Have adidas cracked the code on printed midsoles?
I need to put it out there from the jump - I think adidas make some of their running shoes look too good, which prevents people running in them. I was recently sent a pair of their new 4DFWD running shoes (that we’re about to talk about) and my first thought was ‘sick, I’m rolling these to the pub on Thursday night’.
It wasn’t until I jumped into a global product launch on Zoom that I got to understand what was happening in the product. I’ll still wear them to the pub, but now I know I could run an easy 10k on the way there if I wanted to.
The history of adidas’ 4D program is pretty cool. I’m not going to take you through a science lesson but they’ve been making 3D printed midsoles in some form since 2015. In 2017 they linked with a Silicon Valley company called Carbon, who have a revolutionary process for 3D printing which involves something called Digital Light Synthesis.
Stay with me here, this is important.
If you’ve ever seen a 3D printer, you’ll know that anything 3D printed is rock hard and has no give. It’s a hard plastic, basically, and not something that would ever work in a midsole. This is where Carbon come in. Their tech basically prints in liquid, and results in midsoles that can do everything a ‘normal’ midsole can do - they’re super flexible, they bend, they absorb force.
So that’s adidas’ 4D program. Make sense so far? Great.
The goal with the new 4DFWD is to make running easier for everybody - it's targeted for newer runners or people who run but also participate in other sports. This segment is the one that most of the majors are going after right now, and I have to say - I'm for it.
The whole thing about 4DFWD is this tuned lattice construction. As force is applied to the midsole, the design basically means the lattice can only move in a single direction - forward. Adidas describe it as ‘turning vertical pressure into horizontal force’. If you’ve worn previous 4D products, adidas are saying this new design provides 3 times as much forward motion as past iterations. If you think about a newer runner who might have a really pronounced heel strike, it's an incredible braking force. The idea with the 4DFWD is that the midsole does the work of absorbing the vertical pressure of the heel strike and then pushing you forward.
This brings me to an interesting topic - I was given the chance to speak with Sam Handy, VP of Design at adidas Running, about 3D printing, and why adidas kind of stand alone in using the tech at scale right now in the industry.
“We don't have an industry full of 3D printing at the moment, even though everyone knows it's the future of manufacturing - it's more accurate, there’s less waste, and I think one of the reasons for that is because it is so difficult.
I really do think we’re some of the only people with the dedication to such a complex topic to actually make it work.”
Other stuff you’ll want to know about is the stack height - it’s 32.5mm at the heel with a drop of around 11mm (11.3 quoted), meaning it’s going to be a friendly option for newer runners. Putting 32.5mm of midsole at the heel also means the positive effects are going to be maximised. So if you’re a track athlete who spends all your time on your toes, you won’t see as great a benefit as runners who heel strike.
The shoe also has a Primeknit upper which I like. Primeknit is basically a tuneable knit - you’ll find more flexibility in the toebox, a lockdown on the midfoot and some nice rigidity around the heel to aid stability.
So, who’s buying this? I think it is best as a crossover shoe that you can wear for some easy miles but you can also style up when you’re not running. It’s versatile enough to be more than capable on the run and still give you a couple nods on the tram or walking through the city. If you're someone who is still taking a lot of trips - where you just want to pack a carry-on and don't have room for multiple pairs of shoes, it could be a good option for you.
The adidas 4DFWD drops on May 15 at selected retailers. Hit up your local adidas stockist and ask 'em if they're getting them.