Background: The effect of footwear on running economy has been investigated in numerous studies. However, no systematic review and meta-analysis has synthesised the available literature and the effect of footwear on running performance is not known.
Objective: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to investigate the effect of footwear on running performance and running economy in distance runners, by reviewing controlled trials that compare different footwear conditions or compare footwear with barefoot.
Methods: The Web of Science, Scopus, MEDLINE, CENTRAL (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials), EMBASE, AMED (Allied and Complementary Medicine), CINAHL and SPORTDiscus databases were searched from inception up until April 2014. Included articles reported on controlled trials that examined the effects of footwear or footwear characteristics (including shoe mass, cushioning, motion control, longitudinal bending stiffness, midsole viscoelasticity, drop height and comfort) on running performance or running economy and were published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Results: Of the 1,044 records retrieved, 19 studies were included in the systematic review and 14 studies were included in the meta-analysis. No studies were identified that reported effects on running performance. Individual studies reported significant, but trivial, beneficial effects on running economy for comfortable and stiff-soled shoes [standardised mean difference (SMD) <0.12; P < 0.05), a significant small beneficial effect on running economy for cushioned shoes (SMD = 0.37; P < 0.05) and a significant moderate beneficial effect on running economy for training in minimalist shoes (SMD = 0.79; P < 0.05). Meta-analysis found significant small beneficial effects on running economy for light shoes and barefoot compared with heavy shoes (SMD < 0.34; P < 0.01) and for minimalist shoes compared with conventional shoes (SMD = 0.29; P < 0.01). A significant positive association between shoe mass and metabolic cost of running was identified (P < 0.01). Footwear with a combined shoe mass less than 440 g per pair had no detrimental effect on running economy.
Conclusions: Certain models of footwear and footwear characteristics can improve running economy. Future research in footwear performance should include measures of running performance.