Children perform cyclic motor tasks less efficiently than adults, however the mechanisms underlying such differences are not fully understood. One mechanism that may contribute these age-related differences is a differential contribution of muscles and tendons to a given muscle tendon unit (MTU) excursion. The aims of this study were to a) compare muscle and tendon excursion between children and adults performing vertical hopping, and b) determine if children and adults choose a hopping frequency that maximizes movement efficiency, based on the utilization of energy-saving mechanisms. 12 children (8.8±0.3 y) and 12 adults (26.0±2.1 y) performed 20 s of two-legged hopping at a self-selected frequency and at 1.33, 2.00, 2.67 and 3.33 Hz. Gastrocnemius medialis MTU excursion was estimated from kinematic data and muscle and tendon excursions were derived using a combination of 3D-motion capture and ultrasonography. Optimum hopping frequency was determined as the frequency which maximized surrogate measures of elastic energy storage potential of the tendon and minimized muscle excursion. Adults presented a significantly greater potential for elastic energy storage in combination with lower muscle excursion than children at their self-selected frequency, suggesting that children do not utilize these energy-saving mechanisms as effectively as adults. However, tendon elastic energy storage was maximized and muscle excursion minimized at preferred frequency both in children and adults, indicating that children may select their preferred hopping frequency based on the same criteria as adults. These findings increase our understanding of the mechanisms contributing to the higher energy cost of movement performance in children, and have implications for the interpretation of age-related differences in complex task performance.
- Received July 7, 2015.
- Accepted January 17, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd