Constraints on muscle performance provide a novel explanation for the scaling of posture in terrestrial animals

Biol Lett. 2013 Jul 3;9(4):20130414. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0414. Print 2013 Aug 23.


Larger terrestrial animals tend to support their weight with more upright limbs. This makes structural sense, reducing the loading on muscles and bones, which is disproportionately challenging in larger animals. However, it does not account for why smaller animals are more crouched; instead, they could enjoy relatively more slender supporting structures or higher safety factors. Here, an alternative account for the scaling of posture is proposed, with close parallels to the scaling of jump performance. If the costs of locomotion are related to the volume of active muscle, and the active muscle volume required depends on both the work and the power demanded during the push-off phase of each step (not just the net positive work), then the disproportional scaling of requirements for work and push-off power are revealing. Larger animals require relatively greater active muscle volumes for dynamically similar gaits (e.g. top walking speed)-which may present an ultimate constraint to the size of running animals. Further, just as for jumping, animals with shorter legs and briefer push-off periods are challenged to provide the power (not the work) required for push-off. This can be ameliorated by having relatively long push-off periods, potentially accounting for the crouched stance of small animals.

Keywords: gait; locomotion; posture; running; scaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Size
  • Forelimb / anatomy & histology
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Gait
  • Hindlimb / anatomy & histology
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • Locomotion*
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Posture*