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Kinesiology professor Tim Derrick displays some of the running shoes he's tested. Photo by Bob Elbert.
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ISU professor tests athletic shoes and Army boots; hopes to go galactic
AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University Associate Professor Tim Derrick doesn't play pick-up basketball games, but he was interested in Consumer Reports' review last month of the $14.98 Starbury basketball shoes, designed and worn by New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury. That's because Derrick tests athletic shoes for Consumer Reports and Runner's World, among others.
Consumer Reports' review of the Starbury II said "our measurements showed that its heel cushioning is very good, its forefoot cushioning is good, and that it's very breathable and fairly flexible." Those measurements were based on Derrick's test results.
Despite the positive reviews of the Starbury II, Derrick wasn't wild about the original shoe design (Starbury, The One), which he also tested.
"The first one had cushioning in the heel that was extremely low," said Derrick, an associate professor of kinesiology at ISU. "And the reason it was extremely low is that they put something that was like a little sponge under the heel -- something that would not last very long. It was really soft in the heel and hard in the forefoot. There was hardly any forefoot cushioning. And so when the second model of the shoe evolved, the heel got a little harder and the forefoot went down quite a bit, so the results looked much more like a normal shoe."
A runner's high on their shoes
A track and field enthusiast, Derrick began testing athletic shoes for Asics as part of an assistantship while he was a student at the University of Oregon. As a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts, the school's kinesiology lab had a contract with Saucony. At Iowa State, he's tested shoes from all the major brands, including Nike, which later employed two of his former students.
Under a table in his office, Derrick's got a box full of running shoes that he's tested. He just received a shipment of all the latest models to be tested for Runner's World. He tests them for rear foot motion, rear foot control, and cushioning.
"The motion control is that you hit on the outside of your heel and you roll to the inside. It's how much rolling to the inside you're allowed," he said. "Most shoe companies want to reduce that rolling to the inside."
His best advice when shopping for athletic shoes is to find the one that's the most comfortable, regardless of the price, unless you suffer from athletic-related injuries.
"The real expensive ones are for people who need the extra cushioning," Derrick said "They're running a lot of miles -- maybe on concrete or down hills -- or have some anatomical differences in their bodies that make them more susceptible to injuries."
But he's not just testing athletic shoes. He also has done work for the U.S. Army, comparing its combat boot to running shoes, work boots and walking shoes.
"It was just to see how bad combat boots are -- and they're pretty bad," Derrick said. "They are as hard as rocks. And so we gave the Army that information, and I don't know that they've done a whole lot to reduce those forces on joints. Of course, there are a lot of other properties that they need to have in the shoe -- it has to be durable, it has to protect the foot. It's not just the cushioning."
Periodically, Army shoe contractors still send Derrick prototypes of potential new boots to determine whether they're up to Army standards.
Space: his latest frontier
His latest research explores outer space. Derrick, graduate student Brent Edwards -- a former NASA intern -- and University of Colorado Professor Rodger Kram have made it through the first of two rounds of a NASA grant proposal to test Earth, Martian and Lunar bone stressors. They will simulate reduced gravity through Bungee cords to measure the forces on the bones of their subjects.
"(NASA is) planning trips to Mars and to the moon in the future, and if you don't get the same loading on the bones when you're in those (reduced gravity) environments, your bone is going to deteriorate," Derrick said. "And we're trying to find ways to prevent that from happening.
"One of the things we want to do is see how the shape of the bone affects those forces, so you have, for instance, a bone that has a little more curvature to it," he said. "Is that going to change the forces while you're walking or running? That might have implications on who we would send to Mars."
Derrick anticipates NASA will make a funding decision on their research proposal by early 2008.
He supervised a similar project by his graduate class this semester. To simulate weightlessness, the group tied helium-filled balloons -- seven, six-foot balloons, as well as 10 complete garbage bags -- on subjects, and then recorded the forces on the joints through mounted video cameras as subjects performed movements such as running, walking, sitting and standing. They finished collecting data at the end of October and hope to produce a paper on their results by the end of the semester.
ISU Associate Professor of Kinesiology Tim Derrick has tested athletic shoes for Consumer Reports and Runner's World, and combat boots for the U.S. Army. He has a grant proposal in to test the stress forces on the bones in reduced gravity environments for NASA. His graduate class this semester already conducted similar tests using helium-filled balloons and garbage bags.
VIDEO: Runner buoyed by helium-filled balloons
"My best advice to people shopping for athletic shoes is to find the one that's the most comfortable, regardless of the price, unless you suffer from athletic-related injuries. The real expensive ones are for people who need the extra cushioning. They're running a lot of miles -- maybe on concrete or down hills -- or have some anatomical differences in their bodies that make them more susceptible to injuries."