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Review: Sensoria's smart socks are a futuristic novelty that no runner really needs

Caitlin McGarry | June 18, 2015
I run 15--20 miles a week on New York City sidewalks and through parks without aches or pains, which I attribute to good shoes and good luck. I'm not particularly diligent about stretching or paying attention to my form. Foam rolling? Forget it. But I'd eventually like to start adding longer-distance runs to my routine, and I know I need to be mindful of injuries. So I bought a pair of smart socks--yes, smart socks--to see if intelligent textiles can help me improve my performance beginning at the most basic level: the way my feet hit the pavement.

The anklet can count steps, measure speed, track mileage, estimate calorie burn, and can pinpoint your foot landing and cadence as you run. The mileage and steps are fairly accurate, but the calorie count is way off compared to my Apple Watch (which taps into its heart rate sensor to calculate calories more accurately). The anklet only transmits data on the foot you're wearing it on, so to see stats on both feet, you'll need two anklets.

Performance enhancers

But it's the cadence and foot landing information that sets Sensoria apart from other fitness-tracking tech. After my first run, the smart socks' corresponding app showed me some surprising results: I land on my heel 88 percent of the time. Heel striking gets a bad rap because it can lead to knee injuries--and allegedly humans ran on their forefeet back in the good ol' days before shoes were a thing. I did some research to figure out how and why my form was wrong, and realized that I tend to lengthen my stride to increase speed rather than quicken my steps. If I take shorter, faster strides, I land on my heel less. On my next run, I lowered my heel-striking to 70 percent.

Did I need socks to tell me that? Well, no. A running coach can give you the same analysis and offer you more sophisticated tips than a digital coach, which can't really assess your technique. Or if you enlist a friend to record footage of you running, you'd get a pretty good idea of how often you heel-strike.

While there are other ways to analyze your foot landing technique, Sensoria has them beat when it comes to visualizing your performance. While you're wearing the Bluetooth anklet, the app will show you a heat map of your foot as it moves. You'll see the pressure in your foot as it changes in real-time, and you'll also see stats on cadence and foot landing throughout your run. The app's mid-run metrics are more useful in theory than in practice for a couple reasons: Most runners tuck their phones in an armband or pouch, where a heat map of their feet isn't easily accessible, and staring at a screen while you run is so distracting that it will slow you down and defeat the purpose of using performance-enhancing tech accessories altogether.

Hot socks, irritating app

I was worried that the anklet would jostle around with the force of my feet hitting the pavement, but it stays securely attached to the sock. And it's not at all uncomfortable to wear--you probably won't even feel it around your ankle--but the material in the socks themselves is so warm that at the end of each 3-mile run, I couldn't wait to rip them off my feet. I might actually wear these with my winter boots as I trudge through NYC's epic snow piles, but I'll put them in hibernation when the temperature rises above 60 degrees.

 

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