Criteria for Dynamic Similarity in Bouncing Gaits

J Theor Biol. 2008 Jan 21;250(2):339-48. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2007.09.038. Epub 2007 Oct 2.


Animals of different sizes tend to move in a dynamically similar manner when travelling at speeds corresponding to equal values of a dimensionless parameter (DP) called the Froude number. Consequently, the Froude number has been widely used for defining equivalent speeds and predicting speeds of locomotion by extinct species and on other planets. However, experiments using simulated reduced gravity have demonstrated that equality of the Froude number does not guarantee dynamic similarity. This has cast doubt upon the usefulness of the Froude number in locomotion research. Here we use dimensional analysis of the planar spring-mass model, combined with Buckingham's Pi-Theorem, to demonstrate that four DPs must be equal for dynamic similarity in bouncing gaits such as trotting, hopping and bipedal running. This can be reduced to three DPs by applying the constraint of maintaining a constant average speed of locomotion. Sensitivity analysis indicates that all of these DPs are important for predicting dynamic similarity. We show that the reason humans do not run in a dynamically similar manner at equal Froude number in different levels of simulated reduced gravity is that dimensionless leg stiffness decreases as gravity increases. The reason that the Froude number can predict dynamic similarity in Earth gravity is that dimensionless leg stiffness and dimensionless vertical landing speed are both independent of size. In conclusion, although equal Froude number is not sufficient for dynamic similarity, it is a necessary condition. Therefore, to detect fundamental differences in locomotion, animals of different sizes should be compared at equal Froude number, so that they can be as close to dynamic similarity as possible. More generally, the concept of dynamic similarity provides a powerful framework within which similarities and differences in locomotion can be interpreted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Size / physiology
  • Elasticity
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Gravitation
  • Humans
  • Hypogravity
  • Leg / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Running / physiology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity