For 21 years, Under Armour has been developing apparel specifically designed for athletes — even performance pajamas for Patriots. Over the last decade, this effort expanded to include quality footwear built to elevate star athletes like the NBA’s Steph Curry or tennis superstar Sloane Stephens. Thing is, even owner Kevin Plank admits the Baltimore-based brand has been missing a “defining product.” So the team built one: In November, Under Armor debuted a new shoe technology it refers to as Hovr.
Designed to provide wearers with a previously unachievable combination of support, energy return, and shock absorption, Hovr rethinks one of the most important features of any shoe — the cushion. And as we found out at it’s South African launch this past week, it’s a lot more than just a wedge of foam.
The eternal tradeoff
Imagine running with pillows strapped to your feet. They would provide plenty of cushion, but also soak up energy with every step, wearing you out quickly compared to a firmer, bouncier material. You can’t have both. Or can you?
After years of research, Dow Chemical provided Under Armour with a proprietary foam compound the brand uses in each Hovr shoe’s midsole. It shows incredible scores for softness on a durometer, a tool designed to measure firmness, allowing it to absorb a ton of shock. But it also springs back astoundingly well.
This improved midsole allowed Under Armour to find the perfect combination of comfort and energy return — a Holy Grail for marathon runners looking to cover long distances comfortably.
“During the [Johannesburg launch] run, it just felt like I was running on air,” Popular Mechanics SA editor, Lindsey Schutters, told us. “When you run, it just sort of pushes you. So, when you go up Jan Smuts Avenue, that’s when people start to trail off because it’s one mile of steep uphill. With these, it felt like I was just being pushed.”
Hovr’s cushioning technology also proved a massive benefit for DJ Milkshake. Though he logs around 40km of running per week, the intensity of his runs pushes the footwear to its absolute limits. Where other styles of shoe may break down under this kind of constant beating.
“I train mostly like 5K and 1,500-meter runners, so I’m working on speed endurance, aerobic power — I’m training like any real middle distance runner,” he said. “There’s also the element of being really athletic and doing a lot in the gym, so I’m having to have responsiveness. It’s all so smooth, I just don’t have to even think about it.”
— Papi Mabele (@Papi_Mabele) February 1, 2018
Better living through technology?
Technology has transformed our trainers: Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D is a 3D-printed shoe sole, and Reebok’s Liquid Factory used 3D printing to make its own intricate designs. In general, it’s also making shoes unaffordable. Not so much with Hovr.
The line comprises two models: An Under Armour-described “luxury model” named the Phantom and a lower profile version dubbed the Sonic.