ArticlePDF Available

Does shoe heel-to-toe drop have an influence on performance in downhill trail running?

  • Innovation and Sport Sciences Lab
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Computer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical
ISSN: 1025-5842 (Print) 1476-8259 (Online) Journal homepage:
Does shoe heel-to-toe drop have an influence on
performance in downhill trail running?
Thomas Defer, Robin Juillaguet, Marlène Giandolini, Sebastien Pavailler,
Nicolas Horvais, Johan Cassirame & Gregory Doucende
To cite this article: Thomas Defer, Robin Juillaguet, Marlène Giandolini, Sebastien Pavailler,
Nicolas Horvais, Johan Cassirame & Gregory Doucende (2019) Does shoe heel-to-toe drop have
an influence on performance in downhill trail running?, Computer Methods in Biomechanics and
Biomedical Engineering, 22:sup1, S238-S239, DOI: 10.1080/10255842.2020.1714254
To link to this article:
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 22 May 2020.
Submit your article to this journal
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Does shoe heel-to-toe drop have
an influence on performance in
downhill trail running?
Thomas Defer
, Robin Juillaguet
, Marl
, Sebastien Pavailler
, Nicolas Horvais
Johan Cassirame
and Gregory Doucende
Laboratoire Europ
een Performance Sant
e Altitude, EA4604,
e de Perpignan Via Domitia, Font Romeu, France;
SAS Perftrail, France;
Innovation and Sport Science
Laboratory, Salomon SAS, Epagny-Metz-Tessy, France;
Plateforme Exercice Performance Sant
e Innovation, Universit
de Bourgogne Franche Comt
e, Besanc¸on, France;
EA 7507,
Laboratoire Performance, Sant
e, M
etrologie, Soci
Reims, France
1. Introduction
Trail running (TR) is characterized by sequences of
uphill and downhill performed in a natural environ-
ment. Recently, studies investigated performance fac-
tors specific to TR. During a full race of TR,
om et al. (2018) highlighted that performance is
depending on (1)
2max, (2) running economy
and (3) local endurance of lower limbs. However, elite
athletes seem to make a difference in downhill sec-
tions more that in uphill during short TR races. For
that matter, Juillaguet et al. pointed out that perform-
ance in downhill was related to (1) muscular (high
quadriceps rate force development), (2) perceptive
(fast visual based decision making), (3) psychological
(disposition to take risks) and (4) biomechanical (low
percentage of rear foot strikes) factors (Juillaguet
et al. 2018). However, Horvais and Samozino (2013)
highlighted that shoe drop (i.e., the difference of
height between heel and toes in the shoe) highly
influenced foot strike pattern (FSP). Indeed, runners
changed their FSP from rear foot strike to mid/fore
foot strike when using low drop shoes. Moreover, low
drop shoes may also induce a better running econ-
omy, especially on flat sections (Vercruyssen et al.
2016). Given that these studies only investigated flat
and uphill sections, no relevant information could be
found for downhill sections. Well, Juillaguet et al.
pointed out that performance in downhill was influ-
enced by biomechanical factor (low percentage of rear
foot strike). The purpose of this study was to deter-
mine whether using shoes with different drops can
increase performance in downhill. It was hypothesized
that trail-runners would be faster in a short downhill
section with lower drop shoes.
2. Method
2.1. Participants
Thirteen male experienced trail-runners participated
to this study (age: 23 ± 5 years, height: 180 ± 6 cm,
weight: 66 ± 4 kg, training/week: 5 ± 2, experience in
TR: 4 ± 2 years).
2.2. Study design
The study took place in a natural environment. 800-
meters downhill section with 200 meter negative ele-
vations (i.e. gradient of approximately 25%). A short
section was chosen to eliminate the influence of
neuromuscular fatigue. Subjects had to realize a spe-
cific warm-up, followed by a downhill preview. Then,
they had to realize two timed downhills with two
pairs of shoes in a random order: a 4 mm drop shoe
(D4) and an 8 mm drop shoe (D8). Except the drop
difference, all technical features between shoes were
the same. A recovery period of 20 minutes was given
to the subjects between the two downhills.
Participants were instructed to run as fast as possible.
