If just a touch of carbon fiber can provide benefits for athletes, then VKTRY founder Matt Arciuolo figured engineering a full-length carbon fiber insole had a range of untapped potential. Following nearly a decade of research and development, all sparked by an effort to provide the USA Olympic bobsled team more explosiveness on their starts, Arciuolo patented a carbon fiber footwear insole customizable to provide performance benefits for athletes far beyond the bobsled.
VKTRY, now four years beyond that patent and three years since producing its first commercial insoles, has made inroads in major college and professional sports the country over, gaining backing from LSU’s director of athletic training Jack Marucci, now-retired Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, Red Sox doctor James Creps and a handful of professional athlete endorders.
“Insole inserts are passive devices designed to absorb shock, but they don’t generate energy or return energy to the athlete,” Arciuolo says. “Instead of a passive device, I designed this carbon fiber insole to store energy and return it.”
The process works in four steps, all using the impressive strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber. When the heel hits the ground, the VKTRY insole absorbs the shock of the heel strike and returns it like a trampoline, Arciuolo says. When the second phase of an athlete’s gate moves their full body weight over the middle of the insert, the arched design deflects and adds cushioning. “The third phase is where the magic happens,” he says. When athletes pick their heel up to take a step or jump, the carbon fiber stores the energy at the ball of the foot, returning it in the toe-off phase — phase four — “where all the energy stored in the first three phases is returned.” The insole isn’t generating energy on its own, instead using an athlete’s energy and returning it to them for efficiency and explosion.
Using independent studies, including one from Southern Connecticut State University, VKTRY CEO Steve Wasik says science backs that claims, showing the company’s insoles provide over a 9 percent rate of force development, basically explosiveness, than not using the product.
The carbon fiber is engineered with multiple layers of fibers in different lengths, makeups and directions to offer flexibility where needed and stability in other areas.
VKTRY was designed for use across multiple sports — major footwear brands from Nike to Asics have started employing carbon fiber in long-distance running shoes for linear benefits — and Wasik says they’ve seen adoption from football to baseball, but have found basketball and volleyball players especially enjoy the energy return for higher jumping ability and less force upon landing. “We hear some great stories from athletes who have suffered from sore knees or shin splints and the pain is gone,” he says.
The original bobsled design requiring the insole to fit in the tight confines of a spike helped create a product ideal for all athletes, Arciuolo says. “The challenge was not only getting something that worked in terms of propulsion, but also that fit in the shoe,” he says. The carbon fiber portion of the product weighs less than an ounce and is less than a millimeter thick. A proprietary polyurethane top cover provides additional comfort.
VKTRY isn’t a one-size fits all proposition, with Arciuolo calling it a “truly customized product.” It comes in five different “pro levels,” which are basically different flex levels. Lighter athletes with smaller feet require more flex than a 320-pound football player. To get the same propulsion performance, insoles require customization based on sport, weight and foot size, so an algorithm helps find the best flex level for each athlete. The insole is further customized by sport, using different thickness and sizes.
“The VK is the best combination of injury protection and performance I have ever seen in insoles,” Vitti says.
Endorsers of the brand also include Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, Anthony Miller of the Chicago Bears, Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins, Lexie Brown of the Minnesota Lynx, Myles Jones of Chaos Lacrosse Club, George Springer of the Houston Astros, CrossFit world champion Annie Thorisdottir and plenty more.
Creps says that “for the first time, athletes can experience stabilization, shock absorption and propulsion in a device that is specifically tailored to their size and weight. This is a game changer.”
Written by Tim Newcomb; Forbes