Ever wonder what's in your fancy running shoes? We got experts from your favorite sneaker brands to break down the technology
What's in Your Running Shoes?
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Running shoe manufacturers toss around fancy terms to describe their unique, "proprietary" technology that they claim makes their sneaks stand above the rest. But, what does it all really mean? Turns out, most soles have traditionally been packed with a type of foam called ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA), which is what makes your shoes feel cushy. (Check out 3 Awesome New Custom Sneakers.) Now, companies are blending EVA with other materials or are forgoing the stuff altogether in lieu of alternative materials. We spoke to the experts who design this stuff at our favorite shoe companies and dissected nine pairs that have particularly interesting run-faster, run-further technology in them.
Photo: Corbis Images
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The brand new IGNITE is made of polyurethane (PU) foam rather than EVA. (Check out what Usain Bolt has to say about it.) "The premium foam is what sets the IGNITE apart and makes it Puma's most responsive running shoe. We believe IGNITE foam is a perfect synergy of cushioning and energy return with the added benefit of not breaking down over time," said a Puma representative.
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The Ultra BOOST combines the benefits of EVA (comfort, weight, and smooth transition) with Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) for enhanced energy return, durability, and temperature resistance. “Each technology featured in Ultra BOOST was built to complement each other, providing energized adaptability through a customized fit, look, and feel,” says Ben Herath, vice president of design for adidas Running. “While we’ve taken innovation to the next level, the sleek silhouette of Ultra BOOST is built to look as good as it performs.”
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The Fresh Foam Boracay is made with EVA foam, but engineered in a unique way. "We gathered biomechanical data from runners and used specialized software to design shoes with the optimal balance between cushioning and support," says Claire Wood, senior product manager at New Balance for Performance Running.
Photo: New Balance
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The brand new 33-M is packed with "solyte" foam, ASICS' proprietary form of EVA that has been engineered to be even lighter (resulting in a more lightweight running shoe). But, "the new AmpliFoam midsole technology (top layer of the midsole, in combination with the Solyte midsole on the bottom layer) still provides plenty of very soft and bouncy cushioning," says Clara Kerley, product marketing specialist for ASICS America.
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The Clifton, along with all of HOKA ONE ONE's maximally cushioned running shoes, is packed with EVA foam, and just EVA foam. "At Hoka, we believe that foam provides the best ride, so we do not add plastic, gel, or anything else into our midsoles. However, we do pay very close attention to the geometry of the midsole shapes because they play a key role in cushioning and stability," says Jason Hill, HOKA ONE ONE Product Line Manager. Since the soles are so large (even though the shoe is lightweight), the developers have a larger amount of foam to work with, which means your foot will sink into the midsole, creating stability and guidance, adds Hill.
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The Altra Paradigm uses EVA plus their proprietary “A-Bound rebound material." “Our EVA-bound blend bounces back better than traditional EVA and doesn’t compress or break down as fast,” says Golden Harper, founder of Altra. “The Zero Drop configuration of the cushioning allows a runner to naturally run with better technique, as well as allows the spring of the lower leg to load further and therefore push off the ground with more power.”
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The "Lunarlon" cushioning system in the brand new LunarTempo features soft, re-engineered "Lunarlon" foam for a smooth, plush, cushioned transition. "The foam in the LunarTempo is lighter and more responsive than previous versions, while still providing the durable support you need for longer runs," said a Nike representative.
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The Glycerin 12 foam is Super DNA—"a highly viscous non-Newtonian material," or a material that adapts to the specific force you apply to it. “Traditional cushioning takes a one-size-fits-all approach, but Brooks knows that each runner is different. Super DNA was developed to continuously tailor the level of cushioning to your specific needs, even as they change during the run,” says a Brooks representative. "This compound was engineered to perform at the molecular level (picture millions of resilient 'nanosprings'). If you looked at Super DNA through a microscope, you’d see that it's made up of individual molecules connected in strands. These strands (which form chains) react to the amount of force placed on the foot, dispersing pressure and providing resiliency. Bottom line of this physics lesson: you get tailored cushioning that reacts to your specific weight, pace, gait, movement and running environment."
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The Wave Rider 18 is packed with what the brand calls U4ic (pronounced euphoric), a copolymer foam. “U4ic is a light, yet durable technology to make sure you stay focused on your run not what is on your feet,” says Charles Hauck, assistant business unit manager of Running Mizuno USA. “The U4ic midsole and Wave Technology work in harmony to provide you with the smoothest heel-to-toe transition possible—making each run a euphoric one.”