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Walking & Running; pendulums & springs.

On face value it's very easy to distinguish when someone is walking as opposed to running; they clearly look completely different. But what's different? We know the velocity of movement increases between the two gait patterns. We also know that running contains an aerial phase (a phase where both feet are off the ground), whereas walking does not. Although these factors help describe the common differences, the biggest difference lies in the position of our centre of mass. During walking our centre of mass reaches it's highest point at midstance, whereas during running our centre of mass reaches it's lowest point during midstance. That's the difference. Pretty simple right...


During walking, the knee stays relatively extended in stance to provide a flexible strut that the body vaults over. This results in the centre of mass being at it's highest point at midstance. This can be likened to an inverted pendulum.


The straight knee position allows knee & hip to remain closely aligned with GRF, lowering external moment at knee. This means less activation of the knee & hip extensors is required, minimising energy costs. Efficient!


Running requires the knee to flex during stance. This causes a 5 x increase in knee extensor requirement. It's costly, but it allows the lower limb to act much like a spring or pogo stick and store elastic energy in it's tendons (Farley & Ferris, 1998).


This means that the centre of mass is at it's lowest point at midstance, which is a result of knee flexion. The more knee flexion range through stance, the larger the centre of mass drop and the longer one potentially spends in stance phase.


As one moves from walking to jogging to running to sprinting; the lower limb transitions from more 'pendulum-like' to more 'spring-like.'


This shift from pendulum to spring is associated with a change from a heel strike towards a forefoot strike, and a decrease in ground contact time; from longer in walking, to very short in sprinting.


A heel strike is more associated with a pendulum type gait pattern.


A forefoot strike is more associated with a spring-like gait pattern in which the body is attempting to maximise use of elastic energy.


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