UMass Magazine Profiles Kinesiology Research on Footwear Design

UMass Amherst kinesiology faculty Katherine Boyer and Wouter Hoogkamer

Kinesiology faculty Katherine Boyer (left) and Wouter Hoogkamer.
Photo by Lisa Beth Anderson.

June 17, 2020

A story appearing in the Spring 2020 issue of UMass Magazine highlights the biomechanics research on footwear by members of the kinesiology department. "Feet Fleet" profiles over three decades worth of kinesiology research, from current efforts by Assistant Professor Wouter Hoogkamer and Associate Professor Katherine Boyer to the pioneering research of Professor Emeritus Joseph Hamill.

Since its creation in 1965 as the nation’s first Department of Exercise Science, the department has been at the forefront of research investigating the mechanical, neurological, biochemical, physiological, and behavioral components of human movement. Together with industry partners ranging from Reebok, Brooks, New Balance, Nike, and Cole Haan, they have quietly revolutionized the design, technology, and comfort across the footwear industry—for hikers, marathon runners, golfers, and those who favor high heels.

Hoogkamer, who joined the department in fall 2019, made his mark with Nike’s Vaporfly competitive running shoe—arguably the fastest in the industry. He helped prove that the shoe improves running economy by 4 percent. “There’s a missing ingredient we are still looking for,” says Hoogkamer. “Now, we are trying to figure out if we can change the geometry of the plate and see if it can apply to walking and to uphill running.”

The magazine feature also documents the collaboration between Boyer and Cole Haan on its Grand Ambition line of high heel shoes and with OOFOS recovery footwear to aid athletes in their recovery from sports injuries. “The best work we do is to use technology and science to advance sports performance, to increase mobility, and to prevent injuries,” says Boyer. “That’s what we hope for.”

“We use multiple disciplines like physiology, the physics of human motion, engineering, anatomy, biology, psychology, computer science, and mathematics,” explains Hamill. “This work with industry is simply an application of my research in lower extremity motion and injury.”

The story features interviews with alumni Denise Gravelle ’94, senior manager of Footwear Product Testing for PUMA North America, and Jeremy Determan ’03, director of Advanced Concepts at Adidas in Portland, Oregon.

“I fell in love with Joe’s class and biomechanics,” says Gravelle. “It’s the perfect melding of biology, math, and physics that really interested me.”

“The department built the scientific foundation for me and really set me up for tremendous success afterward that helped launch my career—the fundamental principles of human movement and footwear performance testing that I still use today,” adds Determan.

Read the full feature story here.