Wednesday, May 05, 2021

adidas 4DFWD Multi Tester Review: Riding the Matrix!

Article by Jeff Beck and Sam Winebaum

adidas 4DFWD ($200/200€)


adidas has been working away on 3D printed midsoles for several years now. In the 4DFWD the FWD CELL lattice is said to be designed to deliver up to 3 times more forward motion in mechanical lab testing compared to previous generations of the technology.

Selected from one of five million possible lattice structures and made of 39% bio-based material, the bowtie-shaped FWD CELL according to adidas has been specifically coded to compress forward upon vertical impact to redirect vertical load energy to horizontal energy in the stride while reducing peak breaking force by an average of 15% to deliver running economy comparable to Ultraboost.  Concept car stuff made real.

To create this midsole, adidas and partner Carbon combine athlete data and Carbon’s Digital Light SynthesisTM technology to produce the precision tuned 3D printed midsoles with the ability to fine tune midsoles to specific patterns of movement.

The key features called out by adidas are:

  • LATTICE CONSTRUCT: Made of 39% bio-based 3D material, offering 23% more cushioning and generating over three times as much forward motion when compared to previous generations of 4D midsole under vertical loading in mechanical testing conditions

  • MIDSOLE INNOVATION: A unique bowtie-shaped FWD CELL redirects energy from each step's impact to create horizontal forward motion

  • PRIMEKNIT+ UPPER: Using historical mapping data, the PRIMEKNIT+ upper has been tailored to work perfectly in tune with the adidas 4DFWD midsole, supporting the runner every move forward with a sock-like fit, while letting the foot breathe freely

Jeff and I received samples prior to receiving any of the information above so we were able to test without any of the tech data and marketing and then continued testing after receiving it. 4D now today a new and compelling midsole technology for actual running or are we still at the concept car technology platform demo stage? For sure 2020 and now 2021 have ushered in an era of run shoe midsole innovation with primarily super light energetic foams and here we have a completely different approach. Really run ready and for what and whom?  We tested to find out!


  • Innovative and effective new approach to midsole technology Sam 
  • No sensation of any of the usual foam density or bouncy hard to control Boost in the mix, especially at the heel. Airy Sam 
  • Distinct sensation of forward motion, as advertised Sam 
  • Very shock absorbing vibration free heel feel Sam 
  • Agile, flexible thin but well cushioned forefoot  Sam 
  • Relatively secure stretch knit upper with decent toe box hold, a change for such uppers Sam 
  • Sharp (and positive) contrast with UB 21 and its highly directed rigid approach, more lumbering ride and additional almost 1 oz additional weight  Sam 
  • Excellent lifestyle, walking shoe Sam 
  • Toe box has decent width and stretch making it effectively bigger Sam 
  • Very solid wet traction Jeff


  • Weight at 11.55 oz / 327g US 9 is up there for a modern run trainer as is pricing at $200 Sam 
  • For actual running upper doesn’t keep up with the platform as well as it could with a non knit Sam 
  • Upper stretches with use. Less than ideal fit, especially at the rear on my narrower right foot.           
  • Laces are way too long, had to quintuple knot to make them appropriate sized Jeff
  • Loud squishy noise with every landing is distracting Jeff


Estimated Weight: men's 11.55 oz  / 327g (US9) 

  Samples: men’s  11.29 oz / 320g US8.5 , 12.69 oz / 360g US10.5

Stack Height: 21.2mm / 32.5mm, 10 mm drop 

Available May-August.The sign-up for a chance to buy one of the limited shoes is from May 5th to May at  the adidas app. The Tokyo Collection colorway will be available from July 1st, before a worldwide drop from August 12th

First Impressions and Fit

Sam: Out of the box I was struck by the intricate 3D lattice midsole, flared heel, black and solar red highlighted upper and high rear knit pull on tab.

