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Energetics and Biomechanics of Running Footwear with Increased Longitudinal Bending Stiffness: A Narrative Review

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

In the wake of the quest to break the 2-h marathon barrier, carbon-fiber plates have become commonplace in marathon racing shoes. Despite the controversy surrounding this shoe technology, studies on the effects of increased longitudinal bending stiffness on running economy report mixed results. Here, we provide a comprehensive review of the current literature on midsole bending stiffness and carbon-fiber plates in distance running shoes, focusing on how longitudinal bending stiffness affects running energetics and lower limb mechanics. The current literature reports changes in running economy with increased longitudinal bending stiffness ranging from ~ 3% deterioration to ~ 3% improvement. In some studies, larger improvements have been observed, but often those shoes varied in many aspects, not just longitudinal bending stiffness. Biomechanically, increased longitudinal bending stiffness has the largest impact on metatarsal-phalangeal (MTP) and ankle joint mechanics. Plate location [top loaded (an insole), embedded (in between midsole foam), and bottom loaded (along the bottom of the shoe)] and geometry (flat/curved) affect joint moments and angular velocities at the MTP and ankle joint differently, which partly explains the mixed running economy results. Further research investigating how carbon-fiber plates interact with other footwear features (such as foam and midsole geometry), scaling of those with shoe size, body mass, and strike pattern, and comparing various plate placements is needed to better understand how longitudinal bending stiffness affects running economy.
Journal: Sports Medicine
ISSN: 0112-1642
Issue: 5
Volume: 51
Pages: 873 - 894
Number of pages: 22
Publication year:2021