Few things can get me pumped to head out for a few miles quite like a cute new pair of running shoes. What's less enticing? The blisters that inevitably come along with fresh kicks. I've always figured that rubbing and pain along the back of my heels is simply part of the price I have to pay for getting a new pair. So I'll put on some extra thick socks, maybe slap on a Compeed band-aid, and suck it up until they're broken in.
But, it turns out, it doesn't have to be this way.
"Women have, for too long, been making sacrifices by wearing products designed for men," says Under Armour chief product officer Lisa Collier. Athletic footwear has historically been based on a "genderless" shoe last built around a man's foot. For decades, women have been stuck wearing shrunken down versions of the same design—which has not always produced the best results. (And my blisters are just one example of said results.)
As podiatrist Suzanne Fuchs, DPM, points out, women's feet aren't just smaller; they have their own distinct shape. For starters, they often have a wider forefoot (often, but not always, from bunions) and a more narrow heel. Under Armour's research has also shown that women tend to have higher arches, which vary more in length, and shorter heel heights. And when you stick these feet in shoes designed with another foot shape in mind, the differences unsurprisingly cause more problems than just blisters.
"There were more injuries showing up for the female runner because the shoe was not built for her," says Collier. As Dr. Fuchs points out, the biomechanics of female runners are also distinct from men since women typically have wider hips, which changes the angle of the forces on the joints when landing, creating different strains on the body and calling for different shock absorption.
Now, several athletic wear companies are finally acknowledging this, and coming out with sneakers designed specifically for women's feet. Under Amour is one of the latest, joining recent launches from Lululemon and Adidas. The new Flow Synchronicity was created from a gender-specific last that's based off of 3D scans of hundreds of women's feet.
Shop Under Armour's new shoe
When my pair arrive and I open up the box, at first, the baby pink color triggers my inner cynic. Really? I wonder. Gotta make the women’s shoe pink? Though, in all fairness, I have to admit it’s actually a pretty pink—more of a creamy pastel than a Pepto Bismol shade.
But my cynicism truly melts away when I actually slip the shoe on. Because it is so comfortable.
My experience wearing Under Armour Flow Synchronicity
What strikes me first is the thin foam pad that sits just below the edge of the heel, keeping the back of the shoe a little bit away from my skin. Above it is simply the light knit fabric that makes up the upper, so nothing stiff sticks into the back of my Achilles. Genius!
Taking them out for an easy run in my neighborhood, they feel incredibly light on my feet. The breathable knit upper feels like a thin, breezy summer sweater, and doesn't create any hotspots because it hugs the top of my feet more like a sock than a structured shoe. Although the sole is not especially bouncy, the placement of the cushion and support hits just right, so that even though I'm supposedly out for a run for the sole purpose of judging what the shoes feel like, I forget about them altogether after a mile. They just seem to fade away instead of making their presence known—which turns out to be what I never knew I craved in a pair of running shoes.
My favorite part, though, is that thin pillow of cushion at the back of the heel that leaves me completely blister-free, right out of the box. This feature is new for the Flow Synchronicity, designed to cater to a woman's more narrow heel, but Under Armour's product director Katie Lau says we'll be seeing it in more of their shoes in the future. "It's something that we feel provides not only comfort, but non-restricted comfort, because sometimes when you add things to the heel, it can become overly restricted. But this, combined with a knit upper, provides that cupping feeling," she says.
Pink or not, they're the shoes I keep reaching for whenever I want to head out the door for a few miles with no blisters or anything else to get in the way of letting my mind and feet wander wherever they want.
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