Does Elastic Energy Enhance Work and Efficiency in the Stretch-Shortening Cycle?

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Gerrit Jan van Ingen Schenau
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Maarten F. Bobbert
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Arnold de Haan
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This target article addresses the role of storage and reutilization of elastic energy in stretch-shortening cycles. It is argued that for discrete movements such as the vertical jump, elastic energy does not explain the work enhancement due to the prestretch. This enhancement seems to occur because the prestretch allows muscles to develop a high level of active state and force before starting to shorten. For cyclic movements in which stretch-shortening cycles occur repetitively, some authors have claimed that elastic energy enhances mechanical efficiency. In the current article it is demonstrated that this claim is often based on disputable concepts such as the efficiency of positive work or absolute work, and it is argued that elastic energy cannot affect mechanical efficiency simply because this energy is not related to the conversion of metabolic energy into mechanical energy. A comparison of work and efficiency measures obtained at different levels of organization reveals that there is in fact no decisive evidence to either support or reject the claim that the stretch-shortening cycle enhances muscle efficiency. These explorations lead to the conclusion that the body of knowledge about the mechanics and energetics of the stretch-shortening cycle is in fact quite lean. A major challenge is to bridge the gap between knowledge obtained at different levels of organization, with the ultimate purpose of understanding how the intrinsic properties of muscles manifest themselves under in-vivo-like conditions and how they are exploited in whole-body activities such as running. To achieve this purpose, a close cooperation is required between muscle physiologists and human movement scientists performing inverse and forward dynamic simulation studies of whole-body exercises.

The authors are with the Institute of Fundamental and Clinical Human Movement Sciences, Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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