It is known that muscular force is reduced in old age. We investigate what are the effects of this phenomenon on the mechanics of running. We hypothesized that the deficit in force would result in a lower push, causing reduced amplitude of the vertical oscillation, with smaller elastic energy storage and increased step frequency. To test this hypothesis, we measured the mechanical energy of the centre of mass of the body during running in old and young subjects. The amplitude of the oscillation is indeed reduced in the old subjects, resulting in an approximately 20% smaller elastic recovery and a greater step frequency (3.7 versus 2.8 Hz, p=1.9×10−5, at 15–17 km h−1). Interestingly, the greater step frequency is due to a lower aerial time, and not to a greater natural frequency of the system, which is similar in old and young subjects (3.6 versus 3.4 Hz, p=0.2). Moreover, we find that in the old subjects, the step frequency is always similar to the natural frequency, even at the highest speeds. This is at variance with young subjects who adopt a step frequency lower than the natural frequency at high speeds, to contain the aerobic energy expenditure. Finally, the external work to maintain the motion of the centre of mass is reduced in the old subjects (0.9 versus 1.2 J kg−1 m−1, p=5.1×10−6) due to the lower work done against gravity, but the higher step frequency involves a greater internal work to reset the limbs at each step. The net result is that the total work increases with speed more steeply in the old subjects than in young subjects
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