Shoe tech: Under Armour introduces energy return

Detail from the Under Armour HOVR Sonic energy return shoe.

Under Armour has joined Adidas and Nike in releasing a shoe based on energy return technology, reports Mahsa Fratantoni.

When you hit the pavement, it might hit you back – especially if you’re wearing the wrong shoe. But a new trend in shoe technology, called “energy return”, is dominating footwear science and it claims to propel you forward, not down. 

Compared to traditional shoes, running shoes with energy return use a more flexible material or foam in the midsole. This comes in handy when the midsole deforms, or changes shape, with each foot strike. These shoes claim to absorb or store the kinetic energy that is produced when your foot hits the ground and then returns it to the athlete or runner. 

The cushioning gives the shoe a comfier feel than some regular runners, but the big claim is that this type of footwear will improve your performance.  In fact in one study, energy return shoes were linked to better running economy on both treadmill (by 0.9%) and on the ground (by 1.1%). 

Taking this one step further is the “energy web”, which is a new addition by Under Armour as part of their HOVR running shoe range. This feature relies on a comprehensive mesh web that contains a cushioning core, which claims to help maintain the midsole’s shape and deliver strong responsiveness and energy return.

With the help of brand ambassador and former Wallaby, Drew Mitchell, the company has introduced two styles of the HOVR in the Australian market, the Phantom ($200 AUD) and Sonic ($170 AUD).

The HOVR Phantom Brilliance for Women.
The HOVR Phantom for blokes.

The Under Armour HOVR midsole, made of a proprietary foam compound, is its third cushioning platform, in addition to Micro G and Charged Cushioning. The company says its latest cushioning system provides support through energy return as well as improved shock absorption. 

Under Armour isn’t the first brand to launch energy return footwear – Adidas first launched it with the popular Boost sole in 2013, and Nike unveiled its version called React in early 2018. And given the popularity of energy return innovation in recent years, we’re sure they won’t be the last. 

Potential downsides? 

A 2014 study published in Comparative Exercise Physiology compared regular footwear with those claiming to increase energy return.

It found that shoes designed for energy return increased tibial accelerations, and this has been linked to stress fractures. According to the researchers, this new type of footwear may place runners at an increased risk of injury. Though there is no direct evidence to suggest this just yet, the researchers conclude it may not be suitable to all runners especially those who are susceptible to chronic injuries.