Want to move fast? Look for these materials in your next running shoes

Spiked running shoes with a rubbery material between the inner and outer soles, and a stiff plate to improve stability, seem to help people move faster.

Choosing shoes with specific sole materials could help you beat your personal running best.

At the Tokyo Olympic games in 2021, most medals in the middle and long-distance track events were won by athletes wearing spiked running shoes with “advanced footwear technology”, VĂ­ctor Rodrigo-Carranza at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain and his colleagues wrote in a research paper.

The technology in your running shoes may affect your performance

To learn more about the types of shoes that may be most beneficial, the team recruited 14 women and 16 men who all ran at least five days a week and could cover 10 kilometres in no more than 40 minutes.

For the experiment, the participants ran six 200-metre trials at an 800 metre pace. For two of the trials, they wore a traditional spike running shoe with a shock-absorbing layer of the resin ethylene vinyl acetate between the inner and outer soles.

They also ran two trials wearing an “advanced technology” spiked shoe with a layer of the shock-absorbing rubbery material polyether block amide between the soles. For the remaining two trials, they wore another advanced technology shoe with the same rubbery layer, along with a curved carbon-fibre plate to increase the midsole’s stiffness, which may improve stability. All the shoes were provided by Puma, which also funded one of the team members.

The trials were done in “mirrored order”, with the participants wearing the first, second and third shoes, then the third, second and first shoes. They didn’t know how the shoes’ sole properties differed at the time of the study.

Compared with the traditional running shoe, both the men and women ran faster in the advanced alternatives. The men specifically also ran faster wearing the second advanced running shoe than the first.

In both the men and women, these two shoes were also linked to improved “running economy”, measured by the amount of oxygen needed when moving at a given intensity or speed.

“Our results show that both types of [advanced footwear technology] spikes improved performance compared to traditional spiked shoes,” says Rodrigo-Carranza.

Steffen Willwacher at the Offenburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany says: “This research is important for us to understand whether or not the recent developments in athletic performance are technology-driven or driven by other factors like improvements in training methods, nutrition or even illegal options. This shows that it’s very likely that recent improvements are due to technology.”


bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2024.04.13.589345

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