Stability breeds explosiveness.
The more stable your body is, the more directional force you'll be able to put into the ground. Small increases in ground force can result in big improvements in speed, agility and acceleration. That's why shoe designers spend so much time and energy creating products emphasizing this ability. But you know what your ultra high-tech $150 shoe, sneaker or cleat overlooks? Your sock.
While athletic equipment and apparel has improved by leaps and bounds over the past century, the sock has been largely ignored. It's an afterthought—a thing you need to wear, but not necessarily a thing you want to wear. This approach has led to one big problem—the athlete's foot sliding around inside their shoe. No matter how well-fitting a piece of footwear might be, there's still going to be room for your foot to move around inside the shoe. That means lost energy and a decrease in ground force.
Traditional socks do little to address this issue, so we're left with a phenomenon where an athlete's body and footwear are optimized to produce stability and maximize ground force, but their sock—acting as the meat in the sandwich between the foot and the shoe—isn't capable of transferring that energy efficiently. That translates to slower sprints, sloppier changes of direction and less impressive acceleration.
This is where Claudio Storelli, CEO and co-founder of Storelli, a small sports apparel company based in Brooklyn, New York, saw opportunity. For years, he'd heard complaints from professional athletes about their foot sliding inside their shoe. As the CEO of a company who prides themselves on function, he knew the standard athletic sock was long overdue for a major makeover.
"Your entire athletic stance sits with all of your weight on the sock and the insole that fits inside the harder outer sole of the shoe. Skin, sock, insole then shoe. The insole and shoe are glued together, so there's no movement there. But the skin, the sock and the insole are three separate layers that have a very low coefficient of friction with each other," Storelli says. "That doesn't really matter if you go for a walk or are jogging casually, but it does if you're playing sports where a fraction of a second can make a difference."
After nearly two-and-a-half years of research and development, the Storelli SpeedGrip sock is a reality. Available for retail in March, the company dubs them as "The Ultimate Performance Socks."
Although Storelli knew the sock would perform better in theory, they weren't positive of the tangible differences they could achieve.
"We had a hope it would provide performance benefits, but all we knew was that we could increase the grip," Storelli said. "By increasing the grip, you reduce the slippage. We thought at the very least, we will increase comfort. If the player is feeling the grip, then they'll feel more comfortable. But we knew that logically, if you're changing direction and your foot slips a little bit more to the left when you're trying to move to the right, those are millimeters that should be on the opposite side instead of still sliding."
Creating a sock with greater grip might not sound like rocket science, but the team quickly learned traditional sock-making techniques weren't going to be enough. While other companies have touted superior socks in the past, they've really just been minor improvements upon a centuries old process (knitting with thread).
Storelli knew a knitted sock would not be able to achieve the performance-enhancing traits they desired, so they ultimately created something more akin to a compression sleeve.
"We had to reinvent the manufacturing process of a sock…when you look at your fanciest socks from different brands, all they're doing is employing different threads. The process is mechanized and computerized so you can knit the socks in many different ways throughout the sock, but the end result is always a pure knitted sock," Storelli says. "If we cannot knit it, why not use techniques from compression gear? You're looking at something that looks more like a piece of compression material with some bonded components rather than a normal sock. That was the hardest part. It's like a second layer of skin that sits really tight against your foot and augments physical properties by giving grip. No one's ever done this, so that's why we were able to patent it."
Without a doubt, the grip material itself is the most important part of the SpeedGrip sock. Not only did the grip need to be able to withstand hundreds of pounds of force, but it needed to be able to do so time and time again. Socks also get soggy—either from sweat or from playing in wet conditions—and the material needed to be able to perform despite that. The team eventually settled on an extremely durable synthetic material that actually has better grip when wet. Research showed them where athletes needed that grip the most, and they ended up with this strategic placement:
When it came time to test the final design, Storelli was stunned with just how well the product performed. Testing carried out at Progressive Sports Technologies at the University of Loughborough found that when compared to traditional socks, SpeedGrip socks deliver up to 135% more grip against the foot's skin, 70% more grip on a typical insole, and up to 35% more force changing direction. "When the results came in and we started looking at the differences in force, it started clicking—this is really awesome," Storelli says.
Socks may be the most abused piece of athletic apparel out there. They're crammed in a sweaty shoe for hours on end, then they're unceremoniously balled up and thrown in a hamper. How do the makers of perhaps the world's most high-tech sports sock grapple with this reality? I'm told the socks have proven to be quite durable during testing, and while you can both machine wash and dry them, the company recommends air drying. Since the sock soaks up significantly less water than other socks, they air dry much faster. The company also has a no questions asked full refund policy for any customer who returns a damaged item.
Storelli sent me a pair of SpeedGrip socks to test for myself. Aesthetically, I love the simplistic design. You're not going to feel like a fool wearing these things in public, which isn't always the case for performance-enhancing apparel. I found the socks to be incredibly lightweight, and while they felt a little odd on my feet at first, that sensation disappeared once I began training. While I am by no means an elite athlete, I did feel an enhanced feeling of stability while performing plyometrics and explosive lifts.
Although I no longer make agility drills a regular part of my routine, I did play a few games of pick-up basketball while wearing the SpeedGrip socks. Without a doubt, I felt my lateral movements were sharper and I also felt more confident sticking my foot in the ground when changing directions. I wasn't suddenly weaving through the paint like Kyrie Irving, but I did feel sharper.
For Storelli, that's what the product is all about—removing doubt and letting athletes be the best version of themselves.
"(This product) is not a silver bullet. It's not a ticket to a D1 scholarship," Storelli says. "But we aspire to remove distraction and shield you from the variables you don't want to worry about. We want you to worry about you and your decisions on the field and get lost in the moment and have fun. That's really the origin of our brand."
The SpeedGrip socks will be available at Storelli.com for a base price of $39.99.
Photo Credit: Storelli
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