Changes in Energy Cost and Total External Work of Muscles in Elite Race Walkers Walking at Different Speeds

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The aim of the study was to assess energy cost and total external work (total energy) depending on the speed of race walking. Another objective was to determine the contribution of external work to total energy cost of walking at technical, threshold and racing speed in elite competitive race walkers.

The study involved 12 competitive race walkers aged years with 6 to 20 years of experience, who achieved a national or international sports level. Their aerobic endurance was determined by means of a direct method involving an incremental exercise test on the treadmill.

The participants performed three tests walking each time with one of the three speeds according to the same protocol: an 8-minute walk with at steady speed was followed by a recovery phase until the oxygen debt was repaid. To measure exercise energy cost, an indirect method based on the volume of oxygen uptake was employed. The gait of the participants was recorded using the 3D Vicon opto-electronic motion capture system.

Values of changes in potential energy and total kinetic energy in a gate cycle were determined based on vertical displacements of the centre of mass. Changes in mechanical energy amounted to the value of total external work of muscles needed to accelerate and lift the centre of mass during a normalised gait cycle.

The values of average energy cost and of total external work standardised to body mass and distance covered calculated for technical speed, threshold and racing speeds turned out to be statistically significant.

The total energy cost ranged from 51.2 kJ.m-1 during walking at technical speed to 78.3 kJ.m-1 during walking at a racing speed. Regardless of the type of speed, the total external work of muscles accounted for around 25% of total energy cost in race walking. Total external work mainly increased because of changes in the resultant kinetic energy of the centre of mass movement.

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