Application of Leg, Vertical, and Joint Stiffness in Running Performance: A Literature Overview

Artur Struzik, Kiros Karamanidis, Anna Lorimer, Justin W L Keogh, Jan Gajewski

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Abstract

Stiffness, the resistance to deformation due to force, has been used to model the way in which the lower body responds to landing during cyclic motions such as running and jumping. Vertical, leg, and joint stiffness provide a useful model for investigating the store and release of potential elastic energy via the musculotendinous unit in the stretch-shortening cycle and may provide insight into sport performance. This review is aimed at assessing the effect of vertical, leg, and joint stiffness on running performance as such an investigation may provide greater insight into performance during this common form of locomotion. PubMed and SPORTDiscus databases were searched resulting in 92 publications on vertical, leg, and joint stiffness and running performance. Vertical stiffness increases with running velocity and stride frequency. Higher vertical stiffness differentiated elite runners from lower-performing athletes and was also associated with a lower oxygen cost. In contrast, leg stiffness remains relatively constant with increasing velocity and is not strongly related to the aerobic demand and fatigue. Hip and knee joint stiffness are reported to increase with velocity, and a lower ankle and higher knee joint stiffness are linked to a lower oxygen cost of running; however, no relationship with performance has yet been investigated. Theoretically, there is a desired "leg-spring" stiffness value at which potential elastic energy return is maximised and this is specific to the individual. It appears that higher "leg-spring" stiffness is desirable for running performance; however, more research is needed to investigate the relationship of all three lower limb joint springs as the hip joint is often neglected. There is still no clear answer how training could affect mechanical stiffness during running. Studies including muscle activation and separate analyses of local tissues (tendons) are needed to investigate mechanical stiffness as a global variable associated with sports performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9914278
JournalApplied Bionics and Biomechanics
Volume2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021

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