Altra Paradigm Review

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The Altra Paradigm is a Maximalist shoe, rather like the Hoka range, but it has zero drop and a nice wide toe box. There's a lot to like about the Paradigm, but it doesn't match the Hoka Clifton for lightweight cushioning (but then, nothing does.) I've rated it as "Highly Recommended." (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

1 Characteristics

  • Why you'd buy it. The Paradigm is a nice shoe, but I think you'd be better off looking at the Hoka Clifton or the Altra Olympus.
  • Cushioning. The midsole of the Paradigm is similar to the Olympus or One2 Altra shoes. It's not quite as soft as the typical Hoka foam, but it's softer than the earlier Altra shoes were. Like many shoes, it takes a few miles from the initial firmness to wear off. Note that it's much softer than some of the other Altra shoes such as the Altra Torin.
  • Drop. Like all Altra shoes, the Paradigm is zero drop, but this does not mean sole is flat. Instead, the thickness under the ball and heel is approximately the same but there is a little bit of rise under the arch. For my foot this is enough to provide a little extra medial support to the ball of the foot, but not so much that it pushes up on the arch of my foot which would cause problems. The Paradigm tapers gradually from the ball of the foot to the front, unlike Hoka which tends to have a rather more abrupt taper at the very front of the shoe. The very rear of the shoe is cut away slightly, which may reduce the chance of accidental heel strike. The midsole does wrap around the lower part of the foot to create some additional stability. This helps overcome some of the problems you get with a thick sole creating a stilt like instability.
  • Structure. This shoe is made of a single type of foam which is painted at various levels to make the shoe look a little less clunky. Thus there is no variation in foam density within the midsole to interfere with the movement of the foot on the ground.
  • Flexibility. The Paradigm is reasonably flexible for shoe of this thickness. The shallow grooves cut into the sole do help a little. The flexibility tends to increase over the first few miles as the foam breaks down and softens.
  • Outsole. The Paradigm has harder rubber over most of the contact surface of the sole. This reduces the wear on the outsole, but there are areas around the little toes that are exposed midsole which will wear more quickly. See the picture at the top right for more details.
  • Shape. The shoe is the classic Altra shape, which follows the outline of the human foot much better than other makes. This gives it a broader toe box, but I find there is not enough height for my toes and I still have to cut the toe box open. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
  • Upper. The upper is a thin seamless material that is reasonably breathable. There is good padding around the ankle opening.
  • Tongue. The Paradigm has a classic tongue rather than a tongue-less sock style of upper. The tongue is partially attached on the inside edge to keep it positioned, which I really like. The tongue has minimal but adequate padding.
  • Lacing. The flat laces work well and remained tied. Like many Altra shoes, I find the position of the uppermost eyeholes a little old, with the top hole too high and the next hole a little too low. The shoes come from the manufacturer laced in a way that indicates they think you should do a "heel lock" style of lacing, which I hate. I find that approach is very hard to get the tension right.
  • Heel counter. The Paradigm has a surprisingly firm heel counter, but there are no strongly defined edges, so it should not cause a problem. The heel counter comes as far up the back of the heel as is normal for running shoe.
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2 Cushioning and Shoes

It's intuitively obvious that the cushioning in a shoe will reduce the impact on your body when running. However, The Science of Running Shoes indicates that the reality is rather more complex. While slight cushioning may reduce the effort needed to run by improving your Running Economy, most scientific research indicates that more cushioning does further improve Running Economy. In addition, cushioning does not generally reduce impact and may actually increase it. This is counterintuitive, but is likely to be due to the way a runners mind and body adapts to softer cushioning. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is far from complete and it's hard to give clear recommendations. I believe that some runners will prefer more cushioning, while others prefer less, and typically those running further have a fondness for greater cushioning. I also believe that a shoe should be as light as possible, and a shoe should justify its weight with the cushioning it provides. My advice is to decide what level of cushioning you're looking for, and then find the lightest shoes that also fit well and are comfortable.

3 Visualizing the Attributes of the Altra Paradigm

How Altra Paradigm compares showing rearfoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Altra Paradigm compares showing forefoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Altra Paradigm compares showing the price against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.
How Altra Paradigm compares showing the loaded drop against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.

4 Compared with Altra Olympus

The Altra Olympus and the Paradigm are remarkably similar shoes; the Olympus is a little thicker and heavier, it has slightly better and off road capacity, and its outsole is rather longer lasting.

  • The Paradigm is road only, where the Olympus will handle both road and some mild trails. (Choose the Hoka Mafate for all –terrain use.)
  • The Olympus is slightly thicker (36mm v 26mm) and slightly heavier (11.8 v 10.2oz).
  • The outsole on the Olympus is quite hard, and can it lack traction on smooth rock or on a treadmill at steep incline.
  • The Paradigm is slightly more cut away at the base of the heel to produce more of a rocker effect.
I actually ran with an Olympus on one foot and a Paradigm on the other. It's a great way of comparing two shoes, but don't try this at home as it's also a great way of getting injured.

5 Compared with Hoka

Compared with the Hoka range, the Olympus/Paradigm is not quite as well cushioned, but has a much better toe box design. I also prefer the way the Olympus/Paradigm tapers the midsole towards the front of the shoe creating a more gradual rocker effect. However, the remarkable Hoka Clifton offers similar cushioning at a much lighter weight.

