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Biol Lett. 2015 Sep;11(9):20150486. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0486.

The metabolic cost of changing walking speeds is significant, implies lower optimal speeds for shorter distances, and increases daily energy estimates.

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Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA


Humans do not generally walk at constant speed, except perhaps on a treadmill. Normal walking involves starting, stopping and changing speeds, in addition to roughly steady locomotion. Here, we measure the metabolic energy cost of walking when changing speed. Subjects (healthy adults) walked with oscillating speeds on a constant-speed treadmill, alternating between walking slower and faster than the treadmill belt, moving back and forth in the laboratory frame. The metabolic rate for oscillating-speed walking was significantly higher than that for constant-speed walking (6-20% cost increase for ±0.13-0.27 m s(-1) speed fluctuations). The metabolic rate increase was correlated with two models: a model based on kinetic energy fluctuations and an inverted pendulum walking model, optimized for oscillating-speed constraints. The cost of changing speeds may have behavioural implications: we predicted that the energy-optimal walking speed is lower for shorter distances. We measured preferred human walking speeds for different walking distances and found people preferred lower walking speeds for shorter distances as predicted. Further, analysing published daily walking-bout distributions, we estimate that the cost of changing speeds is 4-8% of daily walking energy budget.


acceleration; energy optimality; legged locomotion; metabolic cost; preferred speeds; walking

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