Energetics of running: a new perspective

Nature. 1990 Jul 19;346(6281):265-7. doi: 10.1038/346265a0.


The amount of energy used to run a mile is nearly the same whether it is run at top speed or at a leisurely pace (although it is used more rapidly at the higher speed). This puzzling independence of energy cost and speed is found generally among running animals, although, on a per gram basis, cost is much higher for smaller animals. Running involves little work against the environment; work is done by muscles and tendons to lift and accelerate the body and limbs. Some of the work is recovered from muscle-tendon springs without metabolic cost and work rate does not parallel metabolic rate with either speed or size. Regardless of the amount of work muscles do, they must be activated and develop force to support the weight of the body. Load-carrying experiments have shown that the cost of supporting an extra newton of load is the same as the weight-specific cost of running. Size differences in cost are proportional to stride frequency at equivalent speeds, suggesting that the time available for developing force is important in determining cost. We report a simple inverse relationship between the rate of energy used for running and the time the foot applies force to the ground during each stride. These results support the hypothesis that it is primarily the cost of supporting the animal's weight and the time course of generating this force that determines the cost of running.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Weight
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Gait
  • Kinetics
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Running*
  • Tendons / physiology