They were snug and a bit hard to pull on at first try on but this rapidly changed with use. Fit was true to size in length and width with mercifully enough stretch or not to much overdone width in the toe box. I have had none of the usual pressure over the big toe issues of knit uppers of early Ultraboost or even UB21 with its extensive toe overlays here. Lace up was secure and mid foot and heel hold seemed fine with somewhat thicker socks on both my wider left foot and narrower right for my first run.

After wearing them casually for a few days, during my second run with thinner slicker socks I struggled to get a good heel lock on my narrower right foot. The upper had stretched. For run purposes, I think narrower feet will struggle here, wider should do better. 

Jeff: Sam isn’t kidding, the 3D lattice is STRIKING when you first see it. I haven’t run in any adidas 4D shoes previously, but I have held them in my hand and this midsole material has much more give to it (using the highly scientific “press your thumb into the midsole” test we all like to do). 

Upon close inspection of the midsole, you can see the individual ridges of the 3D print, which is kind of cool. Fit is just as Sam describes it - the first time it is very hard to slip on, and once you do it might as well be a second sock. Then if you take it off, and put it back on, it’s already easier. I do think they run large, about a half size or so, because I can just about get two full thumb’s widths between the end of my big toe and the rubber toe cap.


Sam: The upper is adidas Primeknit+ in an intricate pattern with only the 3 Stripes of a thick rubbery material for mid foot support. No rigid plastics as in the UB here. Mid foot support is excellent.

There is a minimal toe bumper which is lower and less extensive than we usually see, looking at you UB21. with what appears to be a narrower lasting.  The front of the shoe generally works well but could use a bit more lockdown as it doesn’t quite keep up with the flexible agile forefoot.

We have an internal winged heel counter with the achilles area to the rear knit instead of a plastic piece. Essentially the same as the UB 21’s rear construction but with lighter plastic, thinner knits, and no internal bolsters around the collars.  In the end, the rear of the upper has less support and rear hold that UB21 or what I need and is “achilles heel” of the fit. I am sure this lighter weight approach helped save some weight, but in the end more hold and lockdown is needed for narrower feet.  

Jeff: I both agree and disagree with Sam here. He describes the upper very well, and he is accurate - the minimal upper does not hold the foot well. But it isn’t just narrow footed runners that could benefit from a little more structure in the upper, pretty much all foot types would get a better fit. The upper stretch is supremely comfortable, and for casual wear might be the king, but for bonafide on the road or treadmill running, there just isn’t sufficient hold. What’s more, the design of the shoe doesn’t allow for a runner’s loop, and while I debated punching some extra holes and making my own eyelets, the knit construction could be compromised if I started creating holes - so there’s no easy fix there either. There are a couple small pods on the inside down low on either side of the heel, and while that’s not a new invention, this shoe utilizes them as well as any other shoe I’ve seen. Frequently they are overemphasized or a non-factor, these do their job without making their presence easily known.


Sam: The midsole as described in the introduction is a data driven 3D printed lattice of cord like plastic structures. 

I say plastic as to the touch they in no way feel like foam. They are made of a firm material, but when pressing what you can cover with a finger (several cords) it clearly gives and easily so at first, but as you continue pressing the give slows as that unit of cords is stretched to its limit, if you will, stabilizing the downward forces and ready to return its energy. It is hard to comment on longevity but I suspect that as the lattice is a plastic like material and not foam and is in the lattice geometry to distribute forces it should be resistant to compression set or packing of each cord over time and maybe far better so than foams.    

The lattice geometry is felt on the run as highly focused where the force loads are then moving on to the next area as the stride un rolls. A sort of set of tiny waves of cushion/compression and then return sensations that never go beyond the limits of each area of the structure in play.   

The structure which combines deflection for cushion, but with limits, as the lattice cords interact stretching and compressing to limits dictated by their neighbors combining to deliver micro focused, cushion, support and stability. Given the entire midsole is such a structure, the result is a decently responsive well cushioned ride with none of the dense monolithic feel of foam, even super foams. The energy return may lag some of those foams in being more deliberate, but it is there. 

