Interview: Rob Lee Details the adidas adiPure Trainer

words & images // Zac Dubasik

“Natural motion” has become an important concept in the running world as of late. Practically every major (and lots of not-so-major) brand in the industry is offering their take on minimalism, using methods like stripping down support mechanisms, and even adding toes to a shoe. So, at first glance, the adiPure Trainer may seem like something you’ve seen before. But what separates this shoe with its individual-toed relatives is that this one isn’t a runner at all. It’s actually the first barefoot training shoe designed for use in the gym.

Interview: Rob Lee Details the adidas adiPure Trainer 9“We are very keen right now on exploring the science of preparation and recovery for athletes,” explained David Baxter, adidas Head of Sport Performance Product and Marketing, at this week’s official unveiling of the adiPure Trainer. “And in that exploration, we really are working with a lot of athletes, trainers, designers and advanced technology to find new and better ways of athletes training and recovering.” The adiPure Trainer aims to tackle this goal by bringing athletes closer to the ground, which encourages more natural movement.

One of those trainers who was an integral part of the process was Mark Verstegen of Athletes’ Performance. Based in Arizona, with facilities across the country, Verstegen has trained five past number one NFL draft picks, and 14 first-rounders this season alone. He was also recently named the Strength and Conditioning coach of the U.S. Men’s Soccer team. Mark helped introduce the shoe at the launch and talked about shoes you may typically see being used for training. “We have shoes that have big, heavy heels that are called Olympic lifting shoes. They’re cool, they’re iconic, they’re stiff. They transfer a lot of force. We have performance trainers with the straps . . . you can be out on the field cutting, and you can even play basketball in them. You can do all that stuff, but you need to have something that lets your foot function the way it was designed.” In contrast, he explained that, “We are here to talk about a barefoot training shoe, and what that does for your body, and how that allows you to train more effectively and activate a whole host of new muscles within your body.” Also on hand at the launch were adidas athletes Heather O’Reilly, two-time Olympic Gold medalist and member of the U.S. World Cup team, and New York Giants third-round pick Jerrel Jernigan, who both helped demonstrate some of the workout techniques best suited to the adiPure Trainer.

“A lot of science went into developing this and understanding the foot, and also to make sure that we protect and prevent any kind of injury, but also enable an athlete to achieve their best on game day by using this in preparation,” said Design Director of Performance for adidas America, Rob Lee. Following the event, and a chance to work out in the shoe, I had a chance to talk to Lee and go more in-depth on the adiPure trainer.

Zac Dubasik: When you set out to design a shoe for soccer or basketball, for example, you have a long history of product and knowledge to pull from. But a shoe like the adiPure Trainer is so different; could you talk about what a challenge it was from a design and development standpoint?
Rob Lee: We didn’t have a traditional last to work from, so we were starting from scratch and really building from the ground up. And that’s really what the intent of the project was: to be close to the ground. So how do you do that? We had to build wood models and find ways to build new lasts. We have a pretty exhaustive testing process, as your probably learned through Crazy Light. It’s the same thing with this. It was unconventional footwear building for us at the time.

ZD: How would you compare this last with one found on a more typical shoe?
RL: Our adiZero lasts are probably the most contoured, most form fitting and lowest to the ground possible. If we had to start there, we started with the adiZero lasts and took things from there.

ZD: Would one big difference be that there is no offset on the adiPure Trainer?
RL: No, there’s none. We wanted to be sure we had a neutral position on the shoe.

Interview: Rob Lee Details the adidas adiPure Trainer 10ZD: How important was it working with outside experts, like doctors and trainers, to learn exactly what you needed to provide in a shoe like this?
RL: We started with the foot, and then you saw obviously with Mark [Verstegen, of Athlete’s Performance], all the way up to the legs and how they function. He was a key driver in how we built this and understanding the movements. The human body is where we start.

ZD: Once you had the last and mechanics down, was it a challenge to get the patterns and materials right?
RL: Yes, it was a real challenge to get it to fit like a glove, to be able to get your foot in from an ease of entry standpoint, sizing and materials. We wanted it to be honest and pure. How do we make it be honest and pure and simple? That was the key thing. One thing we wanted was to create a stretch that was strong enough to keep your foot locked in. But we also wanted those details where you just touch it, and it has a nice sense of touch to it and more natural feeling.

ZD: Style can be such an important part of even performance footwear. Even with cleats, athletes want aesthetic appeal so that they look good on TV, or from the stands. Could you talk about the aesthetics of a shoe that was made to use specifically for the gym, and more of a piece of equipment?
RL: You know, it’s crazy. We have this kind of Bauhaus way of design aesthetic I would say. The simplicity is really key here for that. What does it look like if you just wore it around with jeans – that’s the challenging part. We had so many different ideas, but we wanted to create something simple. I think some people start to wear these around the house just to get your foot activated.

ZD: Could you talk about the way the outsole conforms up the sides and becomes counters?
RL: The radiuses and how we carved it out was key. To understand that, and to have the wraps that we do, really help you feel locked in.

ZD: Is that a shank that you can see through the cutouts in the outsole?
RL: We have a really thin piece of plate there. We didn’t want it to go all the way through; it’s not a water shoe, it’s a functional training shoe. We wanted to carve [the outsole] out to add flexibility.

ZD: There’s also a layer of foam between the foot and the outsole. Why was that extra protection so important?
RL: It’s there from a bruising standpoint. Like Mark says, if you bruise your heel or forefoot – anything in there – it’s a long-term injury. That was important for us, and that’s what I think was a critical thing here. We wanted to have EVA to have some cushioning, but yet not raise the shoe like traditional EVAs. In our traditional testing, from an EVA standpoint, it’s pretty great. We had to rethink all of our testing and how we did this. But the point was, we had to have some cushioning that you could use with various techniques in the gym. This is the first gym shoe [of its kind].

Priced at $90, you’ll be able to pick up the adidas adiPure Trainer in a variety of colorways at Eastbay in November.

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adidas adiPure Trainer Colorways 2

adidas adiPure Trainer Colorways

adidas adiPure Trainer Colorways 3