Simultaneous positive and negative external mechanical work in human walking

J Biomech. 2002 Jan;35(1):117-24. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9290(01)00169-5.


In human walking, the center of mass motion is similar to an inverted pendulum. Viewing double support as a transition from one inverted pendulum to the next, we hypothesized that the leading leg performs negative work to redirect the center of mass velocity, while simultaneously, the trailing leg performs positive work to replace the lost energy. To test this hypothesis, we developed a method to quantify the external mechanical work performed by each limb (individual limbs method). Traditional measures of external mechanical work use the sum of the ground reaction forces acting on the limbs (combined limbs method) allowing for the mathematical cancellation of simultaneous positive and negative work during multiple support periods. We expected to find that the traditional combined limbs method underestimates external mechanical work by a substantial amount. We used both methods to measure the external mechanical work performed by humans walking over a range of speeds. We found that during double support, the legs perform a substantial amount of positive and negative external work simultaneously. The combined limbs measures of positive and negative external work were approximately 33% less than those calculated using the individual limbs method. At all speeds, the trailing leg performs greater than 97% of the double support positive work while the leading leg performs greater than 94% of the double support negative work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Mathematics
  • Walking / physiology*