Large alterations to the preferred running stride decrease running economy, and shorter strides increase leg muscle activity. However, the effect of altered strides on the timing of leg muscle activation is not known. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of moderate alterations to the running stride on running economy and the timing of biceps femoris (BF), vastus lateralis (VL) and gastrocnemius (GAST) muscle contractions. The preferred stride pattern for eleven trained male runners was measured prior to a separate visit where participants ran for bouts of 5 min whilst synchronising foot contacts to a metronome signal which was tuned to (1) the preferred stride, and (2) frequencies which related to ± 8% and ± 4% of the preferred stride length. Running economy was measured at each stride pattern along with electromyography and three-dimensional kinematics to estimate onset and offset of muscle contractions for each muscle. Running economy was greatest at the preferred stride length. However, a quadratic fit to the data was optimised at a stride which was 2.9% shorter than preferred. Onset and offset of BF and VL muscle contractions occurred earlier with shorter than preferred strides. We detected no changes to the timing of muscle contractions with longer than preferred strides and no changes to GAST muscle contractions. The results suggest that runners optimise running economy with a stride length that is close to, but shorter than, the preferred stride, and that timing of BF and VL muscle contractions change with shorter than preferred strides.
Keywords: EMG; Eccentric contraction; Electromechanical delay; Stride frequency; Stride length.
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