INSPIRED BY THE carbon fiber blades used by amputee sprinters, manufacturers have designed a new running shoe, and though it does provide a little boost, it's main purpose is to improve a runner's form.
The sole of each Ampla Fly is made from a single piece of carbon fiber. A tongue of the fiber juts out from the toe toward the midsole, acting as a spring that absorbs, stores and then releases part of a runner's impact force on each foot strike.
"Our best athletes across all sports use force to their advantage," says Marcus Elliott, the shoe's inventor and the director of P3, a sports performance lab in Santa Barbara, Calif., that counts more than 100 NBA players among its clients. But "the model when building running shoes has been that force is your enemy. [Ampla Fly] is the opposite model." Elliott wants to redirect the force, not squish it into a wedge of foam.
"It's intended to teach everyone how to run like elite athletes," says David Bond, Ampla's cofounder and a former executive at Nike and Adidas. According to Bond, the carbon fiber spring is not strong enough to increase a runner's speed, but the spring heightens the feeling of the midsole striking the ground, training the runner to shorten his or her stride and to land on the middle of the foot rather than the heel. It changes a runner's biomechanics, which can improve performance and reduce injuries.
According to a University of Wisconsin study published in the February 2011 edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, increasing cadence and decreasing stride length can significantly reduce the loading in the hip and knee joints.
In 2013, Bond and Elliott turned to distance runner Mark Sheehan for early testing. Through college and his pro career Sheehan had been a heel striker, but he says that the $120 Ampla training shoes have helped him learn a more efficient motion.
Bond and Elliott don't want to stop at encouraging better form. They hope to push the limits of the footwear. "We'd like to create a shoe that does provide a mechanical advantage," says Bond, "and have somebody run a sub-two-hour marathon."
Kieren Duncan played receiver at a small school (Division II Colorado State--Pueblo) but when it came to prepping for the NFL, he had a secret weapon. In January trainers at Exos in Phoenix put him on a workout routine that came with what appeared to be headphones.
But inside the Halo Sport ($749) were rows of soft plastic teeth that transmit small electrical pulses through the skull to the motor cortex. That electric stimulation induces neurons to build new connections, increasing control and recruitment of muscle fibers. "Most people don't think the brain has anything to do with strength," says Daniel Chao, an M.D. and Halo cofounder. "but how strong you are is neurologically governed."
In March, Duncan ran a 4.29-second 40 at his pro day, and last month the Bears signed him as a free agent. The secret is out.