturing. Adidas has harnessed ARAMIS 3D motion-capture technology and robotic assembly to optimise the comfort and performance of its limited-edition Futureline shoes. And both Adidas and New Balance now offer shoes with a 3D-printed midsole that provides better cushioning and the ability to customise shoes to the wearer.
Other brands are taking ideas from some unlikely places. Under Armour took concepts from the sports bra design – including breathable fabric and exceptional support – and applied this to its Speedform line. As well as providing bra-like support for the feet, the line also includes a hyper-sensitive sensor in the sole that can track your running without requiring a smartphone.
Finally, if you like to run in the rain but don't like wet feet, GORE-TEX may have the answer: its running shoes are claimed to contain nine billion tiny membrane openings that let your feet breathe while blocking out wind and rain.
What's coming up?
Running shoes have come a long way since the good old days of crepe rubber soles and leather uppers – and the pace of innovation is showing no signs of slowing. A British designer recently developed a concept for a self-repairing running shoe made from 3D-printed synthetic biological material that can not only repair itself overnight, but can be programmed with different behaviours. And Google recently unveiled “motivational” talking shoes that are designed to encourage their owner with positive comments about the joys of training.
While it's unclear whether talking shoes will take off, the future for both avid and casual runners looks bright.
Read more about how to maximise your health and performance on The Check Up’s Healthy Living page.