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Better running economy (i.e. a lower rate of energy consumption at a given speed) is correlated with superior distance running performance. There is substantial variation in running economy, even among elite runners. This variation might be due to variation in the storage and reutilization of elastic energy in tendons. Using a simple musculoskeletal model, it was predicted that the amount of energy stored in a tendon during a given movement depends more critically on moment arm than on mechanical properties of the tendon, with the amount of stored energy increasing as the moment arm gets smaller. Assuming a link between elastic energy reutilization and overall metabolic cost of running, a smaller moment arm should therefore be associated with superior running economy. This prediction was confirmed experimentally in a group of 15 highly trained runners. The moment arm of the Achilles tendon was determined from standardized photographs of the ankle, using the position of anatomical landmarks. Running economy was measured as the rate of metabolic energy consumption during level treadmill running at a speed of 16 km h–1. A strong correlation was found between the moment arm of the Achilles tendon and running economy. Smaller muscle moment arms correlated with lower rates of metabolic energy consumption (r2=0.75, P<0.001).

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