Leg stiffness and stride frequency in human running

J Biomech. 1996 Feb;29(2):181-6. doi: 10.1016/0021-9290(95)00029-1.


When humans and other mammals run, the body's complex system of muscle, tendon and ligament springs behaves like a single linear spring ('leg spring'). A simple spring-mass model, consisting of a single linear leg spring and a mass equivalent to the animal's mass, has been shown to describe the mechanics of running remarkably well. Force platform measurements from running animals, including humans, have shown that the stiffness of the leg spring remains nearly the same at all speeds and that the spring-mass system is adjusted for higher speeds by increasing the angle swept by the leg spring. The goal of the present study is to determine the relative importance of changes to the leg spring stiffness and the angle swept by the leg spring when humans alter their stride frequency at a given running speed. Human subjects ran on treadmill-mounted force platform at 2.5ms-1 while using a range of stride frequencies from 26% below to 36% above the preferred stride frequency. Force platform measurements revealed that the stiffness of the leg spring increased by 2.3-fold from 7.0 to 16.3 kNm-1 between the lowest and highest stride frequencies. The angle swept by the leg spring decreased at higher stride frequencies, partially offsetting the effect of the increased leg spring stiffness on the mechanical behavior of the spring-mass system. We conclude that the most important adjustment to the body's spring system to accommodate higher stride frequencies is that leg spring becomes stiffer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elasticity
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Ligaments / physiology
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Running / physiology*
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tendons / physiology
  • Weight-Bearing