Sunday, September 10, 2017

Under Armour Speedform Europa Review

Prelude:
Wait, wait, wait.  Is this a stability shoe review?! Why yes, yes, it is (inset shock and awe).  Let me explain my foray into a shoe in this category.  Over the past couple of months, I have been working on strengthening my gluteal muscles, hips, and my feet as I have been dealing with irritation of my right knee.  Now, I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, but my physical therapist instructed me to go back to running in mild to moderate stability shoes (along with strength training etc.).  And yes, you read that correctly, “go back to wearing stability shoes.”  Prior to the whole minimalist/maximalist craze I always ran in mild stability shoes (3 iterations of the Saucony Guide and Nike Lunarglide) and had ZERO issues. But like many people, I may have screwed up my biomechanics and hurt my body in the process of jumping on the bandwagon of the minimalist craze.  Now granted it isn’t just the shoes (as appropriate strength training plays a HUGE part).  But, it can be an integral part of running pain free and helping with making one’s stride as economical as possible.  This efficiency is important, because running is a repetitive activity of trauma to our legs.  Furthermore, if there is any minor inefficiency, or tweak in a person’s machinery, an injury can result.  (I won’t steal all of Matt’s thunder here 😊).
(Editor's Note: As I have progress in both my training as a doctor of physical therapy and my understanding of footwear, I have come to realize that for most people a little stability doesn't hurt.  Especially in distance runners as form breaks down.  That does NOT mean a heavy motion control shoe or extreme correction.  Just light.  That is why my favorite shoes continue to be light stability shoes and racers.  Most people only need a mild correction to get themselves in a better position or movement pattern).  
So, I hope that you will enjoy my first mild to moderate stability shoe review.  Let’s dive into this review of the Under Armour Speedform Europa.
Introduction:
This is the first time that I have run in a shoe from UA.  Actually, this is the first time I have ever worn a shoe by UA period.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect and had trepidations that I would despise this shoe.  After all, isn’t UA just trying to copy everyone else in an already crowded running shoe market?  Isn’t UA just an apparel company?  (Editor's Note: Dear Under Armour.... please read the next sentence. We like your product).
Boy was I wrong!
I love the look of these shoes!  The black with the subtle lime green is very eye catching.
Upper and Fit:
I will directly quote Under Armour’s web page on their speedform™ technology, “You feel it instantly. From UA SpeedForm’s perfect molded heel cup to textiles that wrap your foot in speed. Nobody knows precision fit like us. It’s the fit we were born to make.”  This is 99% accurate, with the heel hugging the rear half of the foot perfectly, the upper is smooth, seamless, and moves with the foot, and the toe box is just the right depth and width.  The shoe truly feels like an extension of your foot, but interestingly, UA has incorporated the upper into the stability aspect of this shoe.  In the heel area, the heel cup is external and has a notch to allow your Achilles tendon to sit in softter material and the calcaneus to be properly supported with a firmer plastic frame (medially and laterally).  The result is your calcaneal tendon (Achilles) can function without irritation from dense material, while slowing excessive medial or lateral rotation of the calcaneus.  The foot is further supported by UA’s coreshort® material in the midfoot of the shoe. This provides ultimate lockdown of the midfoot, preventing excessive movement within the shoe.  The best part of the midfoot is that it manages to accomplish this without the feeling of pinching and maintains excellent breathability.  UA also went ahead and incorporated the sock liner into the shoe, which is another detail that makes it feels like an extension of one’s foot. Fantastic job Under Armour!
(Editor's Note: The achilles notch is an important factor for me.  I generally become irritated when companies do not include a notch in the heel area for the achilles tendon to pass through.  The lack of this can place excessive pressure on both the skin and tendon and over time may contribute to irritations.  The fact that that area is soft and so flexible in the Europa is their saving grace).  
The last of this shoe is also something to get excited about.  This is because the shoe matches the anatomy of the average human foot.  Anyone who has read my reviews knows how much I despise shoes with wide heels and narrow toe boxes (who’s foot is like that?). The Europa is exactly how the last of a shoe should be; narrow in the heel, moderate-narrow in the midfoot, and medium width/appropriate volume for the forefoot.  Furthermore, the shoe has a semi-straight shape, which contributes to its stability.
(Left) Nice anatomic toe box and one can see the external heel cup and medial posting along the heel to midfoot.  (Right) Notice the notch in the heel cup for the Achilles tendon.
So how about that 1% with the upper?  Well as you can see in my photo at the end of this review, I had to cut a piece of the fabric off from the collar.  This was because the first time I wore them, I wore to low of a sock and this region gave me a nasty blister under my right lateral ankle (lateral malleolus).  I was too impatient to let it heel and made a quick fix (no harm to function and/or fit).  Thus, be sure to wear thick and high enough socks to avoid this issue.
