Review: Altra Paradigm

Its hard to know exactly where to begin with the Paradigm or any Altra shoe for that matter. The first thing to say is that they are different and by that I mean totally and entirely different than any other shoe you may have stepped in. Judging whether that is good or bad is really about personal preference, but I’m going to lead off by saying to give it a chance. It may just change the way you run.

HOW IT LOOKS

I’ll be honest here and say the color choices are just not entirely to my liking as they are a little bland. I tested out the blue and yellow which is the best of the bunch in my mind, but some folks love simple color palettes so take it with a grain of salt. I do hope the next version of the Paradigms take some cues from the Lone Peak 2s and Provision 2s as those are very strong visually. They visually look high and yes a little balloony or pillowy much like a Hoka One One shoe, but its even more exaggerated here. Its 34mm stack height is probably the largest on the market. The toe box is also much wider than you might expect, so it also lends to this oversized feeling.

You will get a ton of comments about these because of the look, people are very curious about them. Most runners are used to seeing the original Altras like the One or the Instinct, so these are a game changer and rounds out their cushioning options (a “paradigm” shift as it were – see what they did there). So yes they are big looking shoes, but again… give it time.

Altra Paradigm - Stacked

SO HOW DOES IT FEEL YOU ASK

The first time you slip it on is a little unnerving. The shoe immediately feels too big and you want to get a smaller size, don’t. The roominess is coming from the toe splay that you just aren’t used to. The Paradigm, like most Altras, has an oversized toe box that allows your toes to spread and relax. Its just plain weird feeling at first, but its because your mind has been trained to run in shoes that cram your toes side by side. This will pass and you will learn to welcome the room and no, you won’t slide up and hit your toes.

The reason you won’t slide is because of the cushioning. Your mind will tell you that these will feel like stilts and you might roll your ankle, but in reality the cushioning wraps around your foot and acts as rails to keep your foot in place. The sole is soft, but there is plenty of give. The feeling is very natural, almost barefoot-like… but with a ton of cushion. Additionally, the outsole groove helps with any potential pronation issues so while this is geared to Neutral runners, it is beneficial for most.

The last thing to notice is that its super light. This shoe you expected to be big and bulky probably weighs the same or less than any shoe you already own. A lot of tech has gone into the feel and design of the shoe, clearly.

Altra Paradigm - Laces

WHAT ABOUT THE ZERO DROP

People have asked me this repeatedly, what the heck is Zero Drop? Altra has an entire page devoted to this on their site so I won’t rehash the marketing around it. Zero Drop simply means there is no true offset. Your toe and your heel are the same distance from the ground and the weight is balanced from heel to toe. The whole idea of Zero Drop is about promoting better running technique, altering your foot strike, and limiting impact. The simple goal of Zero Drop is to make you a better runner.

People have raised some questions about achilles and soleus pain as it relates to Altra and I will comment on this as I did experience some. This is more than anything a result of the change from your current running shoes that range from 4-8mm offsets to 0mm. I think wearing the Paradigms actually made these areas stronger for me over the long haul. It simply took some getting used to as it is a very new feeling and if you are a straight heel striker, then be prepared for muscle soreness as there are lower leg muscles that you have never worked before. Trust me.

HOW DOES IT ACTUALLY RUN

Just like the fit and design, it takes some getting used to. The first runs feel awkward, but then things start to change. You start to notice how simple it is to maintain your stride and how running uphill and downhill are very controlled experiences. Those extra miles come easier because your legs simply aren’t as tired as they were before. I do think for everyone, they are an educational and humbling experience. You expect soft and cushiony, but instead you get a proper running posture, better technique, and this can all make you a little sore when you make this shift.

The 5-10K Range

Honestly, I don’t feel like the Paradigms are designed for this range. Sure you can use them and they are great for it, but I think you will bump out of this faster than expected. I would keep them at this range until you are used to them to limit muscle soreness, but once you find the groove, take them further. Your legs can take it.

Half-Marathon and Beyond

This is where the Paradigms start to pay off. At distance, everyone typically gets some level of muscle soreness whether it is your upper or lower leg or even your knees. I can say that for me, the Paradigm definitely cut down on this. Once I was using the shoe consistently, I found myself maintaining pace across distances and my legs felt stronger for greater periods of time. My feet felt comfortable and relaxed throughout.

For ultra runners, Altra has become a shoe of choice much like the Hoka One One has. These runners immediately recognized the additional support and the enforcement of proper form through the design allowed them to go further better. The Paradigms and even Altras may not be for everyone, but if you try them then give them a chance and don’t expect instant results. Once you do, you may find that you really like them.

Altra Paradigm - Side

TECHNICAL STATS, PRICING & AVAILABILITY

  • Weight: 9.8oz (size 9)
  • MSRP: $130.00
  • Available: Buy Now