Run Tech: Insoles of the Future

A woman holds a Superfeet insole

3D-printing and foot scanning create customized insoles

An insole is designed to reduce the stress translated through your body when you walk, run or stand. It’s also meant to personalize your footwear experience and enhance your comfort with every footfall. And so, as we head into the technologically-advanced and highly customized shopping experience of the future, a new kind of insole comes with it.

To understand what that means exactly, let’s back up a little bit. ...

Out of the 240-plus million adults in the US, some 75 percent of them experience foot pain. Historically, all of the science suggested that we treat foot pain with tech designed to “correct,” “control” or “limit” movement patterns. But, not anymore. That’s because, quite frankly, despite access to better materials, training and information, injury rates simply haven’t changed. And so, the footwear industry as a whole is headed down a new trajectory.

According to Matt Gooch, MS, C.Ped, the Research and Product Marketing Manager for Superfeet, how much something is moving isn’t the whole picture. “We have to look at the forces driving the motion,” he says. “And, from there, we’re able to develop an insole that supports that movement pathway so that you use less energy when you move, and therefore feel empowered to move more.”

Further, by tapping into the already-existing movement pathway, Gooch says you’re able to reduce the vibration moving up the body and increase comfort.

A woman holding a Superfeet insole

Comfort and the Comfort Filter concept

When you move along your body’s preferred movement path, you’re moving in the way that feels innate and therefore most efficient for your body. That’s because the human body is inherently lazy; it wants to move in a way that uses the least amount of energy possible.

Your comfort filter, then, is your natural ability to select a product based on comfort that keeps you moving within your preferred movement path and therefore works synergistically with your body to reduce injury.

But does it work? Gooch says yes. And there’s research to back up his claims. However, it doesn’t mean slipping into something soft. Comfort, it turns out, is different for everyone.

“There is a perception that using comfort as a primary factor in the recommendation of shoes and insoles means that everyone will prefer the softest and most flexible shoes and insoles, and that just isn’t the case,” he says. “People prefer different ‘feels’ from both their insoles and shoes. Simply put, there is no single insole, shoe, construction, material, etc. for everyone, and individual consumers have unique needs and preferences.”

The insole of the past make way for the insole of today

The Insole of yesterday was somewhat customizable, but only in the geometry. It was cut to your shoes or even molded to your foot with heat. Today, though, with the help of innovative scanning and new gait mapping tech, Superfeet can analyze both the foot shape and the foot’s movement pattern as a base for an entirely 3D-printed custom-built insole (ME3D).

The customization is unique from person to person and left to right ... because feet are different. “It’s tough with traditional manufacturing to accommodate that difference,” says Gooch. “ With 3D scanning, though, we can leverage the tech and tune a device not only for size, but also for surface geometry and loading patterns throughout the gait cycle.”

Superfeet first tunes the shape of the insole to match the shape of an individual’s foot. From there, they refine the fit through a series of five zones of variable stiffness based on the individuals’ loading pattern. Then, finally, longitudinal lines are angled to increase or decrease torsion stiffness.

Fast-changing tech and the not-so-distant future

Gooch says developing new insole technology comes down to finding the right partnerships. "And using the combination of experience and expertise that we can build through those partnerships to drive that innovation into the future," he says.

Through a holistic partnership with Fleet Feet that started back in 2004, Superfeet continually innovates their products and, therefore, part of the fit process every customer experiences in a Fleet Feet store.

“We’re only limited by how fast tech develops,” says Gooch. “What we can do now versus what we can do a year from now, or three years from now will likely be very different. We’re looking at potentially shifting a paradigm of what it means to experience an insole. … And that’s very exciting.”

[This article was updated on November 3, 2019.]

By Ashley Arnold. Ashley has been running competitively since 2000. She went from winning the high school 300m hurdle state championship as a sophomore in 2002 to breaking the tape at the Leadville Trail 100 in 2013. Now, her full time role is managing content as the Senior Content Marketing Manger at Fleet Feet.

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