(Editor's Note: As I always tell my patients, don't be afraid to edit your shoes.  Whether that means adjusting the laces with one of the many great lacing techniques out there or cutting something away, make the shoe fit your unique foot.  If you do cut something out though... good luck returning/exchanging it.  Keep that in mind).  
Finally, the looks are bad ass.  I have no complaints with the artistic design of these shoes and have received numerous compliments from people.  The interaction goes as follows, (random person)“Wow those are cool looking shoes, what are they?”  (me) “Under Armoud Speeform Europa running shoes.” (andom person) “I didn’t know Under Armour made running shoes, I like them!”
Midsole/Outsole and Ride:
This aspect of the shoe is what really surprised me.  The charged foam appears to be an EVA based foam, which has the right amount of responsiveness and protection.  There is Mico G Cushioning in the heel area and the medial post is made up of denser Micro G material along the medial aspect of the shoe.  If you push on the exposed charged foam, you can feel how springy the material feels.  The foam in the heel is a higher durometer, which lends to a more responsive character then the forefoot.  The outsole has blown rubber in a segmented grid pattern.  This lends to a trampoline like affect as one lands on their foot with the denser durable outsole rubber depressing into the softer springier charged foam.
Medium soft charged cushioning makes up most of the midsole, with the stability components made up of Micro G.  The blown rubber outsole has a podular layout that contributes to a nice spring ride character.
Overall, the blown rubber on the outsole, segmented pattern, and softer charged foam, lends to a semi-firm, responsive ride, that has good flexibility in the forefoot.  The total stack height is 31mm (heel) and 23mm (forefoot), which provides plenty of protection for long runs and enough responsiveness for up tempo runs.  It really is a do everything shoe and an added bonus of being just under 10oz in the weight department.  Ultimately, the DNA of this shoe’s midsole is that of a reliable and durable daily trainer.
Stability Component:
This is going to be a new section that I will include with my reviews of stability shoes to explain how and if the different foams and uppers accomplish providing a stable ride.  In respects to the Europa, UA was very successful in creating a stable and smooth riding stability trainer.  UA designed the midsole to utilize denser Micro G along the medial side of the shoe, an imbedded midfoot stability plate, along with unsegmented blown rubber on the outsole from the heel to about ¾ of the medial side of the shoe.  What this design accomplishes is a shoe that has rear foot and medial posting.  Also, the forefoot in a way has "stability" in that UA utilized a medially flared forefoot to enhance stability upfront. The almost full foot medial posting is a nice design element and one that more shoe companies should utilize. (I’ll let Matt throw his two cents here about why that is.  He is the expert after all!).  The best part is, the foot can fully take advantage of these stability elements, because the upper locks the midfoot in place over the midsole unit and the heel cup slows the rate of rotation of the calcaneus (medial or lateral movement).  
(Editor's Note: The Europa has a bit more heel stability than other shoes in its class.  The lends to setting up the foot during heel contact for a straighter progression angle.  Shoes with midfoot only posting miss this and assume that the individual only is collapsing at the midfoot.  Everyone loads force differently at the foot.  Some people collapse excessively at the heel, midfoot, forefoot or a combination.  Others do not collapse or pronate enough at certain spots.  This is why you may find that some stability shoes work for some people and not for others.  The shoe needs to be matched to each person's unique biomechanics, not just given to them because they collapse or have stability needs).  
Medial view of shoe.  The Micro G material extends from the heel to past the forefoot.  This construction does an excellent job in slowing the rate of pronation and the transition feels smooth.  I contribute this to the gradual decease in the density of the foam from heel to forefoot.  There is also a midfoot stability frame which is sandwiched in the midsole (think Adidas running shoes, but less intrusive).
I have mentioned before how some companies have designed shoes that are too wide in the heel and/or midfoot region.  This higher volume creates too much motion within the shoe and can amplify any inherent biomechanical issues someone might possess.  In other words, it’s like comparing a custom orthotic to an over the counter one.  The foot needs to be fully engaged to take full benefit of the shoe design, which results in higher running economy.  Lastly, the posting is not jarring, but a subtle feeling due to the densities merging gradually with one another.  The result is a shoe that provides enough protection from the road and aids in dampening minor biomechanical instabilities.
(Editor's Note: Nathaniel's last comment fits in line with what myself and many of my mentors have taught me.  Sometimes all it takes is a little correction to keep things moving).  

