Running Shoes

Length: 2 weeks

Level: 1st year Sports and Materials Science course

Key skills: Group working, communication, independent study, organisation

Assessment: Group report and Presentation

This is a group-based case study that looks at the materials and manufacturing processes used in the construction of the running shoe. It links the biomechanics of running to the cushioning of the heel strike and requires you to consider design features and selling points of the shoe.

Session 1. Running

Discuss running, the types of shoes worn, running magazines. Shoe construction features and selection.

Background information on materials in shoes

  • Outsole – polyurethane or natural rubber
  • Midsole foam – ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer or polyurethane?
  • Thermoplastic reinforcements for shoes.

How closed cell flexible foams provide cushioning.

Allocation of students to Adidas, Asics, Newbalance, Nike, Reebok, saucony…

Session 2. Student Group Activity

Sectioned shoes will be provided, plus a handout on how to find patents

Student tasks: (distribute these amongst the group)

  • Access the company website, and find out about the products
  • Make a labelled drawing of the sectioned shoe, identifying the materials and where they are bonded together, giving critical dimensions.
  • Measure the hardness of rubber components, and determine the density of the midsole foam.
  • Study a patent from their company, and look for design features on their shoe. Consider how the patented feature should work.

Session 3. Biomechanics of running and shoes

The anatomy of the heelpad, and its impact response. The impact response of a show midsole in the heel region.

Modelling the footstrike force vs time using a mass and contact-spring model.

Running style and efficiency.

Shoe features that might control over-pronation in running.

Compromises in shoe design: sole flexibility, weight, sole hardness, pronation control.

Student Task

Consider how their shoe construction reduces heelstrike forces and controls pronation, and which compromises have been made in design.

Session 4



Each group will submit a single report with sectional drawings (up to 4 pages). (Tips on Report Writing)

Each group will also give a group ‘sales’ talk on the features of their shoe and how they work. The audience will be expected to ask critical questions about rival companies’ products. (Tips on giving effective presentations)