How 3D printed trainers are changing running

Can the latest tech improve performance?


Having the right pair of trainers is an integral part of a runner’s attire. A trainer can hold so much power in the ultimate outcome of a person’s run; they can help prevent injury, protect them from the elements and help to speed up a marathon runner’s time! 

Given these abilities, brands are constantly improving their trainers, and 3D printed trainers are increasingly becoming more popular in the running world. It’s easy to see why these innovative shoes are gaining uptake too. Eliud Kipchoge won the 2018 London Marathon with a pair of 3D printed trainers in 2018, and also went on to smash the marathon world record by one minute and eight seconds at the Berlin Marathon that September. So what difference can 3D printed trainers make in a runner’s performance?


Faster prototyping and greater customisation

In order to produce the optimal trainer, a manufacturer will go through a thorough prototyping process. This can often be lengthy and expensive for the brand and may not prove to be economically viable, but 3D printing can change that. Nike, for example has used 3D printing in prototyping for over a decade and in early 2018, it used 3D printing to edit and improve its Nike Vaporfly 4% prototypes to marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge’s personal specifications. In Nike’s case – and for many other companies – 3D printing helps to speed up the design process, which allowed it to work with Kipchoge to create his perfect, personalised trainers in time for the London Marathon.  

The fit of a trainer is extremely important too, helping to improve running technique and reduce injury risk. In order to get this ‘perfect’ fit, greater levels of customisation are required. Nike uses its ‘Flyprint’ method to 3D print each individual thread, giving it precise control over thread positioning in line with athletes’ requirements. Kipchoge, for example, wanted his threads to cross each other diagonally to ensure the front of the shoes were tighter and more supportive. Without 3D printing, this level of customisation would not only be very hard to achieve, but also take a lot of time and money.

Improved sustainability and weight

3D printing has other benefits, such as making a shoe lighter and more comfortable, and also allowing brands to use more sustainable materials in shoe manufacturing. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Nike isn’t the only brand embracing the technology.

Adidas, in partnership with Stella McCartney, has produced the AlphaEdge 4D Trainers, which have a 3D printed midsole and deliver a stylish and sustainable activewear option for women. The company has also used 3D printing to create the improved Ultra Boost 19, which has a rigid 3D printed heel that is lighter and more comfortable for the wearer.

Mass market potential

As more brands take up 3D printing, the mass market potential of it will only continue to grow. In early 2017, Nike released its Vaporfly 4%, which it claimed could improve runners’ efficiency by 4%. Those claims have paid off too it seems, with athletes wearing the trainer, or its corresponding shoe designed for elite athletes, making-up 63% of the podium finishers in 2018’s major marathons. 

While a high level of unique customisation is not readily available to consumers right now, some brands predict that in-store customisation could be the future. Adidas have a ‘really aggressive plan to scale’ 3D printing to position them as the world’s biggest producer of 3D printed products. The company envisions a time where a consumer can walk into a shop, have their feet scanned, and leave with a trainer produced to suit their individual needs. 

Ultimately, it’s clear that 3D printing is helping both runners and the shoe makers alike, providing runners with a customised, lighter, yet more supportive trainer. As the technology becomes more prevalent in mass production, it will be interesting to see how much even the best runners’ times improve with this technology. 

Credit: Cin-Yee Ho, Director of Sales and Marketing at XYZprinting.

Written by Women's Running Magazine | 1545 articles | View profile

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