6 Gallery

Here is a comparison of the Altra Olympus and the Altra Paradigm from above.
Here is an comparison of the Hoka Bondi and the Altra Paradigm.
Here's the Altra Olympus and the Altra Paradigm from the inside.
…and from the outside.
The Paradigm (top) has less grip and more flexibility than the Olympus.
Altra Paradigm, Altra Olympus, Hoka Conquest, Hoka Mafate, Hoka Stinson, Hoka Bondi (From left to right).
Hoka Stinson, Hoka Bondi, Hoka Conquest, Hoka Mafate, Altra Paradigm, Altra Olympus (From top left to bottom right by row).
Hoka Stinson, Hoka Bondi, Hoka Conquest, Hoka Mafate, Altra Paradigm, Altra Olympus (From top left to bottom right by row).
Hoka Stinson, Hoka Bondi, Hoka Conquest, Hoka Mafate, Altra Paradigm, Altra Olympus (From top left to bottom right by row).

7 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes. This table lists the key attributes of What to Look for in Running Shoes. For more detailed information, on the shoes see detailed shoe comparison.

Full Review

Brand Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Asics 33-DFA Review Asics 33-DFA Worth considering $90 5.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 6
Saucony Type A6 Review Saucony A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 8
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adidas Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 7
Hoka Bondi 5 Review Hoka Bondi Recommended $150 6.1 11.6 18.1 38 42 5 7.1 4
Hoka Clayton Review Hoka Clayton Best of the Best $150 8.8 8.3 12.9 26 30 3 7.3 5
Hoka Clayton 2 Review Hoka Clayton 2 Review Pending $150 9.1 8.3 12.9 23 28 1 7.5 6
Hoka Clifton 3 Review Hoka Clifton3 Best of the Best $130 9.1 9.8 15.3 34 38 3 8.9 6
On Cloudracer Review On Cloud Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 8
Hoka Conquest Review Hoka Conquest Worth considering $170 5.0 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 3
Saucony Cortana 4 Review Saucony Cortana Worth considering $150 4.4 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 5
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Mizuno Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 7
Newton Distance IV Review Newton Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 6
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review Asics DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 6
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Mizuno Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin 2 Review Saucony Endorphin 2 Worth considering $115 8.0 5.1 9.6 15 13 -1 4.1 8
Adidas Energy Boost Review Adidas Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 6
Altra Escalante Review Altra Escalante Best of the Best $130 9.1 8.7 13.5 28 25 -1 7.9 7
Puma Faas 100 R Review Puma Faas 100 Highly Recommended $90 8.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 9
Saucony Fastwitch Review Saucony Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 8
Topo Fli-Lyte Review Topo Fli-Lyte Highly Recommended $100 6.0 9.4 14.6 23 24 4 5.6 6
Nike Free 4.0 Review Nike Free Recommended $120 5.3 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 6
Saucony Freedom Review Saucony Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 25 29 3 5.8 7
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review Asics Gel Lyte Not recommended $90 8.0 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9
Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 Review Skechers GOmeb 3 Worth considering $120 6.9 8.1 12.6 20 24 4 5.5 8
Skechers GORun 4 Review Skechers GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review Skechers GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 5
Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review Skechers GRU-R Worth considering $105 6.5 11.3 17.6 30 40 6 7.4 7
Asics GT 2000 Review Asics GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 4
New Balance Hanzo S New Balance Hanzo Worth considering $110 7.6 6.9 10.7 21 19 2 5.2 6
Hoka Hupana Review Hoka Hupana Recommended $115 6.1 8.9 13.9 31 36 7 5.4 5
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Asics Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 7
Altra Instinct 3.5 3.5 Review Altra Instinct 3.5 Recommended $115 4.9 9.3 15.2 24 23 0 4.5 6
Altra Instinct 4.0 Review Altra Instinct 4.0 Worth considering $120 6.0 9.8 15.3 29 25 -1 5.9 6
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Asics Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 7
Saucony Kinvara 8 Review Saucony Kinvara 8 Best of the Best $110 9.3 8.6 13.4 26 31 3 8.0 6
Nike LunaRacer 4 Review Nike LunaRacer Recommended $90 9.9 7.0 10.9 22 30 7 6.9 6
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review Nike LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 7
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Hoka Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 3
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review Pearl N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
Saucony Nomad Review Saucony Nomad Worth considering $110 4.3 10.5 17.2 25 27 2 4.5 5
Hoka Odyssey Review Hoka Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 4
Altra Olympus Review Altra Olympus Highly Recommended $130 5.4 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 4
Altra One 2.5 Review Altra One Highly Recommended $100 8.5 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 8
Altra One 3.0 Review Altra One Review Pending $100 6.1 8.8 13.7 23 23 0 5.4 7
Altra Paradigm Review Altra Paradigm Highly Recommended $130 6.4 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 4
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Asics Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review Brooks PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Salming Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 7
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review New Balance RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000 Review New Balance RC5000 Best of the Best $125 12.2 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review New Balance RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 8
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Skechers Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 9
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review Inov-8 RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 9
Topo ST-2 Review Topo ST-2 Highly Recommended $90 8.2 7.3 11.4 20 18 0 6.0 8
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Hoka Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 2
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Nike Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 6
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 6
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Altra Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 5
Hoka Tracer Review Hoka Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 6
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review Merrell Trail Glove Best of the Best $100 2.9 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 9
Topo Tribute Review Topo Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 7
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Mizuno Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Review Merrell Vapor Glove Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
New Balance Vazee Pace Review New Balance Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 6
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Asics Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 7

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot.
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, New Balance 980 Review, Brooks Transcend 2 Review.
Reviews of shoes that are not worth including on the table: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review.