In August of 2015, Salomon introduced their first truly “cushioned” shoe, the Sense Pro Pulse. I reviewed that shoe and summarized it as follows:
"Salomon fit with Hoka Clifton cushioning at Stinson weight. Life is compromise!"
Lamenting the 335 gm weight of the Pro Pulse did not prevent me from using the shoe extensively in hill bounding and other higher impact activities as I worked through an intensive cross country ski training regimen last Summer and Fall. Shoe fit is key in successfully executing upon this type of “agility+power” workout and the Salomon fit technologies (EndoFit, SensiFit, and QuickLace) make all the difference. Other cushioned shoes that I have tried have marginal-to-bad fit and this combined with the large stack heights make the shoes a dangerous choice for these workouts that require significant off-axis force vector stability. I found the Pro Pulse to have sufficient grip for the mostly steep (20-30% grade) and super steep (>40% grade) “dirt roads” that made up the staple of the hill bounding workouts. I also found that the cushion was essential for my 60 yo connective tissue to accommodate an elite-level of training stimulus in cross country skiing-specific sessions that include significant high impact repetitions (e.g. hill bounding, plyos, and other “agility+power” exercises). The Sense Pro Pulse shoes were “enabling” for my ski training schedule.
I was pleased to see Salomon announce the Sense Pro Max as a Pro Pulse replacement last summer with a shoe that is slightly lighter (276 gms for my US 7.5/ EU 40 2/3 or 18% lighter than the Pro Pulse) but with a much more aggressive outsole and some new dampening technology that will be described below.
I received a pair of Sense Pro Max in early February and have put only about 20 miles (30 km) on them- we are currently in the middle of an epic snow year (20+ feet and counting) and my current focus is on competing at the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in early March (see elsewhere on this blog). But I did want to try these shoes out and get a better understanding of the design approach and execution. What follows is a “first impression” look at the Pro Max and I will follow-up with updates as usual.
The Sense Pro Max has a much reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse model that it is replacing. Although the forefoot still has a significant upward curve, the midfoot to heel is nearly flat to the ground. It is not clear why Salomon have made this change but I will assume it was based on testing by and input from their athletes.
All of the Salomon fit technologies are present including Endofit (a separate inner sock-like element engaging the foot), Sensifit (outer polymer overlays integrated with the QuickLace system), and the QuickLace system. The tongue is minimally cushioned.
The shoe is quite flexible for such a cushioned construction but still includes the Salomon ProFeel film technology that provides protection from rocks, etc. Salomon have figured out how to design with the ProFeel film and yet yield flexible constructions that still give significant rock protection along with better trail/road proprioception. Such improved proprioception is one of the factors that distinguish the Pro Max (and the previous Pro Pulse model) from many other highly cushioned shoes.
As mentioned above, my size US 7.5 (40 2/3 EUR) weigh in at 276 gms (9.7 oz) which is getting close to the weight range for a racing shoe. This shoe is not a Salomon racing product as it is intended for general training and trail running. Note: It appears that Salomon have dropped the “CityTrail” concept that the Pro Max predecessor was part of but was never well explained by the company. The Pro Pulse was a part of the “City Trail” group but the Pro Max has a much more aggresive outsole more intended for rougher trail use.
The Sense Pro Max midsole has a number of new technology features, the most prominent being two dampening elements that are inserted into the midsole at the forefoot and heel. The primary midsole material is Energy Cell+, a dual density EVA that is compression molded in a way that achieves firmness in some sections and a softer feel in others. The new dampening elements are called “Opal” and these (approximately 75mm X 100mm X 15mm thick- forefoot and 50mm X 50mm X 15mm thick- heel) “pucks” are inserted in cavities in the top of the midsole at the interface with the footbed. Here’s how Salomon describes the Opal material:
Opal is a cushioning compound that is inserted into the midsole that provides a soft and comfortable underfoot ride with the benefit of high-rebound. Cushioned and bouncy, the best of both worlds. In addition, Opal is extremely lightweight, durable and maintains its performance in extreme temperatures.
Looking into this a bit more, it appears that the Salomon Opal material is a low density open cell foamed polypropylene (PP) with the possible addition of butyl rubber. The known high mechanical dampening properties of certain PP compositions combined with significant open cell void space seems to allow for a unique combination of properties for use in running shoes.
The combination of the Energy Cell EVA and the Opal inserts makes up what Salomon call the “Vibe” technology that is being used in a number of 2017 Salomon models. It is claimed that this technology significantly reduces mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner during footstrike. These vibrations are thought to reduce the efficiency of running, increase muscle fatigue, and lead to connective tissue and muscle damage. Sounds like another “Holy Grail” of technology that is able to mitigate the most detrimental mechanical forces and impulses in running- we shall see.
The other models that offer the Vibe approach are in the road-specific shoe line and include the S Lab Sonic 2, Sonic Pro 2, and Sonic. The Vibe technology and initial impressions reviews of the road shoes is nicely summarized here and more specifically, here. I will not be reviewing or using any of these road shoes as they all have traditional laces- something that I have no interest in putting up with particularly when the speed laces work so well, are lighter, are less prone to absorption of moisture, and make putting on and taking off the shoes quick and easy.
Of course the Pro Max is a highly cushioned shoe (at least for Salomon) and the stack heights are the same as were extant in the Pro Pulse and consist of a 30 mm (heel), 24 mm (forefoot) stack with a 6mm drop. Add about 3mm to total stack heights to include the outsole.
The upper is a very breathable (maybe too breathable) 3-D knit mesh. The entire upper is quite cool and drains water well as I found out whist running during a brief melt-out and the trails, roads, and walkways were flooded with up to 6″ of water. I expect that this material dries fairly quickly, at least in the low humidity conditions typical here in the Northern Rocky Mountains, but only testing will tell. The upper mesh seems like it may be too “open” and allow significant fine dust to accumulate inside the shoe. This will be obvious once I out some miles on these on dry dirt- stay tuned.
The ankle cup is symmetric and there is a stiff structure around the ankle cup and heel. A solid polymer element is integrated into the back of the heel. A continuous, but very minimal polymer overlayer stretches across the toe area and a reasonable toe bumper sufficient for trail use are present.
Other than the new Opal dampening technology, the other big change in the Pro Max relative to the Pro Pulse is the outsole. Salomon have totally redesgned the outsole and made it much more aggressive and suitable to a wide variety of trail types. The aggressive outsole will, however, limit the amount of running you might want to do on roads with this shoe.