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The Effects of Footwear Longitudinal Bending Stiffness on the Energetics and Biomechanics of Uphill Running

There has been a prevalence of long-distance running footwear incorporating carbon-fiber plates within their midsoles, effectively increasing their longitudinal bending stiffness (LBS). This modification of modern racing footwear has occurred concurrently with large improvements in running times (Bermon et al., 2021), putting into question how these footwear components affect performance (Muniz-Pardos et al., 2021). The current literature has investigated this at level running, but with the increasing popularity of trail running, it is of interest to investigate whether the benefits found during level running translate to graded running. Therefore, the overall aim of this study was to investigate the effects of increased footwear midsole longitudinal bending stiffness (i.e. carbon-fiber plates) on running energetics and biomechanics at various inclines. The effects of high LBS (Nike Vaporfly 4% with midsole intact) and low LBS (Nike Vaporfly 4% with mediolateral cuts made at the forefoot of the midsole through the carbon-fiber plate) footwear conditions were compared for running at 0°, 6°, and 12° inclines. Running energetics and biomechanics data were quantified by measuring metabolic rate and lower leg joint mechanics (from motion capture and ground reaction force measurements). Results from this study suggest that increasing longitudinal bending stiffness within the footwear midsoles has limited influence on running energetics (small non-significant improvements of metabolic power at all inclines), but has considerable effects on the biomechanics of the ankle and MTP joints. However, the most important between shoe differences were independent of grade, suggesting that the benefits of modern racing shoe observed for level running can be expected to translate to steep uphill running. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this study was only able to collect and use data for analysis from a limited number of participants (n=7), and therefore is underpowered, so there may be significant differences that go undetected