Background: The impact force in heel-toe running is an input signal into the body that initiates vibrations of the soft tissue compartments of the leg. These vibrations are heavily damped and the paradigm of muscle tuning suggests the body adapts to different input signals to minimize these vibrations. The objectives of the present study were to investigate the implications of not tuning a muscle properly for a landing with a frequency close to the resonance frequency of a soft tissue compartment and to look at the effect of an unexpected surface change on the subsequent step of running.
Method: Thirteen male runners were recruited and performed heel-toe running over two surface conditions. The peak accelerations and biodynamic responses of the soft tissue compartments of the leg along with the EMG activity of related muscles were determined for expected soft, unexpected hard and expected hard landings.
Results and conclusions: For the unexpected hard landing there was a change in the input frequency of the impact force, shifting it closer to the resonance frequency of the soft tissue compartments. For the unexpected landing there was no muscle adaptation, as subjects did not know the running surface was going to change. In support of the muscle-tuning concept an increase in the soft tissue acceleration did occur. This increase was greater when the proximity of the input signal frequency was closer to the resonance frequency of the soft tissue compartment. Following the unexpected change in the input signal a change in pre-contact muscle activity to minimize soft tissue compartment vibrations was not found. This suggests if muscle tuning does occur it is not a continuous feedback response that occurs with every small change in the landing surface properties. In previous studies with significant adaptation periods to new input signals significant correlations between the changes in the input signal frequency and the EMG intensity have been shown, however, changes in soft tissue accelerations have not been found. The results of the present study showed that changes in these soft tissue accelerations can occur in response to a resonance frequency input signal when a muscle reaction has not happened.