Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Altra Instinct: Run with Childlike Bliss Again

Remember what it felt like to run as a child? That feeling of freedom as your short quick strides carried you across the open grassy fields.

Back then we never thought about the length of our stride or how our feet contacted the ground. We just ran... fast and free. Thankfully today’s modern minimalist running movement offers us all the chance to go back to those moments of childlike bliss.

At the crux of the movement is the notion that the foot can do a better job at self-stabilizing and balancing the weight of the body when it can move freely and is allowed more, relatively unencumbered, natural contact with the ground than when it’s in a shoe that is thickly cushioned or overly correcting by design.

Rapidly establishing themselves as an innovative pioneer in the naturalist running movement Altra Footwear has designed line-up of running shoes that mimic the natural shape and heel-to-toe ratio of the foot thereby allowing the body to run more naturally, more efficiently.

Running gait and injury expert from the University of Virginia School of Medicine Jay Dicharry MPT says running in shoes with near level profile is an ideal situation because it allows the body to run in the most natural position possible without having to compensate too much for how the shoe is trying to dictate the movement of the foot.

If that is indeed the case - and we believe that it is - then the Altra Zero Drop platform is the shoe that puts your feet in the 'ideal situation'.

Most running shoes are built on a 2-to-1 heel-to-toe ratio (twice as thick in the heel as the forefoot). Unfortunately we know what happens next and it's not good for runners.  The cushioned heel strikes the ground first instead of the shoe landing on the more biomechanically efficient midfoot or forefoot. Excessive heel-striking marks an open-invitation for potential foot and leg injuries.  

Zero Drop footwear by ALTRA however is built on a 1-to-1 ratio meaning that the heel and forefoot are the same heights off the ground. This encourages a more natural stride allowing the runner to land on the midfoot or forefoot-- the way Mother Nature originally intended.  The Altra Instinct does this while still offering cushioning and protection.

As noted in our First Look review, the term zero-drop may lead some to believe that Altra’s Instinct is little more than another addition to the “minimalist movement”. While some “zero drop” shoes can be categorized as minimalist – certainly not all minimalist shoes are Zero Drop, nor is the men’s specific Instinct designed specifically as a minimalist running shoe.

For our crew member the beauty of the shoe rests in its foot shaped design.  By building a shoe that maps the design of your foot the Altra Instinct allows your feet and toes to lay in a natural and relaxed position.  Due to the gender-specific design the foot maintains its proper anatomical position allowing for maximum shock absorption and a more powerful toe off.
Credit to Altra for this image of the Instinct blazing through the Wasatch Mountains
Asymmetrical Lacing, Heel Claw, and an 'A' shaped midfoot design that snugly wraps the midfoot all add to a superior fit for this Zero Drop platform.  Once you try them on and experience the difference of fit and feel, you’ll wonder why Altra is the only shoe specifically designed to follow the natural contours of your feet.

Altra's FootPod outsole maps the bones and tendons of the human foot allowing for maximum flex and responsiveness. With canted lugs mapping your foot, this unique outsole provides a natural all-purpose traction system which served our tester well from sidewalks to dirt roads and everything in between.

And did we mention that the Gumption Gals thought the Instinct looks great with jeans?

The Results...
Over the course of a lengthy testing period our Gumption Crew member used the Altra Instinct as his primary running and training shoe.  For the purposes of this review you may find it helpful to know that our field tester tops the scales at 6’4” and is a traditional heavy heel striker. Yet from the treadmill to city streets, country roads and 10K’s our crew member tacked on the miles and came away with a new perspective on running. Following is a summation of the positive changes noted from running/ training in the Altra Instinct:
  • Less impact and stress on knees, shins and lower back.
  • Zero shin splints over the course of the testing period.
  • Transformed the stride and gait increasing strength in calves.
  • Increased awareness foot placement and balance so that every change made in step and stride was felt instantly allowing for quick adjustment improving form over the course of longer runs.
Our Altra Instincts beaten up, but never beaten down.
Room for Improvement...
The durability and fit of the Instinct exceeded any expectations that our team had for the shoe entering the review process.  The only minor complaint issued by our tester was that his midfoot was left slightly tender after the 10k competition.  However that is most likely due to the fact that the feet are still in the process of fully adjusting to a new running style.  

Bottom Line...
While the Instinct may not be a cure-all for all runners and their specific issues, we believe that Altra has crafted a shoe that strikes the perfect balance of barefoot styled minimalisim with cushion and comfort.  Evolving from Zero Drop Rookie to first place finishes in a 5K and 10K race, our crew member’s final response may provide the best summation of their time with the Altra Instinct: “Count me as a convert.”   


  1. The more I look at it and read about it, the more I really want to give this shoe a spin. Wide toe boxes and zero drop are my friends . . .

  2. Highly recommended; I've own the Instinct, the Adam, and the Lone Peak. I won't run in 'regular' running shoes any more!

  3. Great review on a fantastic shoe. I've got two pairs of Instincts and a pair of their trail shoe the Lone Peak. Since the Lone Peaks weren't out yet earlier this year, I beat the living tar out of the Instincts running nearly exclusively on trails in the Rocky Mountains and they performed phenomenally! I recently ran a 50 mile race in them without a single blister or foot problem! I laced them up and didn't touch them until I was done! I HIGHLY recommend!

  4. I've got over 350 miles on a pair of Instincts, and have nothing but good things to say about them. Love them. And I look forward to trying on the Lone Peak some time soon.