Outsole rubber extends from heel to past midfoot and works in tandem with the Micro G posting.  The heel also possesses a higher durometer midsole material, which further enhances stability. Likewise, the outsole rubber provides flexibility in the forefoot (zonal) and hinders excessive motion in the medial pat of the foot (unsegmented). Note durability (I have 100ish miles on these now).  


Room for Improvement:
This goes to my 1% issue, Under Armour should either lower the collar or make it slightly more padded (or I just need to remember to wear high enough socks).  The last though is just a point of interest.  Under Armour could try extending the medial posting all the way to the forefoot or add some sort of forefoot posting (Editor's Note: Or companies could make two separate stability shoes: one for the forefoot and one for the heel/midfoot. That's just my two cents. Many who land far up front, ie forefoot strikers, will not always make use of heel based stability).

Note cut out piece of collar.  My little modification so I could keep running in them.
Overall:
I am VERY impressed by the Europa from UA.  The individuals who designed this shoe did their homework and created a functional and stylish running shoe.  It also gives another option to people like me, who benefit from a mild to moderate stability shoe.  I feel that more companies should design shoes within the “stability” category.  Even some of the top runners have continually run in mild to moderate stability shoes: Galen Rupp in the Nike Zoom Structure, Kara Goucher in the Skechers GoRun Forza (and uses her orthotics in them), as well as triathlete Sebastian Kienle (who helped in creating the mild stability New Balance 1500 racing shoe…. which I will have a review of the 1500v3 soon!). (Editor's Note: Many of the elite runners I have treated also have voiced wanting a little stability in their trainers and long run shoes).
Maybe these top athletes are on to something. Either way, this shouldn’t give anyone an excuse to not work on strengthening, but it does beg the question on the utility of stability running shoes.
Overall, Under Armour did an amazing job with this shoe and I highly recommend it as a daily trainer to those who require (or want) a little extra stability.  I hope you enjoyed this review and feel free to leave comments and/or questions below.  Matt and I always like to hear what others think!
Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this blog belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. My blog should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

Currently Dr. Kollias has 83 miles on his pair of Under Armour Speedform Europa. We put at least 50-75 miles on trainers and 25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of hour reviews. Thanks for reading!

Dr. Matthew Klein, PT, DPT and Dr. Nathaniel Kollias, DVM, MPH

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2 comments:

  1. Hey guys - thanks so much for the great review! Reading it has piqued my interest in the europa as a daily trainer. My problem with under armour, having tried out the bandit 2s and 3s, has been the collar (though they both felt amazing otherwise). Due to my bone structure I have a low lateral malleolus and I have found that it just comes up too high and isn't padded enough. So - I was super interested in seeing the little cutout modification that you made. This may be a bit of an impossible question to answer but I was wondering: do you think the upper would be able to sustain a bit of a larger cutout, or whether it would compromise the fit too much?
    Thanks so much. Regular reader of your stuff and always find it super helpful.
    Best,
    Sam

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    Replies
    1. Hi anonymous,

      I think that as long as you are cutting the soft material (i.e. not the external heel counter) you should be able to get away with it. I would recommend trying this on your older pair. Also, I have found that wearing a high enough sock or really thick sock alleviates the problem. I hope that helps. My first pair of Europas are about dead and I'll give the cutout a shot to see if it works out. Thanks for reading!

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