Mechanical and metabolic requirements for active lateral stabilization in human walking

J Biomech. 2004 Jun;37(6):827-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2003.06.002.


Walking appears to be passively unstable in the lateral direction, requiring active feedback control for stability. The central nervous system may control stability by adjusting medio-lateral foot placement, but potentially with a metabolic cost. This cost increases with narrow steps and may affect the preferred step width. We hypothesized that external stabilization of the body would reduce the active control needed, thereby decreasing metabolic cost and preferred step width. To test these hypotheses, we provided external lateral stabilization, using springs pulling bilaterally from the waist, to human subjects walking on a force treadmill at 1.25 m/s. Ten subjects walked, with and without stabilization, at a prescribed step width of zero and also at their preferred step width. We measured metabolic cost using indirect calorimetry, and step width from force treadmill data. We found that at the prescribed zero step width, external stabilization resulted in a 33% decrease in step width variability (root-mean-square) and a 9.2% decrease in metabolic cost. In the preferred step width conditions, external stabilization caused subjects to prefer a 47% narrower step width, with a 32% decrease in step width variability and a 5.7% decrease in metabolic cost. These results suggest that (a). human walking requires active lateral stabilization, (b). body lateral motion is partially stabilized via medio-lateral foot placement, (c). active stabilization exacts a modest metabolic cost, and (d). humans avoid narrow step widths because they are less stable.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Postural Balance / physiology
  • Walking / physiology*