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Tendon Length and Joint Flexibility Are Related to Running Economy

HUNTER, GARY R.1,2; KATSOULIS, KONSTANTINA3; MCCARTHY, JOHN P.4; OGARD, WILLIAM K.4; BAMMAN, MARCAS M.5; WOOD, DAVID S.6; DEN HOLLANDER, JAN A.7; BLAUDEAU, TAMILANE E.1; NEWCOMER, BRADLEY R.8

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: August 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 8 - p 1492-1499
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318210464a
Applied Sciences

Purpose: The purpose of study was to determine whether quadriceps/patella and Achilles tendon length and flexibility of the knee extensors and plantar flexors are related to walking and running economy.

Methods: Twenty-one male distance runners were subjects. Quadriceps/patella and Achilles tendon length were measured by magnetic resonance imaging; body composition was measured DXA; oxygen uptake at rest while seated, walking (3 mph), and running (6 and 7 mph) were measured by indirect calorimetry; knee and ankle joint flexibility were measured by goniometry; and leg lengths were measured by anthropometry while seated. Correlations were used to identify relationships between variables of interest.

Results: Net V˙O2 (exercise V˙O2 − rest V˙O2) for walking (NVOWK) and running at 6 and 7 mph (NVO6 and NVO7, respectively) was significantly related to Achilles tendon length (r varying from −0.40 to −0.51, P all < 0.04). Achilles tendon cross section was not related to walking or running economy. Quadriceps/patella tendon length was significantly related to NVO7 (r = −0.43, P = 0.03) and approached significance for NVO6 (r = −0.36, P = 0.06). Flexibility of the plantar flexors was related to NVO7 (+0.38, P = 0.05). Multiple regression showed that Achilles tendon length was independently related to NVO6 and NVO7 (partial r varying from −0.53 to −0.64, all P < 0.02) independent of lower leg length, upper leg length, quadriceps/patella tendon length, knee extension flexibility, or plantarflexion flexibility.

Conclusions: These data support the premise that longer lower limb tendons (especially Achilles tendon) and less flexible lower limb joints are associated with improved running economy.

1Department of Human Studies, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, 2Department of Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL; 3Department of Kinesiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA; 4Department of Physical Therapy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, 5Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL; 6Department of Athletics, California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obisto, San Luis Obisto, CA; 7Department of Medicine-Cardiovascular Disease, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL; and 8Department of Nuclear Medicine Tech Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL

Address for correspondence: Gary R. Hunter, Ph.D., Rm 201, Education Bldg., University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294-1250; E-mail: ghunter@uab.edu.

Submitted for publication September 2010.

Accepted for publication January 2011.

©2011The American College of Sports Medicine