Trotting and hopping animals use muscles, tendons and ligaments to store and return elastic energy as they bounce along the ground. We examine how the musculoskeletal spring system operates at different speeds and in animals of different sizes. We model trotting and hopping as a simple spring-mass system which consists of a leg spring and a mass. We find that the stiffness of the leg spring (k(leg)) is nearly independent of speed in dogs, goats, horses and red kangaroos. As these animals trot or hop faster, the leg spring sweeps a greater angle during the stance phase, and the vertical excursion of the center of mass during the ground contact phase decreases. The combination of these changes to the spring system causes animals to bounce off the ground more quickly at higher speeds. Analysis of a wide size range of animals (0.1-140 kg) at equivalent speeds reveals that larger animals have stiffer leg springs (k(leg) [symbol: see text] M0.67, where M is body mass), but that the angle swept by the leg spring is nearly independent of body mass. As a result, the resonant period of vertical vibration of the spring-mass system is longer in larger animals. The length of time that the feet are in contact with the ground increases with body mass in nearly the same way as the resonant period of vertical vibration.
- © 1993 by Company of Biologists