The mechanics of walking in children

J Physiol. 1983 Oct;343:323-39. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1983.sp014895.


The work done at each step, during level walking at a constant average speed, to lift the centre of mass of the body, to accelerate it forward, and to increase the sum of both gravitational potential and kinetic energies, has been measured at various speeds on children of 2-12 years of age, with the same technique used previously for adults (Cavagna, 1975; Cavagna, Thys & Zamboni, 1976). The pendulum-like transfer between potential and kinetic energies (Cavagna et al. 1976) reaches a maximum at the speed at which the weight-specific work to move the centre of mass a given distance is at a minimum ('optimal' speed). This speed is about 2 X 8 km/hr at 2 years of age and increases progressively with age up to 5 km/hr at 12 years of age and in adults. The speed freely chosen during steady walking at the different ages is similar to this 'optimal' speed. At the 'optimal' speed, the time of single contact (time of swing) is in good agreement with that predicted, for the same stature, by a ballistic walking model assuming a minimum of muscular work (Mochon & McMahon, 1980). Above the 'optimal' speed, the recovery of mechanical energy through the potential-kinetic energy transfer decreases. This decrease is greater the younger the subject. A reduction of this recovery implies a greater amount of work to be supplied by muscles: at 4 X 5 km/hr the weight-specific muscular power necessary to move the centre of mass is 2 X 3 times greater in a 2-year-old child than in an adult.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Energy Transfer
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Male