We have previously shown that Achilles tendon length is related to walking economy on the flat, presumably because of increased stretch-shortening cycle elastic energy savings. In addition, greater walking economy in African American (AA) women compared to European American (EA) women is explained by longer Achilles tendons in AA women. The purposes of this study were to determine whether economy while walking up a grade and during isometric plantar flexion, two tasks expected to produce proportionately less energy savings from elastic savings are different between AA and EA women. We evaluated walking economy at 4.8 km/h at 0 and 2.5% grade in 48 AA and 48 EA premenopausal women. Plantar flexor muscle metabolic economy (force/ATP) was also evaluated using (31) phosphate magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((31)P-MRS). AA women walked on the flat more economically (net VO(2), AA 8.3 and EA 8.9 ml kg(-1) min(-1), P = 0.04). No significant ethnic differences were observed while walking up a 2.5% grade or in (31)P-MRS determined plantar flexor muscle metabolic economy. These data support our previous study's suggestion that AA women are more economical while walking on the flat. On the other hand, in activities in which stretch-shortening cycle elastic energy savings would be expected to be reduced (grade walking and isometric force production), no differences in economy during grade walking or isometric force production were observed suggesting that biomechanical, i.e. stretch-shortening cycle elastic energy savings differences rather biochemical differences contribute to the better flat walking economy observed in AA women.