Altra Paradigm 4.0 Review
Altra has a special place in my heart. Years ago when I was experimenting with minimal running shoes, I still remember getting my first pair of Altra Instincts. It was awesome to finally have a zero drop trainer that had enough cushion to protect my legs from my +100 mile weeks (college) but still had everything I wanted in regards to shape and drop. I went through 9-10 pairs until finally my lack of knowledge regarding achilles health at the time (being in college) steering me back toward traditional running shoes. Fast forward to my current knowledge base, I made the plunge back into Altra with appropriate achilles, calf and foot/ankle preparation and the Paradigm 4 has been like meeting and old friend that has absolutely transformed. The EGO midsole, the guide rails, the improved flexibility (even in a "max cushion" shoe) is a clear demonstration of the evolution that is Altra. Let's jump into what makes this a unique shoe.
Specifications (per Running Warehouse)
Weight: 10.3 oz (men's size 9)
Stack Height: 31mm / 31mm
Classification: Max Cushion Trainer (with mild stability)
Sizing: True to size to 1/4 size small
As with all Altra shoes, there is a large amount of room in the forefoot as it is designed to be foot shaped. There is plenty of room in the toebox and the flexible knit upper is extremely comfortable against socks and bare skin. The remainder of the shoe does fit a little wider, so for those that need extra room, this is the shoe for you. For those who run very long miles and experience swelling, this is your shoe. The laces and knit upper work very well when you tighten them down to provide some hold, but the upper is more relaxed. As such, the Altra Paradigm 4.0 fits a little on the wider side, which for those that need more room, this is a great shoe to look at. The heel also does fit a little wider but luckily with some lace tightening I have not experienced any heel slipping. There are NOT any last eyelets to lace lock the shoe, so you will need to tighten the laces.
There is no heel counter in this shoe, so those with sensitive achilles and calcani (heel bones) should have no problem. The guide rail that extends into the upper does a really great job of subtly keeping the foot on the platform and providing a little stability (more on that in a second).
Sizing wise this shoe fits true to size if a little small. A few times I have found my toes on my longer foot (my right is longer than my left) bumping the front of the shoe, but that usually goes away as the run goes on. I think this has more to do with the extra room and the lack of ability to lace lock the shoe in the heel.
The biggest update to the Altra Paradigm 4.0 is the new full length EGO midsole. This is my first experience with EGO and I am impressed. It is bouncy, protective and slightly firm. The slightly firm feeling really helps make it feel more stable versus other next generation compounds. Thanks to the inner flex grooves, the flexibility of this shoe is great despite being (technically) a max cushion shoe. There is some toe spring and heel bevel, but thanks to the flexibility, they are less present than other maximalist shoes. This makes toe off way smoother and more natural feeling than the excessive toe spring induced rolling that I generally experience with HOKA shoes.
The EGO midsole feels consistent throughout the shoe no matter where you land. What is a bit different are the guide rails in the heel into the midfoot. I notice no extra pressure that one usually experiences with posting. Instead you will feel a very subtle hug of the medial side of the foot. It is very mild and I really didn't notice this until I started trying to figure out how the guide rails in the Altra Paradigm 4.0 were set up.
The best way to describe the Altra Paradigm 4.0 is stable without being controlling. The guide rail is extremely effective in gently guiding the foot in more neutral position without trying to force anything. I personally do not feel the stability pods, but the wider last of the shoe definitely contributes to a more stable feeling. I would put this shoe in the mild support category, just without traditional posting. Those that need mild support will be very comfortable in this shoe.
The Altra Paradigm is a max cushion trainer. It is meant to handle long runs, recovery runs and some uptempo running. I have to admit though that I have used this shoe for some tempo runs at the end of long runs and the combination of stability and the EGO midsole do allow this shoe to handle some speed. However for anything below a tempo run, there are far lighter and faster models out there (check out the Escalante Racer for instance).
The cushioning in the Altra Paradigm has remained exactly the same over the +100 miles I have used it. I expect to get well over the normal 300-500 miles out of this shoe, especially thanks to the EGO midsole. The outsole is a slightly mixed bag in terms of durability. The areas that have additional rubber have very little wear after aggressive trail and road runs in this shoe. The mild areas that don't have gotten chewed up, but since these areas are small, I do not expect that to be an issue as the mileage piles on.
THOUGHTS AS A DPT
What often does not get discussed with zero drop shoes is how much calf strength you need to appropriately transition into one. The lower drop a shoe, the more stress placed at the ankle. The primary shock absorber for the ankle are the calf muscles. The calves are supposed to be strong enough that you cannot (and should not) be able to test them manually (ie with your hands). The strength test for calves is the single leg heel raise, and NORMAL people should be able to do 25 controlled (not fast) full range of motion of them on both sides. Runners should be able to do more.
Image from Tri Physiotherapy
The soleus is particularly important for running in zero drop. This is the single joint, endurance muscle of the calf that is often forgotten for the better looking, power generating gastrocnemius. The soleus is a common culprit for those with "tight calves" (often weak, not tight) and is extremely important for endurance runners. Essentially, this means that you need to be doing both bent and straight leg calf raises in the higher rep range to challenge the entire complex of the gastrocsoleus. If you cannot do 25 single leg heel raises, that needs to be on your radar for something to work on. This is a common impairment I see in the athletes and can cause a variety of issues. Given that the calf muscles are some of the more important muscles for propulsion and speed, not only is this important for transitioning to zero drop shoes and injury prevention (regardless of heel drop) this may be zapping your speed if you are weak here!
WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)
This shoe is for those interested in lower drop shoes, a more natural mild stability shoe, a wider and/or more natural fit and shoe for high mileage. The Altra Paradigm 4.0 has been my go to trainer for the last several weeks and I have thrown long runs, tempos, hill repeats, trails and more at it. It succeeded and still kept my legs fresh the next day. The EGO midsole is awesome and I hope to see it integrated into more shoes in the Altra line up. The stability provided in this shoe is in line with what I would expect from the next generation of shoes. Stable but not controlling. I love the guide rails as they keep everything in line without the irritation of a post. Finally, the cushioned and natural design of this shoe has allowed me to train in zero drop shoes for the first time in years (although I should also acknowledge the extensive strengthing and mobility work I am doing). I am very impressed with what Altra is doing and look forward seeing what comes next.
Total Score: 80% - Try this shoe!
Thanks for reading!
Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website 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.
Dr. Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Kaiser SoCal Manual Therapy and Sport Fellow
***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review. We thank the people at Altra for sending us a pair. This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We put at least 50-75 miles on trainers and 10-25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them. Currently I have 115 miles on my pair. My views are based on my extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. 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 our reviews.
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