Terrestrial animals have ‘preferred speeds’ within each gait, that are used much more frequently than others for moving along the ground. Energy costs reach minimal values at these speeds within each gait. In this study we asked whether these speeds are mechanically equivalent among different animals (i.e. speeds where the same levels of peak muscle stress occur). If so, this would help in establishing a link between the energetics and the mechanics of the active muscles at these speeds, providing a first step in understanding why energy costs are minimal. We also asked whether peak muscle stress reaches a similar fraction of the maximal isometric stress at these speeds. If so, this would suggest that muscles are structured so that a similar reserve capacity remains, with a similar safety factor for avoidance of injury in response to prolonged repetitive loading. We compared two species that use quite different locomotory methods at their preferred speeds: white rats that gallop and kangaroo rats that hop. We measured peak stress in the ankle extensor muscles of these two species, as they moved at their preferred speeds, using a force platform/cine analysis technique. We also measured the maximum isometric force that this muscle group could develop in situ in the same individuals. We found the ankle extensors of white rats and kangaroo rats developed virtually identical levels of peak stress at their preferred speeds (70 +/− 6 kPa and 69 +/− 6 kPa, respectively, mean +/− S.E.), despite a fourfold difference in peak ground reaction force per unit body mass exerted on each limb. The values of peak isometric stress in situ were also virtually identical (206 +/− 17 kPa and 200 +/− 9 kPa, respectively). Our finding that the peak muscle stress is about one-third of maximum isometric stress at the preferred speeds is consistent with the idea that these are mechanically equivalent speeds, where the same fraction of available muscle fibres is recruited. Finding nearly identical values in two species that move in such different ways (galloping vs hopping), and have such large differences in ground reaction force exerted by each limb, suggests this may be true more generally for terrestrial vertebrates.

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