Maximum walking speed and lower limb length in hominids

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1996 Dec;101(4):515-25. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(199612)101:4<515::AID-AJPA6>3.0.CO;2-U.


In 1984, Helene (Am.J. Physics 52:656) and Alexander (Am. Scientist 72:348-354) presented equations which purported to explain how lower limb length limited maximum walking speed in humans. The equations were based on a simplified model of human walking in which the center of mass (CoM) "vaults" over the supporting leg. Increasing walking speed by increasing stride frequency or stride length would increase the upward acceleration of the CoM in the first half of stance phase, to the point that it would be greater than the downward pull of gravity, and the individual would become airborne. This constitutes running by most definitions. While these models ignored various mechanical factors, such as knee flexion during midstance, that reduce the vertical movement of the CoM, the general idea is plausible inasmuch as the CoM of the body does oscillate vertically with each step. One hypothesis tested here is whether it is indeed the interaction between the pull of gravity and the individual's own upward acceleration that determines at what speed (or cadence) he changes from walking to running. Another hypothesis considered is that increased lower limb length (L) was selected for in early hominids, because of the locomotor advantages of longer lower limbs. Results indicate, however, that while L was clearly related to maximum possible walking speed, it was not an important factor in determining maximum "comfortable" walking speed. These and other results from the recent literature suggest that increased lower limb length provided no selective advantage in locomotion, and other explanations should be sought.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Femur / anatomy & histology
  • Femur / physiology
  • Fossils
  • Gravitation
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Leg / anatomy & histology*
  • Leg / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Regression Analysis
  • Walking / physiology*