Running, unlike other sports and fitness activities, requires very little of a person when it comes to starting off. Heck, you can even run barefoot, so there’s literally nothing you need to begin running, except for ground beneath your feet. So it would surprise the running purists and the old-fashioned to know just how much new technology is being created just for runners.

One of the more eye-catching ones in recent times has been the spring-loaded shoe. These are shoes that look like they were designed for the cyborg age. Traditional rubber or PVC soles have been replaced by mechanical springs that absorb shocks and boost your speed when lifting off the ground. Spring loaded shoes have been around since the early 2000s, from brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Nike, but new-gen shoes take the concept to a whole new level. Makers of the more modern spring-loaded shoes such as Enko and Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) would have you believe that this is the future of running. But is there own future still in doubt?

Enko’s Running Shoe which went through a successful IndieGogo crowdfunding earlier this year, believes that athletes and runners can reduce injury, impact and feel weightless with its brand of shoes. The France-based company was founded by Christian Freschi, whose knowledge in metal engineering and 12 years of research, made the shoe possible. Enko claims its shoe is the only one on the market that adjusts to the weight of the user thanks to interchangeable shock absorbers and studs. Consequently, it’s also said to last longer than most other running shoes.

How the Enko works
How the Enko works

While it looks outlandish and closer to a blade runner shoe rather than a normal running shoe, Enko’s shoes might not even make an impact in competitive running. That’s because as this article from Outside magazine points out, Enko may not be entirely legal for international athletic events. Trying to understand the legality of the Enko shoe, Outside’s Martin Fritz Huber got in touch with IAAF, the body that organises all the international athletics competitions. The IAAF replied saying that in its current form, the Enko shoe might not be allowed for IAAF events.

Similarly, APL’s shoes, which were targetted at basketball players in the US, were banned by the NBA in that country at the concept stage, effectively cutting its market potential. Based on a patent-pending Load ‘N Launch technology the shoe features a unique device that serves as a launchpad, housed at the front of the shoe, which compresses and then releases as the runner exerts force on the front of the foot.It’s designed to capture the maximum amount of energy through the compression caused by exerting pressure on the forefoot and then releasing the energy through the liftoff stage to increase leap and speed. A Thermoplastic Urethane shank is present to help stabilize the foot and efficiently transfer energy toward the part of the shoe that impacts vertical leap.

APL's Windchill line of next-gen running shoes
APL’s Windchill line of next-gen running shoes

APL has now positioned its shoes as something runners can use to ‘unlock their potential in a natural way’, as Outside’s article also points out. APL’s Ryan Goldston says unlike performance-enhancing drugs, his company’s shoes don’t have any harmful effects for athletes, so they cannot be equated in that way. But what remains clear is that athletes with these new wave of spring-loaded shoes will clearly gain an advantage over other athletes who don’t wear them. Whether it is an unfair advantage, only time will tell.

It’s also noteworthy that this is the first wave of next-gen shoes, and many more are likely to come as technology becomes easier to access and advanced enough to make springs small enough to not jut out as dramatically as the Enko shoe. In that case, spring-loaded shoes might well make the legal cut, and could become the new norm for runners. At the moment, they are just fancy enough to be tried out, but not worn in a race situation. That could get runners in a whole lot of trouble.

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