Shoe Properties: A New Model for Runner’s Performance

Running is a popular sport and hobby for many people, but choosing the right shoes can be challenging. Different shoe designs have different effects on a runner’s gait, energy expenditure, and performance. How can runners and shoe designers find the optimal shoe properties for a given running style?

A new model developed by MIT engineers may provide an answer. The model predicts how certain shoe properties, such as stiffness and springiness along the midsole, will affect a runner’s performance. The model incorporates a person’s height, weight, and other general dimensions, and simulates how they would run in a particular shoe.

The researchers used the model to compare how a runner’s gait changes with different shoe types. They found that the model can accurately simulate the changes when comparing two very different shoe designs, such as a regular foam midsole versus a 3D-printed scaffold midsole. However, the model is less discerning when comparing relatively similar designs, such as most commercially available running shoes.

The researchers defined performance as the degree to which a runner’s expended energy is minimized. They found that the optimal shoe design depends on the individual runner’s characteristics and preferences. For example, some runners may prefer a stiffer shoe that reduces the work done by their ankle joint, while others may prefer a softer shoe that reduces the impact forces on their legs.

The model could be a useful tool for shoe designers looking to push the boundaries of sneaker design and create novel shoes with a wider range of properties than conventional foam midsoles. The model could also help runners find the best shoes for their personal running style, if they provide some basic information such as their height, weight, and video of their running gait.

The new model is reported in a study appearing this month in the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering . The study is authored by Sarah Fay, a postdoc in MIT’s Sports Lab and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), and Anette “Peko” Hosoi, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

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