triceps surae

Muscle and tendon adaptation in young and older adult athletes: A combined longitudinal and cross sectional investigation

This study examined triceps surae muscle strength and tendon stiffness in young adult elite sprinters and jumpers over one season, in order to detect potential discordance between muscle and tendon adaptation due to training. Furthermore, we examined the effect of habitual training on triceps surae muscle-tendon unit (MTU) mechanical properties in young and older athletes, using a cross-sectional design. Eleven healthy younger elite sprinters and jumpers, 12 master athletes, 12 recreationally active young controls and one young elite athlete, 10 months after unilateral Achilles tendon reconstruction participated. All young athletes underwent regular measurements over one season. Triceps surae muscle strength and tendon stiffness of both legs were analysed using dynamometry and ultrasonography synchronously. Within one season, similar patterns of relative changes in muscle strength and tendon stiffness were seen in the young elite athletes. For the tendon reconstruction athlete, the affected leg showed no increases in muscle strength or tendon stiffness over one season, and remarkably lower muscle strength but similar tendon stiffness compared to the non-affected leg. Healthy young elite athletes showed higher muscle strength and tendon stiffness than both other subject groups, with no differences between young controls and master athletes. Our results provide evidence for training-induced concordant adaptation of muscle and tendon over one season within healthy young elite athletes. Achilles tendon rupture and reconstruction may be a major risk factor for irreversible discordance within the triceps surae MTU. Finally, habitual athletics training over the lifespan may effectively counteract age-related decreases in muscle strength and tendon stiffness.
Listed In: Biomechanics, Sports Science


Introduction and Objectives: It has previously been reported that deterioration in contractile strength and tendon stiffness in the elderly is associated with altered motor task execution and reduced performance while walking [1,2], and that resistance training improves muscle function, resulting in more effective and safer gait characteristics in the older population [3]. In particular, triceps surae (TS) muscle-tendon unit (MTU) properties seem to be an important determinant for walk-to-run transition speed [4], emphasizing the relevant role intrinsic MTU properties play in gait performance. The objective of this empirical study was to examine the hypothesis that maximal walking velocity is related to TS MTU mechanical and morphological properties and their enhanced capacities would improve gait velocity in the elderly. Methods: Thirty four older female adults (66±7 yrs.) took part in the study. Nineteen of them were recruited for the experimental group, who underwent a 14-week TS MTU physical exercise intervention which has been previously established to increase muscle strength and tendon stiffness [5]. The remaining 15 subjects formed the control group (no physical exercise intervention). The experimental group performed three times per week five sets of four repetitive (3·s loading, 3·s relaxation) isometric plantar flexion contractions in order to induce high cyclic strain magnitudes on the TS tendon and aponeurosis. Maximal walking velocity, defined as walking with a double support phase, was determined by using two force plates (60 x 40 cm, 1080 Hz; Kistler, Winterthur, CH) and a motion capture system (Vicon Motion Systems, Oxford, UK) with 12 infrared cameras operating at a frequency of 120 Hz. TS MTU properties were assessed using simultaneous dynamometry and ultrasonography (Esaote MyLab Five; Esaote Biomedica, Genoa, IT). Results: A significant correlation was found between the TS MTU mechanical and morphological properties and maximal gait velocity (0.40 < r < 0.64; P < 0.05; n = 34). The experimental group showed higher TS contractile strength, tendon stiffness, and higher gastrocnemius medialis muscle thickness post- compared to pre-intervention (P < 0.05). However, calculated maximal gait velocity did not differ between pre and post-intervention measurements (2.39 ± 0.41 vs. 2.44 ± 0.45 m·s-1). Control subjects showed no statistically significant differences in maximal gait velocity or TS MTU mechanical and morphological properties. Conclusion: This empirical study confirms previous forward simulation models [4] proposing that intrinsic TS MTU properties are significant determinants of gait performance. However, older adults may not be capable of fully utilizing improvements of the MTU capacities while walking at maximal velocities following a 14 week physical exercise intervention. Therefore, the benefits of a long term physical exercise intervention (1.5 years) will be discussed.
Listed In: Biomechanics, Gait, Other