Stretching Your Energetic Budget: How Tendon Compliance Affects the Metabolic Cost of Running

PLoS One. 2016 Mar 1;11(3):e0150378. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150378. eCollection 2016.


Muscles attach to bones via tendons that stretch and recoil, affecting muscle force generation and metabolic energy consumption. In this study, we investigated the effect of tendon compliance on the metabolic cost of running using a full-body musculoskeletal model with a detailed model of muscle energetics. We performed muscle-driven simulations of running at 2-5 m/s with tendon force-strain curves that produced between 1 and 10% strain when the muscles were developing maximum isometric force. We computed the average metabolic power consumed by each muscle when running at each speed and with each tendon compliance. Average whole-body metabolic power consumption increased as running speed increased, regardless of tendon compliance, and was lowest at each speed when tendon strain reached 2-3% as muscles were developing maximum isometric force. When running at 2 m/s, the soleus muscle consumed less metabolic power at high tendon compliance because the strain of the tendon allowed the muscle fibers to operate nearly isometrically during stance. In contrast, the medial and lateral gastrocnemii consumed less metabolic power at low tendon compliance because less compliant tendons allowed the muscle fibers to operate closer to their optimal lengths during stance. The software and simulations used in this study are freely available at and enable examination of muscle energetics with unprecedented detail.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology
  • Compliance / physiology*
  • Elasticity / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Running / physiology*
  • Tendons / physiology*