The more general geometry, as illustrated above, and the origin of the naming of 4DFWD,  is designed to convert vertical forces into forward ones. We had no information about the shoe prior to running them initially and I clearly felt the forward motion sensation as a driving downward sensation towards the front of the shoe and toe off. Mind you it is not extreme as say a plated shoe might provide, but is more a rolling wave like feel. Not surprising as the foot and forces interact with the lattice below. At first I thought that as the forefoot was only at a21mm stack, so not much more than say an old school light trainer and “thin” but I discovered that there was plenty of cushion nonetheless. 

Returning to the heel. It is the midsole highlight for me. The wide flaring provides stable landings with plenty of cushion that is light and somewhat springy in feel and certainly highly shock reducing and vibration free. Returning to the overall Bow Tie geometry you certainly don’t linger long back there as you catch the “waves” forward and this at even slow paces. Due to an injury, I was not able to push them much past 9 minute miles but all paces from 9 to 11 minute miles were equally as smooth and pleasant if not exactly dynamic. 

Jeff: There’s clearly a lot of science behind this shoe, and I don’t think I’ve wanted to destroy the midsole (out of pure curiosity) since my first pair of Nike Air shoes in the early 1990s. I’m glad Sam brought up the slight wave you feel, because I thought I might have been losing my mind when I experienced that. And the slight forward propulsion is also a trip, which makes me wonder what would happen if this design had a more prominent rocker design like the ASICS Glideride. 

This midsole is obviously a departure from so many others, and there are certainly downsides to it, but this feels like a potential leap forward for midsole technology. The closest thing I’ve seen is the prototype air-less car tires, that always seem to be about five years away from production.


Sam: The simple outsole as with the upper seems to be a sort of visual design afterthought to the midsole, the focus here. No high design and colors as with UB 21 but that wouldn’t fit the aesthetic and that’s OK. It is full coverage decently thick with a pattern of lugs and cuts. The shoe flexes near the front as many adidas do, aided by the arrow shaped grooves seen above. This is a relatively flexible shoe overall and not “torsionally” rigid as the UB21 is.

Jeff: I’m surprised that such a premium priced and designed shoe doesn’t carry Continental rubber, but it really doesn’t need it. One of my outside runs was just following a pretty good downpour (and with some sporadic rain peppered throughout) and I had zero traction issues at all. I was shocked how flexible it was, especially considering that it is a big old rubber slab with realistically no flex grooves, but I think that just speaks to how much motion the midsole allows. 


Sam: The ride is certainly unique in feel but not as radical as say the bouncy super foams are or aggressively directed and rigid as its cousin UB21 is. This is a more mellow natural ride with plenty of cushion feel that is less dense in overall feel than any foam. It is quite soft and forgiving but is also “taut” in feel due to the lattice cords controlling and directing forces through the lattice geometry rather than absorbing in their mass and then returning energy as foams do. You actually feel like you are riding with the grid rather than crushing a foam down and having it bounce back. 

4DFWD  clearly runs lighter than its weight with a sort of airy, dynamic, moderate and distributed return of energy. As far as running uses it is for me an ideal recovery run ride as it has plenty of heel cushion, smooth transitions, is upper aside stable underfoot and has an easy toe off. The upper hold, weight and relative lack of snappy response doesn’t not make it feel like an ideal tempo or faster daily training miles shoe for me with its focus more towards more mellow paces and recovery. 