2.3. Data collection
Each participants right shoe was equipped with two
triaxials accelerometers (Hikob Agile Fox, Hikob,
Villeurbanne, France). One was placed at the back of
the heel and the other above the metatarsal area.
Accelerometers were secured with adhesive tape.
Accelerations of the three axis were recorded at
1344 Hz directly onto a memory card embedded in
the sensor. All recorded data was analyzed with
SciLab 5.5.2 (Scilab Enterprises, Orsay, France). For
each foot strike, the time between the acceleration
peak of the heel and the metatarsus (THM) was cal-
culated. Then the percentage of rear foot strikes
(%RFS), mid foot strikes (%MFS) and forefoot stries
(%FFS) were determined based on this THM
(Giandolini et al. 2014).
ß20 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (
nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed,
or built upon in any way.
2019, VOL. 22, NO. S1, S238S239
2.4. Statistical analysis
Data are presented by their mean ± standard devi-
ation. Statistical analysis was performed with the
Statview software (version 5.0). To compare results
according to different conditions, a paired t-test was
used. The relationship between biomechanics (%FFS
and %RFS) and downhill time according to the shoe
assessed using a Pearsons linear correlation.
Significance threshold was fixed at p<0.05.
3. Results and discussion
Results showed a 3% lower downhill time with the
D4 shoe compared to the D8. Downhill times were
179 ± 28 s and 185 ±24s respectively (Figure 1).
Moreover, %RFS and %MFS were significantly higher
with the D8 shoe than with the D4. Conversely, %FFS
was significantly higher with D4 than with D8.
Therefore, runners were faster with D4 than with
D8. This result is explained by a modification of FSP
from rear/midfoot strike to forefoot strike dominance.
Furthermore, %FFS was higher with D4 than with D8
and there is a relationship between %FFS and per-
formance (Figure 2). Our results are emphasizing
with Juillaguet et al. (2018) which suggest that an
alteration of biomechanical factors will increase
downhill performance. In accordance with this find-
ings, lower drop shoes could also permit improve-
ment of running economy as suggested by
Vercruyssen et al. 2016. This result is also described
by Di Michele and Merni (2014) who highlighted that
higher %FFS is related to lower ground time contact,
leading to better adaptations for trail-runners on spe-
cific and unpredictable tracks.
4. Conclusion
To date, elite athletes are searching marginal gains to
increase performances. Our results showed that using
a low drop shoes (D4) allows modification of FSP
from a rear foot strike pattern to a forefoot strike pat-
tern and thus increase downhill performance. So,
selection of material (shoes with different technical
features) could influence performance in downhill TR.
Di Michele R, Merni F. 2014. The concurrent effects of
strike pattern and ground-contact time on running econ-
omy: ScienceDirect. J Sci Med Sport. 17(4):414418.
om S, Tartaruga M.P, Easthope C.S, Brisswalter J,
Morin J.-B, Vercruyssen F. 2018. Short trail running
race: beyond the classic model for endurance running
performance. Med Sci Sports Exercise. 50 (3):580588.
Giandolini M, Poupard T, Gimenez P, Horvais N, Millet
G.Y, Morin J.-B, Samozino P. 2014. A simple field
method to identify foot strike pattern during running. J
Biomech. 47 (7):15881593.
Horvais N, Samozino P. 2013. Effect of midsole geometry
on foot-strike pattern and running kinematics. Footwear
Sci. 5 (2):8189.
Juillaguet R, Pavailler S, Giandolini M, Cassirame J, Horvais
N, Doucende G. 2018. Model of performance in downhill
trail running: a multifactorial approach. Paper presented at
5th Annual Congress on Medicine & Science in Ultra-
Endurance Sports, May 910, Castell
At Plana Spain.
Vercruyssen F, Tartaruga M, Horvais N, Brisswalter J. 2016.
Effects of footwear and fatigue on running economy and
biomechanics in trail runners. Med Sci Sports Exercise.
KEYWORDS Foot strike pattern; performance; trail running; drop
Figure 1. Downhill time with different drop shoes. s: seconds;
D4: 4 mm drop shoe; D8: 8 mm drop shoe.
Figure 2. Relationship between %FFS and downhill performance.
