Up until recently, when runners talked about stability shoes, they usually had one idea in mind: a thick, hefty shoe with firm foam inserts in the midsole to keep your feet from rotating inwards as you run (also known as overpronating). While those shoes worked for well for some, they came with a few serious trade-offs, like high weight and low flexibility. But the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction, with more brands designing stability shoes that provide a less intrusive variety of support. Case in point: The new Altra Provision 4, a stable shoe that gives you guidance when you need it without weighing you down.
What It Is: The Altra Provision 4 is the shoe company’s newest stability offering. Although somewhat overshadowed by the popular Paradigm model, the Provision was Altra’s first stability shoe and has been in the lineup for years. The new Provision has some familiar Altra design hallmarks, including a wide Footshape toe box that lets your feet splay out at toe-off, and zero drop between the heel and the forefoot, which helps promote your natural stride.
For stability, the shoe features a layer of foam, called a GuideRail, around the inside edge of the heel. That prevents your feet from rotating too far inward during your stride, and the tech first appeared on the Provision 3 in 2016. Other brands have adopted similar technology, and there has been a growing trend toward more hands-off support features in recent years.
But the Provision 4 also has some new engineering to show off, and according to Altra Co-founder Brian Beckstead, it’s the culmination of years of research and testing. The main goal was to create a guidance feature that was the opposite of the intrusive, rigid designs used in older support shoes.
“We wanted something that was dynamic, something that moved with the foot,” Beckstead told Men’s Journal.
After a years-long process of design testing, the Altra team came up with the Innovarch. Basically, it’s a wide TPU strap that wraps up from the footbed, underneath your arch, and over the top of the midfoot, where it connects with the shoe’s laces. It’s designed to closely map the unique shape of your arch while also flexing with your foot, thanks to a series of slits in the material (see the illustration below).
“You’re able to get a customized arch support system that gives you stability,” Beckstead says, “but does it in a flexible and unique way to your specific foot.”
The shoe is also designed with a soft-studded footbed, which Altra claims will activate nerves in your foot and use “proprioception to establish a connection between mind, body, and feet.” Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what the hell that means—I had to look it up, too. Put simply, proprioception is your ability to sense where your limbs are positioned and how they’re moving.
So what does that have to do with a running shoe? According to Beckstead, the basic idea is that the studded footbed will activate the nerves along the bottom of your foot—kind of like when you use a studded foam roller to relax your muscles.
“It’s going to make your foot more sensitive,” he explained.
That should, in turn, make you more responsive to the Innovarch and GuideRail, and improve your stride.
Why We Like It: The Provision 4 stands out for being supportive and stable without feeling heavy or bulky. The Innovarch was a definite highlight for me—I really appreciated the support under my arch, and it created a nice, snug fit around my foot. The GuideRail worked as promised, and I didn’t feel any unnecessary interference in my stride. Combined with the wide toe box and midsole, the Provision offered plenty of stability across uneven sidewalks and grassy patches.
As for the ride, the shoe has plenty of cushioning, but it’s somewhat firm. It was a little too hard for my liking (and I noticed some slight post-run knee pain), but if you like your shoes firm and responsive, the Provision would be a good pick. One complaint I’ve had with some Altra shoes in the past is that they’re not very flexible, but I was surprised at the amount of flex I got out of the Provision. Grooves built into the sole helped the shoe move with my foot and also made these kicks feel relatively peppy (a rare trait in a stability shoe).
After testing, I can’t say the Provision forged any new links between my feet and my brain. I did notice a slight tingling feeling on the bottom of my feet after my run, but it didn’t do much for my split times. Marketing jargon aside, the dimpled footbed is soft and offers a nice step-in feel, so at least there’s that.
Nitpick: I noticed some slippage in the heel, even after swapping in a different pair of socks. If you like a lockdown fit over your entire foot, that could be a sticking point, but I found that with the Provision’s snug feel around midfoot, it didn’t really bother me.
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