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Even the most casual runners know how tough running can be on your feet. When you’re in the middle of a marathon training cycle—or even if running’s just a casual hobby—the mere act of standing up on beat-up feet first thing in the morning can make you wince (just me?).
That’s a big reason for the rise of max-cushioning running shoes you see these days—people want something to soften the blow of striking the ground over and over (and over) again.
That’s where Nike’s latest tech comes in: The brand just launched Joyride, an innovative cushioning system that debuts in the Nike Joyride Run Flyknit.
The Nike Joyride shoes feature an underfoot platform made up of thousands of tiny beads encased in pods. Made from thermoplastic elastomer (or TPE, a copolymer of plastic and rubber you’ll also find in yoga mats), the beads can expand multi-directionally, adjusting to your unique strike and gait for a personalized fit—in the same way you might design a pair of Nike IDs, but for performance, not aesthetics.
But the real magic is in the pods that house the beads. “This material has more rubber and is more responsive than any previous foam we’ve used, so the containment system is important to control the bounce the right way,” explains Rachel Bull, Nike’s Senior Product Line Manager for Joyride. Sized based on how your foot strikes the ground in motion, the heel pod of the Nike Joyride Run Flyknit contains around 50 percent of the beads to absorb impact while the pods at the tip of the shoe have just five percent of the beads, making them more responsive.
That cushioning is actually meant to mimic the sensation of running on grass or dirt, which runners often opt for over pavement during their easier efforts. And because there’s no sock liner, your foot sits directly on the tech, so you actually feel more grounded despite the extra cushioning.
This shoe helps make running easier on the body, says Bull. For current Nike owners, it has the same energy return as the Epic React, but with 15 percent more cushioning. And there’s great impact absorption, as the beads move and disperse the impact to ease the stress on your leg muscles. “No one wants to run when they’re sore; these shoes let you get those mile done while protecting your body.”
While clocking intervals on a treadmill, I could feel the beads shifting to accommodate my changing speed and stride; when I took the shoes off and pressed into different points of the sole, I could see the same effect taking place.
And despite the shifting nature of the beads, I actually felt more stable in the Joyride than in other cushioned shoes because these sneakers were adjusting to my feet instead of locking me into a specific mold.
It is an area researchers have looked into, whether the shoes you wear can make an impact on how your body recovers. Unstable “rocker” shoes were shown to enhance recovery in lower leg and thigh muscles from muscle damage induced by marathon running, according to a 2018 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. (The shoes used in the study were a brand called MBT, or Masai Barefoot Technology.)
Subbing in a pair of sneakers like the Nike Joyride Run Flyknit on your easy days could keep your legs in peak condition for longer, harder runs. Runners who rotate at least two pairs of are 39 percent less likely to get injured, according to other research published in the same journal. (Plus, you’ll extend the lifespan of your race day shoes if you’re not logging as many miles on them.)
At the end of the day, what you wear when you run comes down to personal preference. Wearing something billed as a recovery sneaker isn’t necessarily going to make you recover faster or make running physically easier. But wearing a shoe designed to take some of the stress off your already beat-up feet might make certain miles feel easier.
Nike members can buy the Nike Joyride Run Flyknit now; the sneakers will be available at nike.com on August 15 for $180.