The energetic cost of walking: a comparison of predictive methods

PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21290. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021290. Epub 2011 Jun 22.


Background: The energy that animals devote to locomotion has been of intense interest to biologists for decades and two basic methodologies have emerged to predict locomotor energy expenditure: those based on metabolic and those based on mechanical energy. Metabolic energy approaches share the perspective that prediction of locomotor energy expenditure should be based on statistically significant proxies of metabolic function, while mechanical energy approaches, which derive from many different perspectives, focus on quantifying the energy of movement. Some controversy exists as to which mechanical perspective is "best", but from first principles all mechanical methods should be equivalent if the inputs to the simulation are of similar quality. Our goals in this paper are 1) to establish the degree to which the various methods of calculating mechanical energy are correlated, and 2) to investigate to what degree the prediction methods explain the variation in energy expenditure.

Methodology/principal findings: We use modern humans as the model organism in this experiment because their data are readily attainable, but the methodology is appropriate for use in other species. Volumetric oxygen consumption and kinematic and kinetic data were collected on 8 adults while walking at their self-selected slow, normal and fast velocities. Using hierarchical statistical modeling via ordinary least squares and maximum likelihood techniques, the predictive ability of several metabolic and mechanical approaches were assessed. We found that all approaches are correlated and that the mechanical approaches explain similar amounts of the variation in metabolic energy expenditure. Most methods predict the variation within an individual well, but are poor at accounting for variation between individuals.

Conclusion: Our results indicate that the choice of predictive method is dependent on the question(s) of interest and the data available for use as inputs. Although we used modern humans as our model organism, these results can be extended to other species.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physiology / methods*
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Young Adult