As much as I’d like to be more eloquent here, it’s a really weird time to be alive. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has grown from a distant threat to a worldwide pandemic, where billions of people are at risk of contracting and spreading a pretty unknown disease. Schools have closed their doors, restaurants have gone “delivery only” and gatherings of 10-plus people are banned. It makes sense — “flattening the curve” is the only way to help alleviate the stress on the health care system so care can be provided to those who need it most. But for the majority of us, this uncertainty leads to more questions than answers, with many of our lives and habits flipped upside-down.
Despite the “social distancing” and coronavirus tips from talking heads on the news, running has thankfully remained the one constant in many of our lives. It’s still widely acceptable* (and encouraged) to get out of our self-quarantined reality by lacing up a pair of running shoes and escaping for a few solo miles of fresh air.
It feels almost superficial to write a review about a pair of shoes that has provided nothing more than a much-needed escape, but at the end of the day, it might be the perfect time to get granular and indulge for a few minutes.
Here, I’ll unpack some of my thoughts on Under Armour’s new do-it-all HOVR Machina running shoe. With its distance-oriented build, cool new features and integrated smart tech, this neutral runner is a surprisingly quick and snappy trainer that truly performs.
Let’s jump in, shall we?
There’s a fine balance between cushion and responsiveness. As someone who tests running shoes regularly, it’s a bummer when brands try to make a shoe as plush as possible and include too much cushioning, resulting in a shoe that lacks springiness or any kind of feel out on the road.
Thankfully, the HOVR Machina isn’t such a shoe. It’s built with a significant amount of HOVR cushioning in the midsole but it’s interestingly paired with what Under Armour calls its 2-pronged Pebax propulsion plate. What does this mean in plain English? The sole is designed to give runners the best of a cushioned trainer with responsiveness to promote a snappier turnover (which equals speed).
To be honest, it took me a few runs to figure out what was going on behind the scenes. The cushion is immediately noticeable and felt similar to its HOVR Infinite line in terms of being a nice mix of firmness and softness, but as I progressed into longer runs, I felt the support of the Pebax propulsion plate really kick in. The energy transfer is clear, especially leaving the ground, and it really felt like the shoe excelled as I crossed the 10K mark and beyond.
Outsole-wise, the HOVR Machina pairs sections of durable, high-abrasion rubber with areas of grippier, blown rubber for plenty of traction and longevity where you need it most. Bravo.
The engineered mesh upper was easily one of the standout features of the shoe. It’s breathable, lightweight and conformed to my foot better than some other shoes I’ve tested lately. I tend to favor shoes with a more narrow, less roomy upper, so if you like a bit more space for toe splay, I’d recommend sizing up half a size.
The upper’s flexibility was especially noticeable while running — I enjoyed how it flirted with being stretchy, but ultimately held its shape to provide structure and support throughout the gait cycle. The tongue and lacing system is no fuss and straightforward, and I appreciate when companies stick with what works and don’t try to get unnecessarily fancy.
As with the HOVR Infinite and the HOVR Sonic, I didn’t experience any heel slippage with the HOVR Machina. My heel was locked in place mile after mile, and I didn’t feel the hotspots all long-distance runners dread.
Just because a shoe is cushioned and designed for high-volume training doesn’t mean it has to look like a marshmallow. The HOVR Machina certainly looks more substantial than a race flat, but it doesn’t look overly inflated or cumbersome. Of course, as much as we hate to admit it, looks play a huge role in whether or not we like the “feel” of a shoe, and when looking down at these shoes while running, they elicit a sense of “let’s get it done” and “c’mon, is that all you’ve got?”
I was sent a test pair in the “Black / Halo Gray” colorway, and I’ve worn them on runs, out doing errands and out getting casual lunch with friends. They’re tastefully executed with a pop of color that’s not too loud, but if you’re looking for something that truly stands out in a crowd, Under Armour offers the HOVR Machina in a total of six different colorways (the Water / Orange Spark variety comes to mind).
If you’ve never heard of (or tried) UA HOVR technology, you should. I wrote a piece last year on the benefits of running connected (check it out here), but essentially UA HOVR connected shoes pair with the MapMyRun app (or through the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 – Under Armour Edition) and unlock a whole number of features designed to track your route and give you metrics like calories burned, distance, pace and more.
Most importantly, though, this tech provides real-time form coaching, designed to help optimize your cadence during your run. I won’t get into too many details here, but this ultimately helps improve running economy while reducing the risk of injury due to improper form.
Of course, the Under Armour Machina comes loaded with UA HOVR technology, and like my experience with other Under Armour shoes, I had absolutely no issues with connectivity or software glitches. Connecting the shoes to the MapMyRun app for the first time is simple and straightforward, as is reconnecting for subsequent runs.
I tend to suffer from shin splints, so I especially appreciated the metrics like cadence and stride length to make sure I shorten my stride and run with a faster turnover. Combine this with the aforementioned cushioned midsole, and shin splints were a nonissue during this round of testing.
Of all the shoes I’ve tested for Under Armour, the Machina was the most intriguing and exciting to experiment with.
It’s got what I’d like to affectionately call a bit of an identity crisis, where it’s clearly a long-distance trainer, but tries its hardest to hang with its more speed-oriented competitors. This focus on speed and responsiveness by pairing excess cushioning with the Pebax speed plate has created a shoe that blurs the line a bit, and I found myself reaching for the Machina whether I was heading out for a tempo run, or planning to log long base miles on the weekend.
Pair this with the engineered mesh upper that required absolutely no break-in period and the integrated UA HOVR™ technology, and these shoes are a no brainer for veteran runners looking to simplify their shoe selection, or novices looking for something that does a little bit of everything. Time and time again, Under Armour has proven it’s capable of creating performance running shoes on par with the legacy running brands, and the Under Armour HOVR Machina is no exception — it’s simply fun to run in, and that’s always what’s most important.
*Please click here for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest updates on COVID-19. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.