Running with the Altra Torin IQ: Live coaching via embedded sensors

Altra is a running shoe company that uses a unique FootShape form factor in its products. This latest Torin IQ shoe packs a coach in as well.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

In order to stay in shape and get time away from computers to think, I run. I'm not fast or built to be competitive in races, but I can go a long way and enjoy the elements of Washington State.

There are coaches to help serious runners improve their stride and today video is often used in this analysis. Altra recently released the new Torin IQ smart running shoe that includes embedded sensors and Bluetooth technology so your smartphone can serve as your coach.

I started training for my first full marathon in March and then received an email gauging my interest in testing out the Torin IQ. The timing was perfect as it would allow me to evaluate my running form and might help me improve in areas that were not optimal.

A blue pair of size 12 Torin IQ shoes arrived and I compared them to my long time preferred running shoe, the Brooks Ghost. I did not realize that the Torin IQ shoe would be shaped with a very wide toe area, called FootShape by Altra. From the side profile, the shoes appear to be a typical running shoe with thick cushioning. Looking down from the top reveals they are much wider in the front.

I put the shoes on and walked around a bit, noticing how there was no pressure being put on my toes to form them towards the big toe. I'm not a foot doctor or anything, but there is definitely a difference in the form here and it does seem like allowing your foot to function as if it were naked is better than restricting your toes in any manner. My Brooks Ghost are extremely comfortable and I have them sized so they don't really push my toes inward, but when I run there is definitely some foot movement in the shoe and toes do get impacted by the shoe.

Before you take your first run, download the Android or iOS Altra IQ app, powered by iFit. The app then walks you through pairing of your shoes via a Bluetooth connection. To turn on the shoes you need to jog in place or do jumping jacks. The setup wizard explains this and shows you the status of the pairing process.

Running with the Altra Torin IQ: in pictures

Once the Altra Torin IQ shoes are paired with your phone, you are ready to hit the road or track. The Altra Torin IQ is not designed as a trail shoe, but I understand the company is working on a model for trails. To get the most out of the shoes, you need to hold onto your phone and have headphones connected or a loud speaker on your phone. The app is designed to coach you live as you run and is not designed as a tool for evaluating your run in detail after you complete your run.

Before you initiate the run in the Altra IQ app, go into run settings to toggle on or off the coaching tips, select your focus area (compact arms, forward momentum, bent knee landing, cadence, relax, and overall form), cue frequency for interval tips, form correction interval, audio cues toggle, vibration toggle, and whether or not you want the screen to stay on the whole run so you can view your live status on the phone.

You can view your foot status live as you run or secure your phone and listen to the audible coaching directions provided by the app. You must have a connected phone with you to collect any data from the shoes as there is no untethered option currently available. Audible feedback includes phrases such as:

  • Relax your hands as if you're holding on to a potato chip-be sure not to break it
  • Keep your elbows behind your chest unless you're sprinting
  • Imagine being pulled by a string tied around your waist

I listened to the coaching tips and tried to obey the commands and directions given. After the run, I looked at the run history page that gives you an overall summary of your run. This includes the time, cadence, average pace, distance, landing zone analysis, cadence analysis, average contact time, average impact rate, and mile splits. It is interesting data, but you currently cannot see any details of your run over time. I would like to see what my data looked like up hills, when I was running out of gas, and when I was in sprint mode. I understand the shoes are designed for live training and coaching so analysis after a run is not the focus.

According to Altra, here is the meaning of each metric:

  • Impact Rate: This metric can help you in two ways; 1) detect imbalances between your right and left foot, and 2) help you learn to be lighter on your feet. There is no correct number to shoot for since this metric changes based on several factors including weight and pace. Instead, you will establish a baseline number for each foot based on your first few runs with the Altra IQ. As you progress you can track how your numbers change over time. Focus on being lighter on your feet and more balanced between your right and left side and your impact rate should decrease accordingly.
  • Cadence: This metric measures your steps per minute. It is relative to pace so while there are ideal ranges, they change depending on how fast you are running. For example, running with a cadence of 165 spm would be fine for a 10 minute mile, but for an 8 minute mile you'd want to be closer to 175 spm. Just like Impact Rate you can establish a baseline cadence at a given pace in your first few runs and then aim to improve over time. To increase your cadence try taking quicker, smaller steps and avoid overstriding. Counting your steps for 30 seconds then multiplying the number x2 (to get steps/minute) can also help give you an idea of how a certain cadence feels.
  • Foot Strike: This metric tells you what part of each foot is striking the ground and can help you develop a lower-impact, more efficient stride. In the Altra IQ App Foot Strike is broken into 3 zones: midfoot, extreme heel and and extreme toes; ideally you are aiming to run within the midfoot zone, but keep in mind that this zone emcompasses all but the extremes at each end of your foot. At the end of your run you will receive a summary showing the percentage of time each individual foot spent in a given zone. To help improve your Foot Strike take a look at your summary after your first Altra IQ run and assess; if you spent a higher percentage of time in the heel zone try relaxing your body, standing up tall and taking lighter, smaller steps; if you spent more time on your toes try relaxing your ankles and shoulders and bring your upper body back slightly.
  • Contact Time: This metric measures the number of milliseconds each foot is in contact with the ground and varies with cadence. The ultimate goal is to decrease contact time for a lighter, lower impact stride. On your first few runs with the Altra IQ you will establish a baseline number for each foot. This metric is related to cadence in that a higher cadence equals a lower contact time. To improve Contact Time focus on being light on your feet and increasing your cadence. Also be aware of the difference between your right and left foot and try to balance the two.

It seems as if my running form is acceptable and that I am a fairly balanced runner. I need to bump up my cadence to get quicker, but I also need to lose another 10 to 20 pounds to help me pick up that speed.

There is a coin cell battery in each shoe, accessed via a flap under the interior liner, that should last you 400-500 miles of running before needing replacement. Full foot sensors are connected to the battery, along with a Bluetooth radio that communicates with your smartphone.

The Torin IQ shoes are available now for $220 for both men's and women's styles. Men have the option to choose blue/gray, red/white, and yellow/gray and the shoes weigh 9.3 ounces each. Women's colors include teal/yellow, pink/gray, and teal/black with a weight of 7.4 ounces per shoe.

Editorial standards