This is an interesting paper that looked at gender and age-related differences in running biomechanics. Specifically, the authors evaluated running kinematics in middle-aged men and women (average age 57 years old) and compared them to young men and women (average age 28 for men and 30 for women). The authors emphasize that it is important to understand how gender and age-related differences in running biomechanics affect function, as it could allow for the development of improved training interventions to address different biomechanical demands. It is especially important to look at age-related differences, as the percentage of long distance runners over the age of 40 has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. For example, women over the age of 40 accounted for 24% of marathon finishers between the ages of 1980 and 1989, and this number increased to 40% between 2000 and 2009. The number of male long distance runners increased from 36 to 53% over the same time period.
The authors used a 3-dimensional software to analyze movement and ground reactive forces are calculated with a 3-D force platform embedded in the laboratory floor. Force output and 3-dimensional movements at every joint of the pelvis and lower extremity were evaluated and compared between the different groups. The authors made the novel observation that women generate more force at the ankle and less force at the hip, suggesting that women run with an ankle dominant strategy while running at a comfortable pace. Consistent with prior research, the authors show that middle-aged runners generate significantly less force with their ankle plantarflexors, and as a result, they are unable to create adequate ground reactive force during pushoff. The authors state the “lower involvement of ankle plantarflexors with more use of hip musculature during gait is a biomechanical hallmark of aging.” The main take away from this paper is that age-related deficits in ankle plantarflexion results in a gradual reduction in performance, which could also translate into higher injury rates, particularly to the plantar fascia and Achilles. To avoid age-related deficits in performance, running athletes should perform aggressive strengthening interventions to increase force output of the ankle plantarflexors while they are young. In addition to preventing age-related decreases in performance, increasing force output in the foot/ankle can significantly reduce your risk of injury.