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J Exp Biol. 2019 Feb 27;222(Pt 4). pii: jeb187815. doi: 10.1242/jeb.187815.

Lower leg morphology in runners: forefoot strikers have longer heels but not bigger muscles than rearfoot strikers.

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Keck Science Department, Scripps College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA.
Department of Biology, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA


Foot strike pattern used during running may relate to lower leg morphology. We tested the hypotheses that forefoot strike (FFS) runners have longer plantarflexor moment arms (r) and larger plantarflexor muscles than rearfoot strike (RFS) runners. FFS runners had 17% longer r than RFS runners, but all runners had similarly sized medial and lateral gastrocnemius (MG and LG) muscles. Because muscle size also depends on activation pattern ( Ahn et al., 2011), we compared MG:LG activation bias during walking in 24 runners and 23 sedentary subjects. Half of all subjects activated their MG and LG muscles equally ('unbiased') while walking, while the other half activated their MG more strongly than their LG muscles ('MG-biased'). Unbiased sedentary subjects had 16-23% smaller MG muscles compared with MG-biased sedentary subjects, unbiased runners and MG-biased runners. Muscle contraction dynamics during FFS running may balance the effects of longer plantarflexor moment arms in determining MG and LG muscle size.


Foot strike; Gastrocnemius; Locomotion; Plantarflexor; Runners

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Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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