Full-text available
This thesis project aimed at improving scientific knowledge in the field of short distance trail running, a “booming” activity. Situated between "traditional" road races and ultra-trail races, limited research has focused on the analysis of short distance trail running . The first objective was to characterize the physiological determinants of performance during short distance trail running races in a population of highly trained runners, using an experimental setting between laboratory protocols and an official event. The identification of muscular endurance as critical factor in the determination of performance leads to the second objective of the current thesis, based on the acute and delayed effects of wearing compression garments on neuromuscular function and energetic parameters during a short distance trail run or during intense eccentric exercise (i.e. prolonged downhill run). Wearing compression garments contributes to the attenuation of soft tissue vibrations which can reduce, at least in part, the deficit of voluntary activation level measured immediately after downhill running and improve the neuromuscular function during the recovery phase. Our results suggest that the use of garments with high compression intensity during exercise could exert a “mechanical protective effect”, which could therefore constitute an external strategy to tolerate a high training load or optimize the recovery process in multi-stage races.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Objective.—Trail running (TR) is characterized by downhill and uphill sections as well as uneven surfaces. Empirical evidence demonstrated that faster runners over downhill sections are the better ranked at the end of the race. Therefore, our purpose was to determine factors which mainly influence performance in downhill TR. Methods.—Twenty-eight male trail runners were included in the study for two consecutive days. The first day consisted in a multifactorial evaluation of each subject, including visual perception, muscular and proprioceptive laboratory tests, and a psychological questionnaire, followed by an assessment of the maximal aerobic speed on a running track. The second day was dedicated to the downhill tests. Subjects were instructed to run as fast as possible on a downhill trail (1 km and 255 m of negative elevation) composed by technical and easy sections. Downhill performance was appraised by measuring running time, and foot strike pattern was also measured using two wireless accelerometers. The correlation between the independent variables (visual perception, muscular, proprioceptive and psychological parameters and foot strike pattern) and the dependent variable (downhill performance) was tested using a multiple regression analysis. Results.— This study showed that downhill performance was explained by (1) a low amount of heel strikes during downhill, (2) a high visual perception ability, (3) a high quadriceps rate of force development, and (4) a high psychological tendency to take risks. Conclusion.—This study highlights that downhill performance is multifactorial. These results could be used by athletes in order to increase downhill performance in different kinds of TR races.
Full-text available
Purpose: To examine the extent to which the classical physiological variables of endurance running performance [VO2max, %VO2max at ventilatory threshold (VT), and running economy (RE)], but also muscle strength factors contribute to short trail running (TR) performance. Methods: A homogeneous group of nine highly-trained trail runners performed an official TR race (27-km) and laboratory-based sessions to determine VO2max, %VO2max at VT, level RE (RE0%) and RE on a +10% slope (RE+10%), voluntary concentric and eccentric knee extension torques (MVCCon and MVCEcc, respectively), local endurance assessed by a fatigue index (FI) and a time to exhaustion at 87.5% of the velocity associated with VO2max. A simple regression method and commonality analysis identifying unique and common coefficients of each independent variable were used to determine the best predictors for the TR race time (dependent variable). Results: Pearson correlations showed that FI and VO2max had the highest correlations (r = 0.91 and r = -0.76, respectively) with TR performance. The other selected variables were not significantly correlated with TR performance. The analysis of unique and common coefficients of relative VO2max, %VO2max at VT and RE0% provides a low prediction of TR performance (R = 0.48). However, adding FI and RE+10% (instead of RE0%) markedly improved the predictive power of the model (R = 0.98). FI and VO2max showed the highest unique (respectively 49.7 and 21.0% of total effect) and common (27.0% of total effect) contributions to the regression equation. Conclusions: The classic endurance running model does not allow meaningful prediction of short TR performance. Incorporating more specific factors to TR such as local endurance and gradient-specific RE testing procedures should be considered to better characterize short TR performance.
