Explaining athletics’ new performance-enhancing tech

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In the 1960s, when traditional ash athletic tracks were replaced with spongy and synthetic surfaces, endurance racing underwent a revolution. Long distance runners started recording much faster times on synthetic tracks, breaking several world records.

Today, another revolution is underway: the development of the so-called “super shoe”, which brings about another record peak in endurance racing. New shoe technology was introduced to road running in 2016 and track running in 2019, and since those key dates virtually all endurance racing world records, from the 5,000m to the marathon, have been broken. .

This has divided opinion in the athletic world, with some claiming the shoes are unfair while others claiming they are like synthetic running tracks: an inevitable technological leap that endurance runners can take. capitalize.

Research in sports biomechanics helps explain exactly what goes on inside these shoes. While super shoes are clearly disrupting old records – some of which have been around for decades – this technology should simply be seen as another entry in the long list of sports performance-enhancing innovations.

Nike’s new shoes

In the 2016 Olympic Marathon, all three male medalists stepped onto the podium in the same shoes. It was a Nike prototype, later released as “Nike Vaporfly 4%”, which are now almost ubiquitous at the feet of elite roadrunners.

Then, in 2019, similar super-shoe technology hit the athletics track. A large number of Nike-sponsored athletes wearing Nike’s prototype cleats began to run incredibly fast times.

The performance enhancement offered by both types of super shoes – the trainer and the track tip – is generated by improving the running economy of athletes, which means reducing the energy cost of running at a given speed. .

The original Vaporfly improved the running economy of highly skilled runners by around 4% compared to a control marathon shoe – hence the nickname 4%. In practice, this equates to a gross improvement in operating performance of between 2% and 3%.

Many legs and shoes of runners running on the tarmac