Shoe Bending Stiffness and Muscle-Tendon Unit Function in Running

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The latest records set during long-distance running competitions have been attributed to recent footwear midsole innovations. One of these midsole innovations that has been claimed to have large effects on biomechanical, physiological, and performance variables is the use of a carbon fibre plate to increase the longitudinal bending stiffness of a shoe. Several mechanisms were proposed to be associated with performance improvements when running in footwear with carbon fibre plates. One of these mechanisms, the principle of optimising muscle function is currently not well understood. Therefore, this thesis aimed to investigate the effects of midsole bending stiffness of athletic footwear on muscle and muscle-tendon unit function in running. The first part of this thesis showed that running in stiff footwear resulted in a redistribution of positive work from proximal to distal lower limb joints. Specifically, it was found that a fatigue-induced redistribution of joint work from distal to proximal joints can be delayed when running in stiff footwear. The second part of this thesis dealt with the shortening velocities of muscle-tendon units. Estimated shank muscle-tendon unit shortening velocities were reduced when running in stiffer shoes. Experimental results using ultrasound imaging of the gastrocnemius medialis muscle revealed that the muscle shortened to a lesser extent and with lower average velocities in stiff running footwear. These findings could have implications for long-distance running performance. Positive work generation at more distal joints (i.e., ankle) may result in lower active muscle volume, which has been shown to be the main determinant of changes in the energetic cost of running. Slower shortening velocities of the gastrocnemius medialis could allow the muscle to operate on a more favourable position on its force-velocity relationship. This could allow for more economical force generation for a longer period during long-distance running. Altered muscle function could be a source of improved performance when running in stiff shoes.
Mechanics, Run, Fatigue, Biomechanics, Physiology
Čigoja, S. (2021). Shoe Bending Stiffness and Muscle-Tendon Unit Function in Running (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from