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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Apr;112(8):1239-47. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01156.2011. Epub 2012 Jan 12.

Running perturbations reveal general strategies for step frequency selection.

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Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.


Recent research has suggested that energy minimization in human walking involves both a fast preprogrammed process and a slow optimization process. Here, we studied human running to test whether these two processes represent control mechanisms specific to walking or a more general strategy for minimizing energetic cost in human locomotion. To accomplish this, we used free response experiments to enforce step frequency with a metronome at values above and below preferred step frequency and then determined the response times for the return to preferred steady-state step frequency when the auditory constraint was suddenly removed. In forced response experiments, we applied rapid changes in treadmill speed and examined response times for the processes involved in the consequent adjustments to step frequency. We then compared the dynamics of step frequency adjustments resulting from the two different perturbations to each other and to previous results found in walking. Despite the distinct perturbations applied in the two experiments, both responses were dominated by a fast process with a response time of 1.47 ± 0.05 s with fine-tuning provided by a slow process with a response time of 34.33 ± 0.50 s. The dynamics of the processes underlying step frequency adjustments in running match those found previously in walking, both in magnitude and relative importance. Our results suggest that the underlying mechanisms are fundamental strategies for minimizing energetic cost in human locomotion.

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