Differences in leg muscle activity during running and cycling in humans

K.E. Bijker, G. de Groot, A.P. Hollander

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    Delta (Δ) efficiency is defined as the ratio of an increment in the external mechanical power output to the increase in metabolic power required to produce it. The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether differences in leg muscle activity between running and cycling can explain the observed difference in Δ efficiency between the two activities. A group of 11 subjects performed incremental submaximal running and cycling tests on successive days. The Δ efficiencies during running and cycling were based on five exercise stages. Electromyograph (EMG) measurements were made of three leg muscles (gastrocnemius, vastus lateralis and biceps femoris). Kendall's correlation coefficients between the mean EMG activity and the load applied were calculated for each muscle, for both running and cycling. As expected, the mean Δ efficiency during running (42%) was significantly greater than that during cycling (25%). For cycling, all muscles showed a significant correlation between mean EMG activity and the load applied. For running, however, only the gastrocnemius muscle showed a significant, but low correlation (r = 0.33). The correlation coefficients of the vastus lateralis and biceps femoris muscles were not significantly different from 0. The results were interpreted as follows. In contrast to cycling, which includes only concentric contractions, during running up inclines eccentric muscle actions play an important role. With steeper inclines, more concentric contractions must be produced to overcome the external force, whereas the amount of eccentric muscle actions decreases. This change in the relative contribution of concentric and eccentric muscle actions, in combination with the fact that eccentric muscle actions require much less metabolic energy than concentric contractions, can explain the difference between the running and cycling Δ efficiency.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)556-561
    JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


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