Linking current research to running
By Nikki Reiter
The long tendons of the lower leg are often compared to springs, thought to store and release mechanical energy during running. Tendons, unlike muscles, do not consume energy during running. So, it is widely accepted that tendons will ‘save energy’ by reducing the metabolic work of the muscles during running.
In my last post, I presented a study that suggests that the tendon morphology of Kenyan runners is different than westerners and that this could be one of the reasons for their distance running dominance.
A new article from the Journal of Experimental Biology presents a study that investigated whether the leg’s tendons can actually reduce the amount of work a runner’s muscles need to perform (in comparison to no tendon use). This study was not performed on true human legs, so it cannot verify or refute the findings from last week’s post.
Here’s how it went: Basically, the scientists directly tested how much energy is used with and without the tendon to see how much force the muscles needed to produce for running.
The result: Using the energy stored in the tendon or not, it still costs the muscle the same amount of energy to do its job in running. However, there may still be an advantage for those tendons that are ‘built to run’ compared to others.
What this means: Tendon morphology, and the resulting ‘energetic benefit’ in running, is a result of the way our muscles absorb, store and use mechanical energy. It is suggested that our tendons evolved based on their resulting effect on muscle and limb architecture rather than their ability to conserve energy by reducing the work of muscle.
A final comment: Although we cannot definitively explain why, some individuals are better built for running!
Nikki Reiter is the Laboratory Coordinator in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, BC, Canada. With a master’s degree in Biomechanics and as a trained exercise physiologist, she ensures students are taking the scientific approach to training through their lab experiences. Additionally, Nikki offers online gait analysis through Run Right Gait Analysis. Visit her website www.run-right.ca for more information.