Analysis of potential muscular determinants of the preferred walk-run transition speed in human gait
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The spontaneous transition from walking to running as walking speed increases is an intriguing neuromotor phenomenon that consistently occurs near 2 m/s in humans. Despite investigations of various metabolic and biomechanical factors, the determinants of the transition have remained elusive. However, no study has investigated the potential influence of intrinsic muscle properties and fiber-tendon interactions as potential determinants. The overall objective of this research was to use a forward dynamical simulation framework in three studies to identify the potential influence of these muscular determinants on the preferred walk-run transition speed (PTS). In the first study, individual muscle force production was examined as walking speed increased to assess the influence of intrinsic muscle properties on the PTS. The simulation data showed that of all the major lower-extremity muscle groups examined, the ankle plantar flexors were the only muscles to show a decrease in force production, despite an increase in activation, as walking speed approached the PTS. The force reduction was attributed to adverse contractile conditions. Considering the importance of the plantar flexors to providing body support and forward progression, the impaired force generation was deemed an important determinant of the PTS. In the second study, individual muscle contributions to body support and forward progression in walking and running at the PTS were quantified to clarify differences in muscle function between the two gait modes. The most distinctive difference was the reduced soleus contribution to forward progression in running. All other muscle groups performed similarly between the two gait modes. In the third study, individual muscle fiber and tendon mechanical work was quantified to examine whether there existed an energetic advantage during walking and running above and below the PTS. The total muscle fiber work was found to be higher in running than walking below the PTS, and higher in walking than running above the PTS. In addition, tendon elasticity utilization was lower in running below the PTS than in running above the PTS. These results highlight the advantages of each gait mode and suggest why walking below the PTS and running above the PTS are the preferred gaits.