Racewalking is a unique event combining mechanical elements of walking with speeds associated with running. It is currently unclear how racewalking technique impacts lower limb muscle-tendon function despite the relevance of this to muscle economy and overall performance. The present study examined triceps surae neuromechanics in 11 internationally competitive racewalkers (age 25 ± 11 yr) walking and running on a treadmill at speeds between 4.5 and 13.8 km/h while triceps surae fascicle lengths, electromyography, and kinematic data were recorded. Cumulative muscle activity required to traverse a unit distance (CMAPD) was calculated for each muscle. Medial gastrocnemius (MG) and soleus fascicle lengths/velocities were determined using an automated tracking algorithm, and muscle-tendon unit lengths were determined. Running was associated with net shortening of muscle fascicles during stance, combined with substantial lengthening of the muscle-tendon unit, implying energy storage in the Achilles tendon. When the same participants racewalked at the same speed, the fascicles shortened (soleus) or lengthened (MG), coinciding with rapid shortening followed by a relatively small increase in muscle-tendon length during stance. Consequently, compared with running at the same speed, racewalking decreased the energy-saving role of the Achilles tendon. Moreover, CMAPD was generally highest in racewalking, implying that in individual muscles, the energy cost of racewalking was higher than running. Together these results suggest that racewalking is neurally and mechanically costly relative to running at a given speed. As racewalking events are typically between 10 and 50 km, neuromechanical inefficiencies that occur with each stride likely result in substantial energetic penalties.
- Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society