Biomechanical and metabolic aspects of backward (and forward) running on uphill gradients: another clue towards an almost inelastic rebound

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2020 Nov;120(11):2507-2515. doi: 10.1007/s00421-020-04474-7. Epub 2020 Aug 25.


Purpose: On level, the metabolic cost (C) of backward running is higher than forward running probably due to a lower elastic energy recoil. On positive gradient, the ability to store and release elastic energy is impaired in forward running. We studied running on level and on gradient to test the hypothesis that the higher metabolic cost and lower efficiency in backward than forward running was due to the impairment in the elastic energy utilisation.

Methods: Eight subjects ran forward and backward on a treadmill on level and on gradient (from 0 to + 25%, with 5% step). The mechanical work, computed from kinematic data, C and efficiency (the ratio between total mechanical work and C) were calculated in each condition.

Results: Backward running C was higher than forward running at each condition (on average + 35%) and increased linearly with gradient. Total mechanical work was higher in forward running only at the steepest gradients, thus efficiency was lower in backward running at each gradient.

Conclusion: Efficiency decreased by increasing gradient in both running modalities highlighting the impairment in the elastic contribution on positive gradient. The lower efficiency values calculated in backward running in all conditions pointed out that backward running was performed with an almost inelastic rebound; thus, muscles performed most of the mechanical work with a high metabolic cost. These new backward running C data permit, by applying the recently introduced 'equivalent slope' concept for running acceleration, to obtain the predictive equation of metabolic power during level backward running acceleration.

Keywords: Backward acceleration; Efficiency; Mechanical work; Metabolic cost; Metabolic power.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elasticity*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Running / physiology*