Can a shoe really put more power in your stride? UNO researcher finds shoe stiffness impacts your energy level



Who wouldn’t want running shoes that not only protect your feet, but also give you energy as you go?

Before you shell out the bucks for a new pair read why one University of Nebraska at Omaha researcher says switching footwear could make a difference on your energy level.

A new study led by UNO researcher Kota Takahashi shows one key element of shoe design can significantly impact the energy cost of walking.

The study, which was published last week in “Scientific Reports,” found participants used more energy walking in stiffer shoes.

Among the results: walking with a very rigid shoe compared to a more flexible sneaker required an average amount of additional energy roughly equal to the energy cost of walking with an extra 13 pounds at the waist.

The study — which was a collaboration between several researchers including Kota Takahashi, an assistant professor in UNO’s Department of Biomechanics — analyzed the muscle mechanics, force output and energy cost of subjects walking barefoot, in a name-brand running shoe, and with three carbon fiber insoles of varying stiffness.

The study used an ultrasound device to capture images of a calf muscle moving and a separate mask device to measure energy consumption. The research setup is among the first of its kind, allowing researchers to directly link muscle contraction with energy output.

Researchers found rigid insoles created more force, but also increased the energy cost of walking, likely because the inserts increased the demand on foot and ankle muscles.

Takahashi said in a university press release the research complements previous studies showing rigid shoes can help sprinters travel further, faster, as well as similar studies with high jumping. He initially hypothesized energy use would decrease with more rigid insoles because of the greater force produced, but instead found the opposite.

The research points to the need for custom footwear, reflecting both the individual and the activity. For instance, people with stiffer feet may benefit from more flexible shoes. Likewise, sprinters will want stiffer shoes than marathoners.

Researchers believe this study will open the door to new studies examining the impact of other shoe design components, including sole height, ankle support and rocker bottom shapes.


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