Material Matters: Saucony Grid Technology
Understandably, cushioning has been a focal point of shoe technology, leading to huge advancements in the last few decades. With each footfall, an athlete exerts heel pressure equivalent to three times their body weight. To combat this, Saucony gave us the GRID system – a combination of stability and shock absorption like nothing seen before.
Prior to releasing GRID in 1991, Saucony had been in the shoe game for almost a century. They cut the ribbon on a shiny new factory in 1898 that was located alongside Pennsylvania’s Saucony Creek – the body of water that forms the basis for the fluid lines of the brand’s logo, with circles representing three boulders in its midst. Originally they specialised in shoes for kids, and by the outbreak of the First World War they were producing around 1,000 pairs a day – a staggering quantity at the time.
Towards the middle of the 20th Century, athletics became increasingly focussed around running, as both long and short distance events grew in popularity. When Saucony released their 7446 track spike in 1958, they were well on the way to becoming one of the world’s pioneers in running tech. In the 70s, running fever was sweeping the US but the brand remained largely unknown to the casual jogger. Instead, they catered to hardcore runners who rode the cutting edge of athletic equipment.
Thanks to its adoption by the running elite, the brand soon began earning some serious accolades, Runner’s World Magazine nominated two Saucony models in their ‘top ten’ best shoes selection of 1979. Over the following 12 months, the brand’s sales went up 20-fold. This prompted the brand to work on new technology for their fast growing customer base. The solid EVA of their best selling style – the Jazz – transitioned into the layered structure of the DXN Trainer, which led to the injection moulded VIP system of the Shadow 6000 – and all of that happened in less than a decade. By the time the 90s arrived, the brand was all over cushioning.
In 1991, Saucony revealed their latest and greatest – the ‘Ground Reaction Inertia Device’ or GRID. The new technology took things a step beyond cushioning, creating a structure with individual filaments that could compress independently of each other. This meant that with every heel strike the midsole would compress and cup the foot, which stabilised it to give ‘Controlled Cushioning’. The GRID component was made from strands of Hytrel, a thermoplastic elastomer produced by DuPont, which was tucked away out of site. It works a bit like a tennis racquet, utilising what’s known as the ‘sweet spot’ – the bit that gives the best rebound – to the runner’s advantage.
Not content with leaving their ground-breaking idea alone, Saucony set out to expand the GRID over the following years. To bring the tech into focus, the 3D GRID exposed its hidden Hytrel by extending the system all the way to the sidewall of the midsole. They did some fine tuning with the I-GRID, which ditched the DuPont polymer in favour of EVA foam. The advanced Active GRID changed the layout of the Hytrel filaments to a vector arrangement, which improved the transition of compression throughout the runner’s stride. More recently, Pro GRID got closer to the foot, adding in new foam rubber compounds to improve impact deflection.
If you pick up a new pair of Saucony runners these days, chances are they’ll be packed something called POWERGRID. This works off the same principle as the original, combining filaments with PowerFoam, which is a contemporary injection moulded compound. The different foam makes the shoe 15 percent lighter and 30 percent more durable than its Pro GRID predecessor, with better energy return to boot.
Saucony’s GRID tech is based on a simple idea – adding stability without sacrificing impact resistance. Surviving the test of time, the engineered cushioning system remains at the forefront of running footwear to this day. Tuned and refined, Saucony’s contemporary GRID system is a favourite for both casual and competitive athletes– proving that sometimes all you need to excel is a little bit of support.
Material Matters is our weekly tech section, where we take a peek behind the mesh curtain and break down the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at Friends with Proprietary Benefits, Nike’s Tuned Air and adidas Tubular.