Altra Torin IQ hands-on

Altra's smart running shoe puts a virtual coach in your ear while working out

Runners looking to improve their form and become more efficient out on the road now have a new tool to help them achieve that goal. The Altra Torin IQ is a high-tech running shoe that comes with an array of sensors and accelerometers integrated directly into its design. When paired with a smartphone and the Altra IQ app (available for iOS and Android) the shoe provides real-time feedback on areas an athlete needs to improve.

To get a true taste for how effective Altra’s new smart shoe actually is, we strapped on a pair of our own and tested it over several weeks. What we found was that it wasn’t necessarily us putting it through its paces but rather, quite the opposite. Like having a virtual running coach, the Torin IQ made us a better runner. From the physical shoes to its digital companion application, Altra created a harmonic ecosystem capable of benefitting casual and elite runners alike.

Establishing a smart running shoe market

With the proliferation of fitness-oriented wearable devices like the Apple Watch or any variety of Fitbit, one might wonder why smart running shoes even exist in the first place. After all, those gadgets track a wide variety of activities, display our speed and distance covered, count the calories we burn, and even monitor our heart rate. But this data doesn’t always tell the whole story and serious athletes looking to up their game may strive for more information.

That is exactly why running shoe company Altra created its IQ platform, which uses a sophisticated set of sensors embedded in a shoe to accurately detect the way a runner moves. The system detects a runner’s impact rate and cadence, as well as the landing zone of each foot, while also measuring contact time. This data collects and stores on an iPhone or Android device using Altra’s IQ app via a Bluetooth connection. The app then serves as a virtual coach, offering suggestions on how runners might improve their form and efficiency.

Altra’s Torin shoe evolves

Rather than build an entirely new product around the IQ system, Altra decided to incorporate the tech into its existing Torin running shoe. A wise choice, the Torin is already a fantastic option for runners, offering the company’s trademark foot-shaped fit and zero-drop platform in a durable and stylish design. Comfortable and lightweight, it’s also amongst the best road shoes Altra ever produced, offering a 28-millimeter stack height, a breathable and quick-drying upper, and a very protective sole. In short, it was the perfect candidate to become the company’s first smart shoe.

While the brains of the Altra IQ system are found within the shoes themselves, it’s the app that serves up the data runners need.

Note: It’s worth pointing out that Altra’s shoes tend to run a half size smaller than normal — something we found to be true of the Torin IQ — so we recommend going up to the next half size when ordering.

The Torin IQ still offers each feature that makes its sibling special, while also including the added benefit of the Altra IQ platform. Those high-tech components do add nearly an ounce of weight to the shoe, which may not sound like much to the average runner but it could be a significant amount for serious athletes. That said, the Torin IQ isn’t exactly a heavy running shoe, tipping the scales at just 9.3 ounces. Perhaps more importantly, the smart version of the Torin runs $220 — i.e. $95 more than the regular model. To us, this is a lot to pay for a shoe you’re likely to replace after a few months of use.

When designing the Torin IQ, Altra embedded the sensors, battery, and Bluetooth transmitter inside the shoe’s midsole. When activated, four independent accelerometers send data to the Altra IQ app in real-time, with the software analyzing the information and providing feedback. The IQ system collects data from each shoe independently, which proves crucial when correcting poor running form. If a runner favors one leg over another or strikes the ground with the wrong part of the foot, the sensors know about it and alert the user accordingly.

Tapping into the IQ

While the brains of the Altra IQ system are found within the shoes themselves, it’s the app that serves up the data runners need. It displays a wealth of information about landing zones for each foot, contact time, impact rate, average cadence, and more. Unlike other smart fitness devices, it offers suggestions on how a runner might improve technique for more efficiency and to avoid injury.

In our case, the IQ system identified unknown hitches in our stride, helping us smooth out our running style. After paying particular attention to the advice, we were able to not only get over a couple minor nagging injuries but we improved our speed, as well.

Altra Torin IQ review

Over our time with Altra’s IQ system, the company made several upgrades to the app, with each iteration improving its functionality and reliability. Early on, the app periodically lost connection with the shoes mid-workout, rendering its usefulness as a coach to limited, at best. Recent updates appear to have fixed those issues and Altra’s virtual coach isn’t shy about whispering suggestions in our ear about improving technique. Being mindful of those suggestions is important to becoming a better runner, as we often found the tips to be spot on.

Altra certainly succeeded in making a smart running shoe that not only tracks movement but makes useful suggestions on how to improve form. This makes it easy to recommend them to serious runners looking to improve their speed and efficiency on the road. Casual runners may find the high price hard to swallow, particularly if they have to replace their running shoes with any kind of regularity.  The bottom line is, the technology in the Altra Torin IQ works well but the shoes definitely aren’t for everybody.

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