Under Armour has been advancing the technology in its smart sneakers for years, helping athletes achieve better runs with the HOVR run sneaker suite that connects with the popular UA MapMyRun app.
Last year, the system became even smarter with a real-time Form Coaching feature that provided live feedback and custom advice to runners on how to improve their workouts.
But a question remained: Could a virtual coach actually help runners improve – especially in a time when in-person coaching and group running has been curtailed by COVID-19? Today, Under Armour can answer that question with a resounding “yes,” and by impressive margins.
Using anonymous data from nearly 87,000 Form Coaching users on MapMyRun, Under Armour found that those who engaged the digital coach ran 7% faster and 3% farther* than the average for all runners using the app.
The study looked at runners who completed a minimum of 1.6 km between January 1 and September 25 last year. “This new data proves that our approach to research, innovation, and product development works, and that we’re heading in the right direction with our new technologies.”- Jeff Knight, Senior Manager, Digital Product Science at Under Armour
Under Armour has been studying connected footwear since the early 2010s, but development of the coaching technology took off in 2017 when Under Armour’s digital product science and data science teams started analyzing data from the top 50 runners in that year’s Boston Marathon who logged their run on MapMyRun.
The teams noticed key differences in each runner’s cadence, or steps per minute, which challenged the running community’s long-held belief in a universal target cadence.
Inspired by the discovery, Under Armour dove into data from tens of thousands of MapMyRun users and found that every runner has a unique cadence target range based on personal attributes like height, weight, and running pace. Finding that cadence can unlock improvements for runners by helping them run with as little effort as possible.
“We know from industry research that cadence is closely related to how running feels,” said Knight, who is also a former running coach. “So if you can get your cadence right, your running is going to feel a lot easier. And if you can optimize your cadence, then you’ll reduce the amount of impact your body feels when it makes contact with the ground.”
With this knowledge, Under Armour first identified a formula that determined an individual’s unique cadence target range using metrics that could be collected from a digital sensor embedded in the midsole of a running shoe and sent via Bluetooth to MapMyRun.
That data then led to the development of Under Armour’s Form Coaching technology, providing runners with real-time, personalized feedback delivered audibly during a run.
“When I started running, I got terrible shin splints, so I got some connected shoes and started diving into the data and saw that I wasn’t taking enough steps. Getting my cadence up was interesting, and within probably a month my shin splints went away.”- Andrew Phillips, RAW Running Crew, Austin, Texas
Under Armour developers also collaborated with professional run coaches — such as Dark Sky Distance’s Coach Shayla Houlihan — when creating Form Coaching’s audible prompts and queues to ensure an authentic coaching experience.
“In our efforts to make products that actually make athletes better, it’s all about empathy,” Knight said. “All of those small things that you might not notice on the surface have been built in to Form Coaching to make the experience as human as possible, because we know that those human moments are what make the difference for our athletes.”
To date, Under Armour athletes have linked more than one million pairs of the brand’s connected shoes to MapMyRun, a number sure to climb as runners explore the latest additions to the HOVR run sneaker suite:
HOVR Machina 2
Originally introduced in January 2020, the UA HOVR Machina mixes the speed of a racing shoe with the comfort of a long-distance trainer. The HOVR Machina 2 features a high-ventilation mesh fabric for improved breathability and reduced weight, as well as a new tongue construction that is thinner and retains less moisture.
HOVR Infinite 3
The UA HOVR Infinite is the foundation of the UA HOVR run footwear suite. Introduced in 2018 and created for distance training, the ultra-performance shoe aims to provide goal-oriented runners with a consistent feel through an infinite number of miles.
The HOVR Infinite 3 will now feature a brand new HOVR midsole with 30% more HOVR cushioning for an even more energized ride, as well as fewer internal layers for a lighter feel.
HOVR Sonic 4
Created for the runner who wants something easy to throw on with no distractions, the UA HOVR Sonic offers the perfect blend of cushioning and responsiveness. The HOVR Sonic 4 now features a high-ventilation mesh fabric for improved breathability and fewer internal layers for a lighter feel.
The UA HOVR Machina 2, the UA HOVR Infinite 3, and the UA HOVR Sonic 4 launch globally on February 3 on UA.com, at Under Armour Brand Houses, UA Shop App, and specialty retailers.