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Road Running Shoes • June 21, 2019

Altra Paradigm 4.5 Performance Review

What You Need To Know

  • Max-cushion shoe coming in at 10.5 oz. for a 9M and 9.1 oz. for 8W
  • Midsole is just the right amount of cushion without feeling squishy
  • Great easy day comfort trainer for Altra/zero-drop fans who want more stability

When you throw in descriptive words like “zero drop” and “max-cushion” I get a little scared. First, as a runner who struggles with tighter calves that lead to repeating posterior tibialis flare-ups, I tend to steer clear of lower drop shoes (heel and forefoot more aligned with each other as opposed to your heel being slightly lifted).

I’ve found that my happy-calf-place is in the 8mm to 10mm drop. Depending on the shoe, I’ve struggled with running comfortably and injury-free even at 4mm. Altra’s “zero drop” seemed like it was setting me up for some serious issues.

Second, in my experience, the term “max-cushion” usually translates to squishy and unresponsive. I actually prefer the ‘road feel’ feedback from my shoes. Subjectively, that makes the shoe feel lighter and faster. While I don’t want my foot to feel beat up at the end of the run, I also don’t want to feel labored to take that next step, having the shoe absorb whatever propulsion was keeping me going. A happy medium for cushioning is my sweet spot. ‘Max’ might be a bit much!

altra paradigm 4.5

The Good

The cushion feels amazing! Altra’s EGO™ midsole is made to be “responsive, yet soft for increased energy return.” While I definitely agree that the Altra Paradigm 4.5 is responsive, it’s hard to quantify the increase in energy return.

To me, amazing energy return is the feeling of being flat-out propelled into the next step (e.g. Nike Vaporfly 4%). In comparison, this shoe doesn’t come close. Then again, this shoe doesn’t cost $250.

However, in comparison to other cushioned shoes I’ve recently tested (i.e. HOKA Cavu 2), it’s much better. I don’t feel like I’m slapping against the road, and each contact with the ground doesn’t leave me feeling flat. I guess it all depends on your point of reference.

Back to that cushion though!

As I stated earlier, I like the feel of the road. While the Paradigm 4.5 didn’t quite give me that road contact that I’m used to, it also didn’t feel squishy (I wish there was a more technical term). My feet were surprisingly well padded with what I would consider a ‘firm’ cushion. More soft and flexible than the Brooks Launch 6 that I normally train in, but not mushy (is that term better?).

It seems like my interpretation of the word ‘max’ was a bit misguided. It’s true that the Paradigm 4.5 has the most amount of cushion (30mm) when compared to the rest of the Altra lineup, so it translates well that way. In my mind, however, I had a preconceived notion of max meaning sloppy. This is definitely not the case. The Paradigm 4.5 is structured well and my feet didn’t splay/squish/mush with each step.

Shop Altra Paradigm 4.5

altra paradigm 4.5

The Bad

I’m just going to be blunt about my first impressions. Out of the box, the Paradigm 4.5 look like orthotics. The side profile leaves a lot to be desired. With the amount of cushion–30mm to be exact– it’s no surprise that the shoes look beefy. While 30mm is no higher than your typical trainer, the fact that this shoe is zero-drop means the front doesn’t taper down to a lower stack height, i.e. sleeker look.

In addition, the prominent GUIDERAIL™ does nothing to help the situation. This thick band wraps around the heel and cuts down the side of the shoe, splitting the white cushioned sole.

This appears to be Altra’s version of a medial post making the Paradigm 4.5 a stability shoe, although they state that the GUIDERAIL™ feature is “dynamic support… providing guidance only when you need it”. As a neutral runner I think this might put more strain on my legs than necessary. Although the guidance is supposed to be dynamic, it’s still more than I need on a regular basis.

One last knock about the look of the shoe and then I’ll get on with it. Why the labeling?! STABILIPOD™, GUIDERAIL™, FOOTSHAPE™ TOE BOX, EGO™. Literally every aspect of this shoe is labeled. I get that the features are proprietary but I don’t want to wear a shoe tech billboard on my runs.

Shop Altra Paradigm 4.5

altra paradigm 4.5

Altra Paradigm 4.5 Conclusion

I was skeptical from the get-go on the Paradigm 4.5. The EGO™ midsole definitely flipped my preconceived notions and I enjoyed putting in miles on the firm cushion. My feet felt fantastic in them!

I could see how marathoners and ultramarathoners would make good use of these shoes on their recovery runs, allowing their tired feet a moment of respite. At 9.1oz for my size 8.5 I’m not sure I’d use these for anything other than easy days. Although they don’t feel heavy when the paces drop, there are better shoes for the job.

Unfortunately, the zero-drop, and potentially the GUIDERAIL™ system did me in. Although my feet felt great, the lower legs were taking a beating even after short and easy runs. There was a constant ache and tightness that I just couldn’t seem to shake and I felt these shoes were putting unnecessary pressure on trouble areas. Heck, I’m sitting here now writing this review with a calf strain that has me on the ‘no-run’ plan.

That’s not to say these shoes are what caused the issue, but I am just ultimately not cut out for low drop profiles. If you are thinking of converting to zero-drop shows, be sure to ease into them.

If you can rock 4mm or lower, these are awesome recovery day shoes, and you can pick them up at Running Warehouse for $149.95.

Shop Altra Paradigm 4.5



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Trail Running Shoes • June 21, 2019

Topo Athletic MTN Racer Performance Review