Adidas this week unveiled the world’s “first barefoot training shoe for the gym.” The Adipure Trainer hugs the toes like a glove and is designed to evoke the ur-natural feeling of exercising barefoot (albeit surrounded by a cacophony of Stairmasters): It promotes “pure and natural movement,” the press release says. It harnesses “the body’s natural mechanics” and creates “a natural-feeling shoe.” It uses “your foot’s natural power” to build muscles, the release quotes a guy named Mark Verstegen as saying. And from Heather O’Reilly, a U.S. women’s soccer player: “My feet are able to move naturally…”
Okay, we get it! It’s natural! Just because it’s natural, though, doesn’t mean it’s worth $90.
Some context: Barefoot athletic shoes — better known as minimalist shoes — aren’t new. Research has shown that running barefoot can strengthen important muscles and steel athletes against injury. It can even make you faster. The problem, of course, is that nothing slows you down quicker than stepping on a shard of glass or a sharp rock with your bare soles. So the athletic-shoe industry dreamed up footwear that mimics — you guessed it — the shoeless foot, while providing support and protection against dangers on the ground. Nowadays, barefoot/minimalist running is nothing short of a revolution. You can’t go for a jog in Central Park without seeing at least half a dozen guys shod like Donald Duck.
Fast-forward to Adidas’s latest venture. There is no glass at the gym. Nor are there any sharp rocks. Why, then, wear a shoe to reap the benefits of exercising barefoot when you could just exercise barefoot? Or, if you want a little extra foot support on the treadmill, why not snap up some of the minimalist shoes already on the market? Adidas’s answer, through spokesman Michael Ehrlich:
Comfort and protection are crucial to a good workout in the gym and the adipure Trainer balances minimalistic construction with necessary comfort. Our barefoot trainer features a streamlined layer of cushioning that helps prevent foot bruising that you could get by working out in just your bare feet.
So it’s a $90 cushion. To prevent bruises. Right.
To be fair, all those scarcely there shoes are glorified cushions when you get down to it.* It’s just that those cushions solve an actual design problem, whereas the Adipure Trainer solves what’s presumably a marketing problem. Our guess: Adidas wanted to push the barefoot/minimal trend to a broader consumer base beyond just hardcore runners. For good reason: Minimal shoes are one of the fast-growing categories in athletic footwear, with sales more than doubling in the past year to roughly $750 million. By billing the shoe as a gym trainer, Adidas could appeal to treadmill automatons, run-of-the-mill gym rats, and the requisite gear-fetishizing dentist who’s got to have a new pair of anything and everything. In turn, Adidas could boost its share of the American athletic-shoe market (still dominated by Nike). It’s moderately clever packaging masquerading as moderately clever design — all in the name of getting people to buy more stuff.
* Runner’s World’s had an excellent, in-depth story on minimalist-shoe design last year. Long, but worth a read. Check it out here.