Jeff: And there it is - and Sam isn’t wrong - for all the crazy looks and design of this shoe, it actually rides very nicely. I wouldn’t say the ride is pedestrian (not that *that* is a bad thing - I think of the Saucony Ride 14 as having a pedestrian ride), but compared to many of the more outlandish shoes of the last 18 months, this one doesn’t stand out as a weirdo. It rides considerably lighter than its on the scale heft, and I did spend a little time at an uptempo pace on the treadmill (8 mph for some of the slow-motion video portions), but I too would only recommend it for easy days. Partially for how the midsole acts, and partially for the lack of upper security. It’s hard to go hard when you can’t trust your landing. It’s hard to quantify further, but Sam’s use of the word “taut” is absolutely spot on. It’s firm without being necessarily firm, my apologies for not going deeper than that - I truly don’t have the words to accurately convey it.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Sam: adidas with its latest generation of their 3D printed 4D midsoles has clearly delivered a shoe more clearly intended for running and not just tech and lifestyle show and tell. I did not test any of the predecessor 4D shoes but here the concept for performance running is now valid as we have a smooth, well cushioned unique ride that for sure is not lumbering and dull. 

The 4DFWD doesn’t quite get there yet as a true performance run shoe contender while the tech for sure is on its way, if not there already. The lattice delivers a very pleasant lighter than shoe weight ride with a distinctly easy flow forward as promised. The heel geometry and feel is outstanding in its cushion feel without it ever feeling bogged down, back weighted or overly dense. Transitions are smooth and toe offs flexible and easy with a very natural feel overall if one that is lacking in snap and response and and also totally unlike the highly and overly directed UB 21.

The knit upper, while comfortable, does not have the greatest hold at the rear for narrow feet,  and must add to weight, while the front hold is just adequate but at least this knit doesn’t crush my big toe.  It is high time for adidas to ditch the stretch knits for some of the outstanding newer engineered mesh or even a non stretch knit type material for shoes intended for performance running. They certainly know how to create fabulous uppers. Celermesh as in the Adios Pro is outstanding. Not for this shoe but something in between please.

The 4DFWD in view still sits somewhat between worlds of lifestyle shoes and performance running in large part due to the upper.  But who am I to argue with the huge commercial success of such uppers, often not for running uses,  since day one in the UB and now here on a distinctly different riding platform.   

Value at $200 is not an easy question to answer. The shoe is for sure very runnable if you can get a good fit.  It looks great and is well suited to my lifestyle preferences and uses, and far more so than the overly showy and bulbous UB21. I also appreciate that 39% of the midsole comes from bio-based materials.  All of this said early, out there technologies are not inexpensive to bring to scale and 3D printing a whole midsole is for sure no easy or quick task. I have my doubts adidas makes much, if really any money on this shoe and is to be commended for stretching to new boundaries of innovation and technology here.

Sam’s Score: 8.65 /10

Ride: 9.15 (50%) Fit: 8 (30%) Value: 8 (15%) Style: 9.25 (5%)

Jeff: This is my first adidas 4D shoe, with the cost and “it’s a lifestyle shoe!” reputation keeping me from going down this particular rabbit hole previously, but I’m more impressed with the shoe than I thought I would be. There are some dings against it, and some of them are bigger than others (upper stretch leading to insecure foothold is a much bigger flaw than the number on the scale), but the flaws really only become apparent out on the road. 

As a casual or walking shoe, I’m not sure many shoes get close on the comfort side of things. And it’s a good thing it is so comfortable or else my tin snips would be methodically working their way through each strand to dissect the midsole.

The forefoot has really great cushioning, and I really like the engineered feel of the midsole - every single strand feels designed as opposed to “yup, it’s a slab of foam” that virtually every other shoe employs. I don’t think every shoe needs to be 4D, but there’s something there for sure. 

As for value? Sam’s right, it is a tough question. Are there better pure running shoes for the money? Absolutely. But, is this incredibly comfortable, uses premium materials/cutting edge technology, and have great durability? Also, yes. If you know what you are getting into, and you want what might be the best lifestyle shoe ever made, it's bound to be a great value for potentially years to come. If you are looking for a comfortable daily trainer to log lots of miles? I’ve got some suggestions down below. 

