How Smart Shoes Can Help Runners Improve

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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How Smart Shoes Can Help Runners Improve

For runners, finding the right pair of running shoes is crucial. Fit, comfort, support and durability are standard aspects to consider when shopping. As new advancements in running shoe technology come to the market, shoppers can now opt for smart shoes that will coach them on better running form. Under Armour has been finessing its connected shoe over the years — and this new wave of smart shoe technology used in conjunction with the MapMyRun app may help runners improve their efficiency and reduce their risk of injury.

HOW SMART SHOES WORK

In the past, running metrics were recorded predominantly by wrist wearables like watches and fitness bands. Now, earbuds are quickly becoming another way to take basic measurements of things like heart rate and cadence, and this new line of smart running shoes takes things a step further.

According to Jeff Knight, senior manager of digital product science at Under Armour, some of these advantages include not having to worry about battery power and improving accuracy of the metrics.

“At a high level, [connected running shoes] offer a convenience you can’t get from a smartwatch. UA connected footwear has a battery that lasts the life of the shoe. Also, if you want to track your run but don’t want the distraction of a GPS-watch or phone, connected footwear can ‘automagically’ track those runs and sync them to your MapMyRun account. That means you’ll never miss a mile in your training log,” says Knight. “Also, connected footwear does not depend on satellite-based tracking. That means it is absolutely more precise, and in the case of UA connected footwear, more accurate on average.”

Individualized gait coaching features in UA’s smart running shoes provide accurate measurements of data like stride length over time and how long your foot is on the ground to fine-tune your form. The UA HOVR shoes, for instance, contain a chip in the sole of the shoe that connects directly to the MapMyRun app via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to track metrics like distance, cadence, pace and stride length over the course of a run. In other words, they use the acceleration of the foot to get speed, distance and other information instead of GPS. Having the sensor closer to the ground and on your foot (as opposed to the wrist) means more accurate data without altering the fit or cushioning you’d expect with a quality shoe.

WAYS THEY’LL HELP YOU AS A RUNNER

Identify Fatigue: While this ability to not have to rely on satellite for GPS metrics like pace and distance is certainly helpful in those instances when your signal may fail or suffer from interference, one of the most interesting capabilities of smart shoes is the potential ability to help runners gauge their fatigue.

“Connected footwear, by virtue of monitoring at the sight of action (your foot) can capture things that a watch never could, namely foot strike angle or foot strike pattern (i.e., heel, mid, fore),” Knight says. “Academic research shows that ground contact time, cadence, stride length and foot strike angle change when a runner experiences fatigue.”

Improve Running Efficiency: There is a relationship between cadence and running economy (i.e., efficiency). Thus, it’s in every runner’s best interest to adjust their cadence periodically to see if it makes running feel easier. However, it’s always been challenging to know where to start. Under Armour connected footwear makes it easy by providing a personalized range for you to target. While the range might not be perfect for everyone, it’s a good place to start. But remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about feel.

Receiving this data from your shoe allows you to make corrections to shorten your stride and increase your cadence. The app’s coaching feedback lets you know how the changes you’ve made are improving your form on long runs and intervals.

Measuring Foot Strike Angle: Aside from recommendations to speed up your cadence, shorten your stride or take additional recovery days before an interval session, an intriguing functionality of smart shoes is determining how your foot is striking the ground. “Foot strike angle is especially exciting. We developed our foot strike angle feature to do just that; provide the angle of the foot at the point of impact,” says Knight.

Determine Shoe Life: By using other data like weight, height and weekly mileage along with foot strike data, new sensors can recommend exactly what running shoe is right for you — and when you might need a new pair. In fact, shoe life is already part of UA’s HOVR lineup, as the sensor tracks your mileage to determine exactly when the shoe has surpassed its intended lifespan.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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