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Under Armour’s New HOVR Infinite
When it comes to Under Armour’s new HOVR Infinite, the key word is more: more performance, more connection. The plush new trainer won’t be available until February 2019, but we got a behind-the-scenes look at its design and inspiration at the company’s research and development center in Portland, Ore.
For Under Armour, performance and connection are closely intertwined. Making runners better is the mission, says Topher Gaylord, Under Armour’s general manager of running, but while many shoe companies focus solely on the competition aspect, he believes that the approach to best performance should be more holistic, pointing to factors such as nutrition, recovery and community that sit alongside and bolster performance and success.
At their sprawling Oregon facility, which includes an athlete performance center and high-tech biomechanics lab, Under Armour is invested in learning about what makes runners tick, how they sleep, eat, run and connect with one another, and how to combine all of those variables in order to improve performance.
Scientists work with runners, from elite to recreational, gathering and analyzing data that informs shoe and apparel design. The day Women’s Running visited the lab, pro track athlete Aisha Praught-Leer was inhouse, working with biomechanists. Praught-Leer, wearing the new Infinites, was hooked up to futuristic-looking wires and markers that were functioning with high-speed infrared cameras to capture her movement as she ran across force plates on the floor. The technology may be just like that used in Hollywood movies, but here, Under Armour is collecting data on things like impact force and joint kinematics, explains Helen Woo, a senior footwear biomechanist. That information is shared with the footwear team to aid in smarter shoe design.
Using technology to make connections is also key to the Infinites. Following the idea that connection makes runners better, the company has worked to advance the digital experience, with improved sensor chips implanted into the shoe’s midsole of Under Armour’s entire 2019 HOVR line. The chip-enabled shoes also work with the brand’s Map My Run app. The app, which measures valuable run data (including stride length, cadence and pace), also includes a personalized coaching component, which provides tips and feedback after each run.
I took the chip-embedded Infinites for a test drive on a rainy evening run in Portland. Connecting the shoe to the app is nothing more than a wave of your smart phone over the shoe. You can take your phone along if you want to moderate or modify your run based on the live tracking, but you can also run phone-free, with the shoe recording data that can be synched to your phone after the run’s over. I held on to my phone and enjoyed watching my data unfold. An overstrider in the past, I found myself playing with my cadence and stride length along the route, which was engaging and pretty empowering, too. Coaching tips offered at the end were a bit limited, but it’s a useful function that could be further built out and even more personalized in the future.
The Infinite, a neutral shoe cushioned from stem to stern with Under Armour’s lightweight, patented HOVR foam, offered a highly pleasant, plushy ride. It was comfortable—maybe too comfortable, I feared at first. I tend to think of a zero-sum game when it comes to comfort versus performance. However, that promised pop out of the HOVR midsole foam definitely enlivened my stride. No tradeoff after all, it seems.
The Infinite—which has an 8mm offset and weighs in at 8.75 oz. for a women’s size 7—is really a do-anything shoe designed with versatility in mind. Other shoes in the 2019 HOVR suite will have more distinct jobs to do. The HOVR Guardian’s aim is stability, while the HOVR Velociti 2 will be a lighter, narrower kick made specifically for running fast. All shoes in the HOVR suite will be digitally connected and available in February 2019.