The purposes of this study were to (a) determine whether structural differences in triceps surae muscle-tendon complex and walking economy exist between 14 African American and 19 Caucasian sedentary women and (b) determine whether muscle-tendon parameters are associated with walking economy. African American and Caucasian subjects were matched on body weight, height, and body composition. Muscle-tendon parameters were determined by magnetic resonance imaging and walking economy was evaluated at 4.8 km [middle dot]h-1. Medial gastrocnemius and total triceps surae muscle shape were different across ethnicity despite no ethnic differences in plantar flexion strength or in maximal cross-sectional area for any triceps surae muscles. African American women had shorter gastrocnemius muscles and longer tendons and performed walking more economically. Tendon length was the only variable related to walking economy. No ethnic differences were observed in walking economy after adjusting for tendon length. Data show gastrocnemius tendon length is related to level walking and longer gastrocnemius tendons may partly explain more economical walking in African American women. These preliminary findings indicate the structure of the muscle-tendon complex could be a factor partially accounting for reported ethnic differences in certain types of athletic-related performance.
(C) 2006 National Strength and Conditioning Association