What Two Factors Determine the Metabolic Cost of Human Running?

Research Paper Title

What determines the metabolic cost of human running across a wide range of velocities?

Background

The ‘cost of generating force’ hypothesis proposes that the metabolic rate during running is determined by the rate of muscle force development (1/tc, where tc=contact time) and the volume of active leg muscle.

A previous study assumed a constant recruited muscle volume and reported that the rate of force development alone explained ∼70% of the increase in metabolic rate for human runners across a moderate velocity range (2-4 m s-1).

The researchers hypothesised that over a wider range of velocities, the effective mechanical advantage (EMA) of the lower limb joints would overall decrease, necessitating a greater volume of active muscle recruitment.

Methods

Ten high-calibre male human runners ran on a force-measuring treadmill at 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 km h-1 while the researchers analysed their expired air to determine metabolic rates.

They then measured ground reaction forces and joint kinematics to calculate contact time and estimate active muscle volume.

Results

From 8 to 18 km h-1, metabolic rate increased 131% from 9.28 to 21.44 W kg-1tc decreased from 0.280 s to 0.190 s, and thus the rate of force development (1/tc) increased by 48%.

Ankle EMA decreased by 19.7±11%, knee EMA increased by 11.1±26.9% and hip EMA decreased by 60.8±11.8%.

Estimated active muscle volume per leg increased 52.8% from 1663±152 cm3 to 2550±169 cm3.

Conclusions

Overall, 98% of the increase in metabolic rate across the velocity range was explained by just two factors:

  • The rate of generating force; and
  • The volume of active leg muscle.

Reference

Kipp, S., Grabowski, A.M. & Kram, R. (2018) What determines the metabolic cost of human running across a wide range of velocities? The Journal of Experimental Biology. 221(Pt 18). pii: jeb184218. doi: 10.1242/jeb.184218.

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