To examine the influence of induced changes in the morphology of the leg by adding mass on the optimal step length (OSL) in experienced runners to get more insight into parameters that influence preferred step length (PSL) and OSL.
Thirteen experienced male runners (mean age 26.9 ± 6.1 y, height 183.7 ± 7.1 cm, mass 71.8 ± 5.9 kg) ran on a treadmill in 3 different conditions: unloaded (UL), loaded with 2 kg mass at the ankles (MA), and loaded with 2 kg mass at the hips (MH) at 7 different step lengths (SLs). SL deviations were expressed as deviations in relative leg length (%LL) from the individual PSL: 0%LL, ±5%LL, ±10%LL, and ±15%LL. Trials lasted 8 min, and 8 min of rest was given between trials. Oxygen uptake (V̇O2) was expressed as a fraction of V̇O2 at PSL + 0%LL in the unloaded condition (%V̇O2). The %SL with the lowest value of %V̇O2 was considered the OSL for this group of participants.
OSL at the UL condition was 6% shorter than PSL. The MA condition resulted in a 7%LL larger OSL than at UL and MH (P < .05).
The mass distribution of the leg is a determinant of the OSL. As a consequence of the added mass to the ankles, OSL was 7%LL longer. Morphological characteristics of the leg might therefore play an important role in determining the runner’s individual optimal SL.
Reenalda is with Roessingh Research and Development, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands. Maas is with University Sports Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. de Koning is with the MOVE Research Inst, VU-University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.