Several recent investigations have linked running economy to heel length, with shorter heels being associated with less metabolic energy consumption. It has been hypothesized that shorter heels require larger plantar flexor muscle forces, thus increasing tendon energy storage and reducing metabolic cost. The goal of this study was to investigate this possible mechanism for metabolic cost reduction. Fifteen male subjects ran at 16 km⋅h−1 on a treadmill and subsequently on a force-plate instrumented runway. Measurements of oxygen consumption, kinematics, and ground reaction forces were collected. Correlational analyses were performed between oxygen consumption and anthropometric and kinetic variables associated with the ankle and foot. Correlations were also computed between kinetic variables (peak joint moment and peak tendon force) and heel length. Estimated peak Achilles tendon force normalized to body weight was found to be strongly correlated with heel length normalized to body height (r = −.751, p = .003). Neither heel length nor any other measured or calculated variable were correlated with oxygen consumption, however. Subjects with shorter heels experienced larger Achilles tendon forces, but these forces were not associated with reduced metabolic cost. No other anthropometric and kinetic variables considered explained the variance in metabolic cost across individuals.
van Werkhoven is with the Department of Health and Exercise Science, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA; and the Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA. Piazza is with the Department of Kinesiology and the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA; and the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, The Pennsylvania State University, Hershey, PA, USA.