The idea of a pedometer type device built into your shoes isn’t a new one-Nike used to build little slots for the iPod/Nike+ sensor into their running shoes. Altra, however, has taken that to a whole new level with the Altra IQ, using Bluetooth sensors in the heels to measure your speed, footstrike, distance, and cadence!
Altra isn’t necessarily a household name, and they aren’t your average running shoe. They were founded with the intention of making shoes flat from toe to heel, or, as Altra calls it, Zero Drop.
Basically, a traditional running shoe is anywhere from 4-15mm higher at the heel than at the toe, which encourages you to slap the ground heel first. By eliminating the raised heel, Altras help you land with a gentler midfoot or forefoot landing, which can potentially give you a more efficient stride. Altra also focuses on wider toe boxes, giving your feet room to spread; they do taper down at the midfoot, so narrow footed people shouldn’t have an issue. I have extremely narrow feet and found that they fit me nicely, even if I could cross my toes inside the shoes! They are not minimal shoes in terms of
They are not minimal shoes in terms of soles, however, with a fairly generous amount of thickness and cushion. So if you crave the idea of shoes that let your feet land naturally, but prefer some cushion as well, Altra is the shoe for you.
With that bit of background in place, let’s take a look at the IQs. They’re quite comfortable and cushioned, and the midfoot lacing locks your foot down nicely. As I said, I have narrow feet and heels, but I did not have any sliding or hotspots from the shoes, and the toe box was quite roomy without feeling sloppy. I liked them so much I found myself reaching for them even when I wasn’t heading out for a run, simply because they were great for walking the dog, chasing my son, etc. Style-wise, they’re athletic looking but don’t scream “minimal/unusual shoe”, so you won’t be embarrassed being seen in public rocking them like you might in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.
Style-wise, they’re athletic looking but don’t scream “minimal/unusual shoe”, so you won’t be embarrassed being seen in public rocking them like you might in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.
The real trick with the Altra IQ is in the heels, where Bluetooth sensors are embedded and can track your movements. When linked with the app, the IQs can tell you how much time your feet spend in contact with the ground, your cadence, distance, and pace. From there, the app can use that to give you suggestions on your form (like stand taller, or lean in more, or try to increase your cadence), which can help you adjust on the fly to be more efficient. This is my one quibble with the app, and it has more to do with me than with the app itself — you need to have headphones on to hear the feedback, and while you get a ton of data post-run, you do not get a summary or written tips along the lines of what the app is telling you as you run. It would be helpful to get those post-run as well as a way to compare runs, feedback, etc.
Altra is very serious about the data they give you, and being a bit of a nerd about these things I found it pretty fascinating. I always thought I was thoroughly a midfoot striker, but it appears I strike midfoot more with my left foot than my right — according to some of the run dat, I hit midfoot on my left foot 91% of the time, while my right foot hit heel first 74% of the time. I also come in a little below the recommended cadence of 160 with a 143 average, though apparently, I did hit a high of 173. Altra points out that some of the metrics, like impact rate and average contact time, are dependent on the individual, so the idea is to run several times and get an idea of your baseline before stressing over whether one number is right or wrong.
I wanted to get more baseline testing done for myself so I could really dig into the running data, but unfortunately, a slight flaring of some issues in my left knee made me slower and unable to run too far/too fast. However, I am looking forward to using the Altra IQ app to ease me back into some solid runs, and am hoping the feedback I get about cadence and foot strike especially will help me run more efficiently and cut back on the downtime from nagging injuries!
Overall, I think the idea of the Altra IQ smart running shoe is very clever. The app provides very useful data, and it also helps people who need to better understand why Altra’s “Zero Drop” concept makes for more efficient running. It’s one thing to have someone tell you that a high cadence and light step matters, and another thing to experience the data for yourself. My hesitation in saying everyone would benefit from these is the cost — at $220, these aren’t a cheap pair of shoes, and the sensor comes with the shoes, so it’s not like you can buy the shoes and reuse the old sensor. At the same time, these are only around $100 more than a non-connected shoe, and if you already use your phone while you run and replace your shoes 2x a year, the cost isn’t that different from using a regular pair of shoes and a GPS watch.
Aside from cost, I am really impressed with the shoes, and only wish they had some sort of offline mode so you could leave your phone behind. Altra does say that’s in the works, so we might see that in a future update.
You can find the Altra IQ running shoes here, and if $220 is a bit steep for you, there’s always the unconnected Altra line as well!
Source: Manufacturer provided review unit
What I Liked: Comfortable shoes; paired quickly with the app and stayed connected; provides significant feedback during and after the run
What Needs Improvement: Pricey; cannot track data without a connected phone; coaching tips only appear during a run