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J Physiol. 2000 Nov 1;528(Pt 3):657-68.

The role of gravity in human walking: pendular energy exchange, external work and optimal speed.

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Istituto di Fisiologia Umana, Università degli Studi di Milano, 20133 Milan, Italy.


During walking on Earth, at 1.0 g of gravity, the work done by the muscles to maintain the motion of the centre of mass of the body (W(ext)) is reduced by a pendulum-like exchange between gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy. The weight-specific W(ext) per unit distance attains a minimum of 0.3 J x kg(-1) x m(-1) at about 4.5 km x h(-1) in adults. The effect of a gravity change has been studied during walking on a force platform fixed to the floor of an aircraft undergoing flight profiles which resulted in a simulated gravity of 0.4 and 1.5 times that on Earth. At 0.4 g, such as on Mars, the minimum W(ext) was 0.15 J x kg(-1) x m(-1), half that on Earth and occurred at a slower speed, about 2.5 km x h(-1). The range of walking speeds is about half that on Earth. At 1.5 g, the lowest value of W(ext) was 0.60 J x kg(-1) x m(-1), twice that on Earth; it was nearly constant up to about 4.3 km x h(-1) and then increased with speed. The range of walking speeds is probably greater than that on Earth. A model is presented in which the speed for an optimum exchange between potential and kinetic energy, the 'optimal speed', is predicted by the balance between the forward deceleration due to the lift of the body against gravity and the forward deceleration due to the impact against the ground. In conclusion, over the range studied, gravity increases the work required to walk, but it also increases the range of walking speeds.

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