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J Exp Biol. 2011 Jun 15;214(Pt 12):2089-95. doi: 10.1242/jeb.053157.

Energetically optimal stride frequency in running: the effects of incline and decline.

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Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.


At a given running speed, humans strongly prefer to use a stride frequency near their 'optimal' stride frequency that minimizes metabolic cost. Although there is no definitive explanation for why an optimal stride frequency exists, elastic energy usage has been implicated. Because the possibility for elastic energy storage and return may be impaired on slopes, we investigated whether and how the optimal stride frequency changes during uphill and downhill running. Presuming a smaller role of elastic energy, we hypothesized that altering stride frequency would change metabolic cost less during uphill and downhill running than during level running. To test this hypothesis, we collected force and metabolic data as nine male subjects ran at 2.8 m s(-1) on the level, 3 deg uphill and 3 deg downhill. Stride frequency was systematically varied above and below preferred stride frequency (PSF ±8% and ±15%). Ground reaction force data were used to calculate potential, kinetic and total mechanical energy, and to calculate the theoretical maximum possible and estimated actual elastic energy storage and return. Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that neither the overall relationship between metabolic cost and stride frequency nor the energetically optimal stride frequency changed substantially with slope. However, estimated actual elastic energy storage as a percentage of total positive power increased with increasing stride frequency on all slopes, indicating that muscle power decreases with increasing stride frequency. Combined with the increased cost of force production and internal work with increasing stride frequency, this leads to an intermediate optimal stride frequency and overall U-shaped curve.

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