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Cheating Gravity; Nike Lunarlon Delivers Out-of-this-World Cushioning

Almost a decade ago, Nike designers Kevin Hoffer and Eric Avar put their heads together to confront a challenge of creating lightweight technology that provided both soft cushioning and bouncy responsiveness.  Today, namesake Nike Lunarlon cushioning is available in Running, Basketball, Skateboarding, Women's Training, Men's Training, Sportswear, Baseball, Tennis and Young Athletes styles, providing lightweight and responsive cushioning to athletes around the world.

From everyday athltes to elite athletes such as Kenyan distance runner Edna Kiplagat, and from everyday workouts to the high-stakes sport moments, athletes love the feeling of Nike Lunarlon cushioning. Kiplagat crossed the finish line in Moscow, Russia wearing custom-designed Nike shoes with Nike Lunarlon foam to win her second world championship in the marathon. 

Marathon runners typically take around 40,000 steps from start to finish – they need a shoe to withstand the relentless impact and to put a spring in their stride. Meanwhile, elite basketball players need a shoe to cushion high-impact jumping and provide quick push-off for explosive changes of direction.

Hoffer and Avar had a mission: to create a cushioning technology that would give distance runners and basketball players alike lightweight, responsive cushioning.

 “We knew if we could blend the best of both attributes, we would create a unique, ultra-lightweight, responsive cushioning experience that did not exist,” says Hoffer. “Our goal was to enlighten people and invent a whole new system.”

AN UNEXPECTED PLACE

Hoffer and Avar began the search for the right material, an ultra-lightweight foam that was both pillowy-soft and rubber-ball bouncy. They drew inspiration from images of astronauts walking on the moon. The astronauts’ weightless, soft and springy movements were exactly what the designers were trying to provide for athletes.

The pair assembled a team of chemical engineers, designers and technicians to help. They realized the task facing them would be challenging, rife with trial and error, and might require them to look in some unexpected places – including materials previously ruled out.

After failing with countless materials, there came a breakthrough. Found far in the back of the Nike Advanced Material Interest Group’s closet, the team unearthed a space-age foam. In science terms, it was the fusion of lightweight Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) with the bouncy ball-like spring of Nitrile Rubber (NBR).

At that moment, “we knew we had something special,” says Hoffer. It was the perfect mix of foam and air. They called it Lunarlon.

“AS STICKY AS MELTED MARSHMALLOWS”

At this stage, Lunarlon was nowhere near race- or game-day ready. “It was very hard to work with,” says Hoffer. “It was as sticky as melted marshmallows.” The foam offered the pillow-soft landing but still needed work to deliver the coveted springy response.

The expert team experimented with many techniques to transform the sticky substance into something functional, which proved to be easier said than done. At one point, the freezers of the Nike Innovation Kitchen were filled with Lunarlon molds that looked like hundreds of “ice cream bars.”

The team’s experiments helped it take another leap forward in 2005, when it created a prototype of a Lunarlon-cushioned running shoe sole. The team squeezed a soft-but-stable Lunarlon center into a firmer and supportive Phylon foam shell.

Then they presented the prototype to colleagues.

“We had an immediate ‘wow!’ reaction,” says Hoffer. “It was a real breakthrough to have such great cushioning – a running-on-pillows feel – in such a lightweight shoe.”

EXPANDING HORIZONS

Lunarlon technology debuted in two new shoes in time for the summer of 2008 in Beijing, the Nike Lunaracer for the marathon and Nike Hyperdunk for basketball. Hoffer, Avar and their team had struck gold. Athletes of all levels loved the way Lunarlon minimized impact while providing both spring and support.

Back at Nike World Headquarters, designers’ interests were piqued. They began exploring how the wonder technology could benefit athletes in other sports by adapting it for sport-specific needs. Training, skateboarding, golf and snowboarding athletes alike wanted to see the foam’s performance capabilities in their shoes.

Hoffer and Avar’s team created more than just a new tool in the design toolbox – they transformed perception. The old rule that a lot of cushioning required a lot of shoe was overturned.

2014

  • Since the launch of Lunarlon cushioning, this hugely popular cushioning technology has now been adopted across eight different styles and categories. Today, the Nike SB P-ROD 8 helps soften the impact from performing tricks with a lightweight, impact-protection outsole without dampening board feel that skaters need.

  • The women’s Nike Lunar Cross Element and the men’s Nike Lunar TR1 shoes benefit from Lunarlon. Lunarlon provides lightweight and responsive cushioning versatile and durable enough to handle a variety of movements from sprints to squats, and high intensity workouts such as boot camp.

  • For runners, the Nike LunarGlide6 is the most stable LunarGlide ever, delivering lightweight cushioning for the long run. Everyday runners to elite level athletes, such as Shalane Flanagan — a 10,000m Bronze medalist and marathoner — love the lighter Lunarlon foam and the soft and responsive ride it delivers. The LunarGlide6 style is available in women’s, men’s and for young athletes in both girl’s and boy’s styles.

  • The Nike Basketball Hyperdunk is defined by its lightweight feel and superior cushioning that provides a soft and responsive ride.

  • In baseball, Mike Trout’s debut signature cleat, the Nike Lunar Vapor Trout is built with durable, ultra-light cushioning and designed for speed and protection.

  • The Nike Tennis Lunar Ballistec, available in men’s and women’s styles, delivers explosive speed with lightweight cushioning without the added bulk.

  • The Air Max1 changed how the world saw cushioning; 27 years later, the time has come to change it once more as Nike Air meets Nike Lunarlon.  The Air Max Lunar1 pairs the traditional Air Max technology with innovative Lunarlon foam to create a new feel for an iconic form for men and women.

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Hoffer and Avar’s team accomplished their mission. With Lunarlon, runners, basketball players and athletes from a variety of sports can choose to have both soft cushioning and bouncy responsiveness.