Jeff’s Score: 8.15/10

Ride:9 (50%) Fit:7 (30%) Value:7 (15%) Style:10 (5%)


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Ultraboost 21 (RTR Review)

Sam: As discussed above two distinctly different top end run to lifestyle rides. More ponderous, stiffer, and more responsive the UB21 is more mechanical and dense in feel while the 4DFWD is more natural, agile, and airy underfoot.  Then there are the comparative looks. At least for me the 4D’s more conservative, more streamlined approach is my preference. Asked to choose between the two, even with its relatively less secure rear hold I would clearly pick 4DFWD.

Jeff: Yup, yup, yup, yup. While there are some flaws in the 4DFWD’s approach, I vastly prefer it to the UB21. Maybe it’s the dull ride of Boost, or the placement of the plate, the UB21 ride is awkward and blocky, meanwhile the lattice midsole of the 4DFWD produces a much smoother ride. I’d love to Frankenstein elements of these two to make a really comfortable and horrifically ugly shoe, but in the meantime, I’ll stick with the 4DFWD.

Nike Zoom Invincible (RTR Review)

Sam: The Zoom Invincible takes a completely different approach with a very bouncy, light high energy return single slab of ZoomX PEBA foam. Lighter, faster, and sort of odd looking I much prefer the sleek looks of the 4DFWD and its stability and multiple potential uses but prefer the run ride of the Invincible. 

Jeff: The more I run in the Invincible, the more I like it’s ride and dislike the looks. However, this isn’t a beauty contest, and it’s all about the performance - and performance-wise this is a no-brainer. The Nike’s upper is a little overbuilt, but holds the foot very well, and while there can be stability issues with that much ZoomX foam, it’s upper hold makes it easier to run in at any pace. When you get into the midsole, the bounciness of the Invincible is hard to overlook. Even with nearly 150 miles on my pair, there’s so much spring to each step, this comparison is no question it’s the Nike for me.

Saucony Endorphin Shift (RTR Review)

Jeff: Two similar, but very different shoes, the Shift has a higher stack, firmer ride, much more pronounced rocker, and very dialed in upper. The midsole/ride geometry really sets it apart from more “normal” running shoes, and luckily the midsole has a solid firmness to it that keeps everything in check. A great running shoe that also can double as a comfortable casual shoe (when I moved last year I had the Endorphin Shift on my feet for a couple long days, and afterwards felt it was the right call ) the 4DFWD isn’t nearly the runner the Saucony is, but is even better for casual use. Ultimately that’s the biggest deciding factor - do you want a running shoe? No question, Endorphin Shift, but if you want a casual shoe, I’d favor the adidas.

Sam: Jeff has it right but I would never choose to go casual in the massive stacked Shift although for sure if I didn’t care about looks they are a great all day on your feet choice as firmer and stable is what I need for standing around.

Mizuno Wave Sky Neo (RTR Review)

Jeff: In the battle of heavy, expensive, and premium top end shoes, this one lines up very closely. Stack heights feel very similar, overall comfort is very similar, and construction (despite the 4DFWD being effectively hollow) is very similar. The biggest difference isn’t the midsole (the Mizuno is a little more plush, which is a sentence that doesn’t get written very often) but the upper and how effectively it holds the foot. While the Neo has a very overbuilt external heel collar, it employs a similarly stretchy knit upper that doesn’t let go of the foot, so maybe it’s not too overbuilt. There’s no question the Mizuno runs better, but in a battle of casual supremacy who wins? I give the very slight edge to the adidas, if only because it can be slipped on and off without untying the laces.

Tester Profiles

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 30 miles per week on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR's are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 64 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 48 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR from a long time ago. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs.

4DFWD will be available May-August.The sign-up for a chance to buy one of the limited shoes is from May 5th to May 16t will be at  the adidas app. The Tokyo Collection colorway will be available from July 1st, before a worldwide drop from August 12th

Watch the 4DFWD Video Review with Slo-Motion Footage on the Run (8:04)

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received by RTR or the authors for this review beyond potential commissions from the shopping links in the article. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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