The elastic stretch-shortening cycle of the Achilles tendon during walking can reduce the active work demands on the plantarflexor muscles in series. However, this does not explain why or when this ankle work, whether by muscle or tendon, needs to be performed during gait. We therefore employ a simple bipedal walking model to investigate how ankle work and series elasticity impact economical locomotion. Our model shows that ankle elasticity can use passive dynamics to aid push-off late in single support, redirecting the body's center-of-mass (COM) motion upward. An appropriately timed, elastic push-off helps to reduce dissipative collision losses at contralateral heelstrike, and therefore the positive work needed to offset those losses and power steady walking. Thus, the model demonstrates how elastic ankle work can reduce the total energetic demands of walking, including work required from more proximal knee and hip muscles. We found that the key requirement for using ankle elasticity to achieve economical gait is the proper ratio of ankle stiffness to foot length. Optimal combination of these parameters ensures proper timing of elastic energy release prior to contralateral heelstrike, and sufficient energy storage to redirect the COM velocity. In fact, there exist parameter combinations that theoretically yield collision-free walking, thus requiring zero active work, albeit with relatively high ankle torques. Ankle elasticity also allows the hip to power economical walking by contributing indirectly to push-off. Whether walking is powered by the ankle or hip, ankle elasticity may aid walking economy by reducing collision losses.
Keywords: Achilles tendon; Collision work; Elastic energy-saving mechanisms; Gait economy; Push-off work.
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