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30 July 2008 PR 08/116

Next generation sprint spikes developed at Loughborough University could be key to medal winning success

Next generation sprint spikes, tailored to meet the exact needs of elite athletes and boost their performance, have been developed by Loughborough University.

Sprint times for top athletes have increasingly narrow margins. This was highlighted in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where the men’s 100m gold medal winning time was 9.85 seconds – just 0.01 of a second faster than the athlete in second place. Therefore anything which can give a sprinter the leading edge can make the difference between medals won and lost.

By customising the sole units of sprint spikes to match the characteristics of individual athletes, researchers at Loughborough have been able to maximise the performance of elite runners – doubling the amount of mechanical energy they generated at the ankle in a sprint related task.

The research team, based in the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, used a rapid manufacturing process – selective laser sintering – to create the personalised outsoles, altering the stiffness to suit the specific requirements of elite sprinters. Selective Laser Sintering uses laser energy to sinter small particles of plastic to create precise, complex 3D components, doing away with the need for expensive moulds and tooling. This enabled the researchers to easily change the properties of the footwear to match the needs of the individual athletes. As a result their full explosive power could be harnessed – a critical factor for both sprinters and jumpers.

“Sole units of varying stiffness were attached to standard sprint spike uppers and mechanical tests were carried out in order to quantify stiffness,” explains Loughborough’s Dan Toon, who conducted the research. “A series of sprint related tasks were performed by elite athletes in sprint shoes of differing stiffness and a barefoot equivalent control shoe. Three-dimensional motion data and force data were collected for each trial in order to quantify performance.”

The research found that the dynamics of the ankle and foot are influenced by the mechanical properties of footwear. Furthermore, performance was individually maximised within the stiffness range, highlighting the importance of personalised footwear.

Dan added: “Appropriate prescription of longitudinal bending stiffness in sprint spikes to a particular individual approximately doubled the amount of mechanical energy an athlete generated at the ankle in a sprint related task.”

The three-year study was performed as part of a wider five year, £2 million project funded by the University’s Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre (IMCRC). This multi-disciplinary centre undertakes leading-edge research to boost competition in the UK’s manufacturing and construction industries and is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The project was also supported by a number of industry partners from the USA and Europe, including global athletic company New Balance. Led by Dr Neil Hopkinson, the research is a collaboration between the University’s world leading Rapid Manufacturing Research Group, Sports Technology Institute and Design Ergonomics Research Group.

Professor Mike Caine, Director of the Sports Technology Institute said: “This research shows great promise, and the vision is for this technology to be established by 2012, to help boost the medal winning opportunities of British sprinters in London and beyond. It could also be applied to a number of other sports.”

Dr Hopkinson added: “The long term aim of this research is to allow members of the public to have their own personalised footwear. Achieving success with elite athletes will prove to be the catalyst, allowing our processes to be applied to everyone.”

For further information about the project, including a selection of images visit: www.lboro.ac.uk/eng/research/imcrc/news-releases/sprintspikes/


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Notes for editors:

  1. The project partners were:
    3D Systems (USA/UK)
    New Balance (USA/UK)
    UK Sport (UK)
    Xaar (UK)
    TNO Industries (Netherlands)
    Glasgow Caledonian University (UK)
    Queens University Belfast (UK)

  2. Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute is a £15M initiative in partnership with the East Midlands Development Agency to boost enterprise in the sport and leisure sector and develop cutting-edge technology to support future British champions.

    It is home to the world’s largest university-based sports technology research group, partnering leading brands for over 20 years. Part of the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, the Institute studies the engineering of a vast range of equipment, footwear and apparel in a wide range of sports under play and simulation conditions.

    The Institute is one of only a handful of organisations to have gained Innovation Partner status in order to work with UK Sport to ensure innovation in athletic equipment, apparel and footwear, coaching and feedback technologies is harnessed to maximize the potential of future British champions.

  3. The Rapid Manufacturing Research Group has been evaluated by different international bodies as conducting world-leading research into the fast growing rapid prototyping/manufacturing industry. The group’s research is multi-sectoral, working with global end users in aerospace, automotive, medical, sportswear, construction and other fields. Group members have won various prestigious national and international awards and in a recent poll conducted by industry magazine Time Compression Technologies (Europe), four members of the group’s staff were judged to be among the 25 most influential people in the industry across the globe.

  4. For further information about the IMCRC visit: www.lboro.ac.uk/eng/research/imcrc

  5. Dan Toon is a NOISEmaker, a representative of NOISE, a UK-wide campaign funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). NOISE aims to excite young people about careers in science and engineering. http://www.noisemakers.org.uk

  6. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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