The storage and recovery of elastic energy in muscle-tendon springs is important in running, hopping, trotting, and galloping. We hypothesized that animals select the stride frequency at which they behave most like simple spring-mass systems. If higher or lower frequencies are used, they will not behave like simple spring-mass systems, and the storage and recovery of elastic energy will be reduced. We tested the hypothesis by having humans hop forward on a treadmill over a range of speeds and hop in place over a range of frequencies. The body was modeled as a simple spring-mass system, and the properties of the spring were measured by use of a force platform. Our subjects used nearly the same frequency (the “preferred frequency,” 2.2 hops/s) when they hopped forward on a treadmill and when they hopped in place. At this frequency, the body behaved like a simple spring-mass system. Contrary to our predictions, it also behaved like a simple spring-mass system when the subjects hopped at higher frequencies, up to the maximum they could achieve. However, at the higher frequencies, the time available to apply force to the ground (the ground contact time) was shorter, perhaps resulting in a higher cost of generating muscular force. At frequencies below the preferred frequency, as predicted by the hypothesis, the body did not behave in a springlike manner, and it appeared likely that the storage and recovery of elastic energy was reduced. The combination of springlike behavior and a long ground contact time at the preferred frequency should minimize the cost of generating muscular force.
- Copyright © 1991 the American Physiological Society