Under Armour has developed its digital platforms to engage with athletes for nearly a decade. However, the brand believes that last year — through updates to key innovations that debuted in 2018 — that it had a major breakthrough with runners.
The Baltimore-based company released in 2018 its UA Hovr cushioning tech and a high-performance range of running shoes bearing the same name, which was created with comfort and energy-return in mind. Many of those shoes paired with the brand’s existing digital Connected Fitness platform.
Also that year, Under Armour delivered Form Coaching technology, which was developed alongside run coaches to learn what runners wearing the brand’s shoes needed. Along the way, the tech was transformed to offer personalized data to the runner via the MapMyRun app that was collected using Bluetooth and a digital pod in the shoe’s midsole.
However, the latest version of Form Coaching — which was introduced in early 2020 and developed throughout the year — went a step further, offering feedback to runners in real-time and info about their run. Jeff Knight, a former running coach who is now the Under Armour senior manager of digital product science, went as far as to liken the latest version of Form Coaching to having a track coach in your phone.
“We intentionally did a slow release. The first iteration of Form Coaching was simple, very straightforward, and it was only offered post workout,” Under Armour director of digital products Kaiti Carpenter told FN. “Listening to the feedback of our users, they said ‘This is great, but we’d love to have this during our run.’ So we evolved, we added more detail to the stats that you’ll see after your run in addition to taking it real-time. And we’ve also added advanced running metrics like foot-striking and ground contact time.”
She continued, “This is accessible to both the advanced runner that wants to make micro adjustments to improve their time and also the everyday runner who can actually see improvements after their first run.”
And key findings from Form Coaching users have led the athletic giant to believe that the latest version is making a difference for the better.
In 2020, Under Armour said it discovered users of Form Coaching feature available with its digitally-connected Hovr shoes ran 7% faster and 3% farther than those who didn’t. (Additionally, the brand experienced an 87% increase in total workouts logged in 2020, with a spike in connected footwear activations in April.)
“It’s not going to be the end-all be-all, you’re going to have to do some work on your own, but the whole goal of working on someone’s cadence is to make running feel easier,” Knight said of Form Coaching. “And there’s tons of scientific evidence to show that if you can get your cadence right, the energy that you spend running feels better.”
He continued, “[The difference] might not be dramatic, but the adjustments that make running easier may have you go, ‘OK, I’m hoping to get two miles, but I bet I can give it two and a quarter, I bet I can do two and a half.'”
Carpenter also said she believes Under Armour offers great value for the price to people who wear Hovr shoes and use Form Coaching. For instance, the lowest priced shoe in the Hovr range available today is the UA Hovr Sonic 3, which retails for $110, and the highest price is $160 for the UA Hovr Phantom 2.
Although specifics could not be revealed, Carpenter said Under Armour’s goal in 2021 is to reach a broader running audience via Hovr and Form Coaching, which it plans to achieve though expanded partnerships.
Under Armour’s advancements with runners is also coming at a time of great opportunity for market leaders.
Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser at The NPD Group Inc., told FN in June 2020 that its years of focus on performance product could lead to wins if the recent running boom leads to the activity’s shoes becoming more desirable to consumers.
“They were focused on performance as opposed to lifestyle, and if we see a swing back to performance, they could be one of the brands that benefits from this,” Powell told FN in June 2020.
As Under Armour continues to evolve Form Coaching, the brand also has plans to release more Hovr shoes, including updates to three key franchises this month.
The Under Armour UA Hovr Machina 2, for instance, will be delivered for the consumer looking for a fast yet comfortable shoe with high-ventilation mesh fabric uppers. The UA Hovr Infinite 3, built for the runner interested in long distances, will be equipped with new midsoles featuring 30% more Hovr cushioning when it hits the market. And the UA Hovr Sonic 4 will be available for those looking for cushioning and responsiveness, as well as a shoe with high-ventilation mesh fabric uppers.