Full-text available
Purpose: This study aimed to examine the effects of footwear and neuromuscular fatigue induced by short distance trail running (TR) on running economy (RE) and biomechanics in well-trained and traditionally shod runners. Methods: RE, vertical and leg stiffness (Kvert and Kleg) as well as foot strike angle were measured from two 5-min treadmill running stages performed at a speed of 2.5 (with 10% grade, uphill running) and 2.77 m.s (level running) before and after a 18.4-km TR exercise (~90% of maximal heart rate) in runners wearing either minimalist shoes (MS), MS plus added mass (MSm) or traditional shoes (TS). Maximal voluntary contraction torque (MVC) of knee extensors and perceived muscle pain were also evaluated before and after TR. Results: MVC values decreased after TR in all footwear conditions (P<0.001), indicating the occurrence of neuromuscular fatigue. In the non-fatigued condition, runners exhibited a better RE only during level running in MS and MSm (i.e. combined effects of shoe mass and midsole geometry), in association with significant decreases in foot strike angle (P<0.05). However, no significant difference in RE was observed between shod conditions after TR either during uphill or level running. Decreases in both Kvert/Kleg and foot strike angle were more pronounced during running in MS and MSm (P<0.05) compared to TS, whatever the time period. Calf pain increased after TR when wearing MS and MSm compared to TS (P<0.05). Conclusions: These findings indicated specific alterations in RE and biomechanics over time during the MS and MSm conditions compared to the TS condition. Future studies are warranted to evaluate the relationship between RE and footwear with fatigue in experienced minimally shod runners.
Full-text available
A minimalist shoe could be described as a shoe with minimal midsole thickness at the heel (heel height) and a minimal positive difference between heel and metatarsus heights (drop). This study aimed to analyse the acute effect of heel height, drop and combinations of the two on the foot-strike pattern and running kinematics. Twelve healthy rearfoot males ran for 1 min at 3.9 and 4.7 m.s−1 on a treadmill in 16 different shoe conditions across which heel height and drop of the midsole varied independently. The foot-strike pattern was determined from high-speed video (240 Hz) by measuring the angle between the bottom of the foot and the horizontal at ground contact. Running kinematics were measured by an optical system (1000 Hz) placed on each side of the treadmill by which step frequency, duty factor, and leg and vertical stiffness were measured. Results showed that the lower the heel height and/or drop, the flatter the foot at ground contact, which characterised a foot-strike pattern tending toward a midfoot-strike pattern. Running kinematics was directly affected by drop but not by the heel height: drop was positively correlated to contact time and duty factor and negatively to flight time and leg stiffness. The foot-strike pattern alteration induced by a low drop and/or heel height was correlated to changes in running kinematics toward a running pattern previously associated with low foot–ground impact, and in turn to a ‘safer’ running pattern regarding stress fractures.
Running economy is a key determinant of endurance performance, and understanding the biomechanical factors that affect it is of great theoretical and applied interest. This study aimed to analyse how the ground-contact time and strike pattern used by competitive runners concurrently affect running economy. Cross-sectional. Fourteen sub-elite male competitive distance runners completed a 6-min submaximal running trial at 14kmh(-1) on an outdoor track using their habitual strike pattern (n=7 rearfoot strikers: average age, 25.3 years old (SD=2.4); average weight, 64.7kg (SD=5.6); average height, 175.3cm (SD=5.2); n=7 midfoot strikers: average age, 25.0 years old (SD=2.8); average weight, 69.6kg (SD=4.0); average height, 180.1cm (SD=5.1). During the run, the oxygen uptake and ground-contact time were measured. Midfoot strikers showed a significantly shorter (p=0.015) mean contact time (0.228s (SD=0.009)) compared with rearfoot strikers (0.242s (SD=0.010)). Conversely, there was no significant difference (p>0.05) between the groups with respect to mean oxygen uptake (midfoot strikers: 48.4mlmin(-1)kg(-1) (SD=5.3); rearfoot strikers: 49.8mlmin(-1)kg(-1) (SD=6.4)). Linear modelling analysis showed that the effect of contact time on running economy was very similar in the two groups, with a 1ms longer contact time involving an approximately 0.51mlmin(-1)kg(-1) lower oxygen uptake. In contrast, when controlling for contact time, midfoot striking involved an approximately 8.7mlmin(-1)kg(-1) lower oxygen uptake compared with rearfoot striking. When adjusting the foot-ground contact biomechanics of a runner with the aim of maximising running economy, a trade-off between a midfoot strike and a long contact time must be pursued.
Model of performance in downhill trail running: a multifactorial approach. Paper presented at 5th Annual Congress on Medicine & Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports
  • Pavaillers Juillaguetr
  • Giandolinim
  • Cassiramej
  • Doucendeg Horvaisn