Preferred walking speed on rough terrain: Is it all about energetics?

Koren Gast, Rodger Kram, Raziel Riemer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Humans have evolved the ability to walk very efficiently. Further, humans prefer to walk at speeds that approximately minimize their metabolic energy expenditure per unit distance (i.e. gross cost of transport, COT). This has been found in a variety of population groups and other species. However, these studies were mostly performed on smooth, level ground or on treadmills. We hypothesized that the objective function for walking is more complex than only minimizing the COT. To test this idea, we compared the preferred speeds and the relationships between COT and speed for people walking on both a smooth, level floor and a rough, natural terrain trail. Rough terrain presumably introduces other factors, such as stability, to the objective function. Ten healthy men walked on both a straight, flat, smooth floor and an outdoor trail strewn with rocks and boulders. In both locations, subjects performed five to seven trials at different speeds relative to their preferred speed. The COT–speed relationships were similarly U-shaped for both surfaces, but the COT values on rough terrain were approximately 115% greater. On the smooth surface, the preferred speed (1.24±0.17 m s−1) was not found to be statistically different (P=0.09) than the speed that minimized COT (1.34±0.03 m s−1). On rough terrain, the preferred speed (1.07±0.05 m s−1) was significantly slower than the COT minimum speed (1.13±0.07 m s−1; P=0.02). Because near the optimum speed the COT function is very shallow, these changes in speed result in a small change in COT (0.5%). It appears that the objective function for speed preference when walking on rough terrain includes COT and additional factors such as stability.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb185447.
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Balance
  • Cost of transport
  • Locomotion
  • Optimization
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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