Running research in the lab continues to evolve from its earliest days in Exeter, N.H.
Senior Researcher Gordon Valiant focuses on biomechanics to help improve runners' performance.
Motion capture on the lab track generates valuable data to inform running product design.
An early Nike Shox sketch by designer Eric Avar.
Early Nike Shox last sketch by Eric Avar.
Building a shoe design, piece by piece.
Senior Nike Researcher Gordon Valiant and team apply passion for running to biomechanics study to help fuel sport innovation.
In 30 years of biomechanics research at Nike's sport research lab, Senior Researcher Gordon Valiant’s approach remains unchanged:
“We identify the product opportunity, ask what it is that we don’t know, apply testing and analysis, and finally, provide insights to the design team.”
As he says, “Physics is physics,” and Valiant’s particular field of inquiry — biomechanics — is simply the application of physics to human movement. Though the time-tested scientific process of designing experiments; collecting, reducing and analyzing data; and interpreting and communicating findings is well established, biomechanics was in its infancy when Nike set up the sport research lab in 1980. In the decades since, the lab’s role in identifying and understanding athletes’ needs has proven integral to the development of countless Nike technologies and products, and serves as the cornerstone of ongoing innovation.
Valiant has the unique advantage of growing up with the lab, which he joined out of graduate school in 1984, originally located in Exeter, N.H. He studied biomechanics in school, where he had the good fortune to work with a professor who had written a book on running shoes, and also competed in track and field.
“I enjoyed math and physics but I also really liked sports. I figured the way to combine both was by working in biomedical engineering — if you could apply it to medicine, you should be able to apply it to sport,” Valiant recalls.
An avid runner who competed in the 800 meters until recently, Valiant and his team have focused on running research for the past 20 years. He has experienced firsthand the shift in emphasis from stability to cushioning to lightweight footwear design and seen the industry explode from a niche fitness pastime to a global passion.
One Nike running innovation stemming directly from in-house lab research led by Valiant and team is Nike Shox. They were exploring midsole alternatives to EVA foam and Air bags to cushion loads generated by the body when running. Part of the quest was trying to find a material and construction that would also contribute to motion control. The team explored fiberglass and carbon fiber but found they weren’t durable enough. “Shox became a mechanical solution to cushioning. By manipulating geometry, we created a high-stress structure of columns molded in highly resilient foam,” Valiant says. “From there, it was a matter of refinement.”
The responsive cushioning technology provided enhanced impact protection and went on to be one of Nike’s most successful technologies of the early 2000s. “Shox was big for me,” Valiant says. “Many years of work went into creating an iconic product and there’s no disputing that there was a tremendous amount of science behind it.”
Currently Valiant and the running research team are looking at cushioning from other angles. One area of emphasis is exploring whether there is a threshold for optimal cushioning before it compromises other benefits. Another is trying to understand the abstract concept of ride. There’s no telling how their insights might influence the next running innovation.
12 creatives offer new visions of Nike Air footwear for this year's Vote Forward.
12 creatives offer new visions of Nike Air footwear for t...
Learn exactly what went into designing Nike’s lightest, most innovative — and surprising — football cleat straight from the lead footwear designer and star Seattle Seahawks quarterback. A limited release will be available for pre-order on March 27.
Learn exactly what went into designing Nike’s lightest, m...
Highlighted by the Air Jordan I and Air Jordan XXXI, the Flight Guy collection connects an iconic moment to modern innovation.
Highlighted by the Air Jordan I and Air Jordan XXXI, the ...
Nike Moscow continues the company's commitment to transform sport retail through digitally connected experiences.
Nike Moscow continues the company's commitment to transfo...
The Nike Lunar Command 2 Boa features a Boa closure, a unique lacing...
This is a special Nike KYRIE 3 for Kyrie Irving.
Nike Basketball College iD lets you customize iconic sneaker silhouettes...
Nike’s Month of Air culminates on Air Max Day, March 26, with continued special in-store events and parties from Berlin to Shanghai.
Nike’s Month of Air culminates on Air Max Day, March 26, ...
Five students from Domus Academy, Central Saint Martins and Parsons School of Design explore the concept of walking on air.
Five students from Domus Academy, Central Saint Martins a...
The NikeLab Air Max 1 Royal is available March 26 in Greater China and April 13 globally.
The NikeLab Air Max 1 Royal is available March 26 in Grea...
The NikeLab Air VaporMax x Marc Newson releases March 26.
The five shoe collection also includes the KYRIE 3, LEBRON 14, PG 1 and Kobe A.D. It launches March 24 at Nike.com and select retailers.
The five shoe collection also includes the KYRIE 3, LEBRO...
The collection celebrates two icons by incorporating the style and soul of Jordan Brand with the larger-than-life story of KAWS.
The collection celebrates two icons by incorporating the ...
Expanding the Nike Ease platform to improve ease-of-entry for performance footwear.
Expanding the Nike Ease platform to improve ease-of-entry...