Navigation Links
Human use heel first gait because it is efficient for walking

Most running mammals totter along on their toes. In fact, toe running is far more efficient than landing heel first like humans. Yet when it comes to long distance endurance running, humans are some of the best-adapted animals for clocking up the miles, all be it inefficiently. So, why have we stuck with our inefficient heel first footfall pattern when the rest of our bodies are honed for marathon running? This paradox puzzled Nadja Schilling and Christoph Anders from the Jena University, Germany, and Christopher Cunningham and David Carrier from the University of Utah, USA, until they began to wonder whether our distinctive heel first gait, inherited from our ape forefathers, might be an advantage when we walk. The team put young healthy volunteers through their paces to find out why we walk and run heel first and publish their results on 12 February 2010 in The Journal of Experimental Biology at

Measuring the amount of oxygen consumed as their human subjects walked, the team asked the volunteers to walk in one of three different ways: normally, with the heel contacting the ground first; toes first, with the heel slightly raised so that it didn't contact the ground; and up on tip-toes. Then the scientists asked the athletes to repeat the experiments while running heel first and with their heels slightly raised. Calculating the amount of energy required to run and walk, the team found that walking with the heel slightly raised costs 53% more energy than walking heel first, and walking on tip-toe was even less economical. However, there was no difference between the runners' efficiencies when they ran with flat feet and up on their toes.

Our 'heel first' gait makes us incredibly efficient walkers, while both postures are equally efficient for runners. Human walkers burn roughly 70% less energy than human runners when covering the same distance. However, this efficiency would be completely wiped out if we switched to walking on our toes. 'Our ability to walk economically may largely be the result of our plantigrade [heel first] posture,' says Carrier.

But why is heel walking so much more efficient than walking on our toes? To find out, Carrier and his colleagues asked volunteers to run and walk at various speeds in the three postures while recording electrical activity in their muscles to see if the heel first walkers were saving energy by using their muscles differently from toe first walkers. The team also measured the volunteers' metabolic cost of standing on their toes, to find out if increasing stability saved energy, and the forces exerted by the ground on the volunteers' bodies, in case they were reduced in any way that could result in an energy saving.

Analysing the results, the team realised that we lose less energy as our heels collide with the ground than we do when we walk toes first. Landing heel first also allows us to transfer more energy from one step to the next to improve our efficiency, while placing the foot flat on the ground reduces the forces around the ankle (generated by the ground pushing against us), which our muscles have to counteract, resulting in another energy saving.

So we still use our ancestor's heel first gait because it makes us better walkers and Carrier adds, 'Given the great distances hunter-gatherers travel, it is not surprising that humans are economical walkers'.


Contact: Kathryn Knight
The Company of Biologists

Related biology news :

1. New book examines the flawed human body
2. Scientists identify first genetic variant linked to biological aging in humans
3. New adhesive device could let humans walk on walls
4. Magnetic nanoparticles show promise for combating human cancer
5. Bees recognize human faces using feature configuration
6. March of Dimes awards $250,000 prize to scientist who discovered how to reprogram human cells
7. NIGMS awards contract to expand human genetic cell repository
8. Researchers correct the record about behavior of important human protein tied to cancer
9. New study: Human running speeds of 35 to 40 mph may be biologically possible
10. New way to generate abundant functional blood vessel cells from human stem cells discovered
11. Oral COTI-2 is effective in a second animal model of human pancreatic cancer
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/2/2015)... Nov. 2, 2015  SRI International has been awarded ... preclinical development services to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) ... provide scientific expertise, modern testing and support facilities, and ... pharmacology and toxicology studies to evaluate potential cancer prevention ... The PREVENT Cancer Drug Development Program is an NCI-supported ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015 Daon, a global leader in mobile ... a new version of its IdentityX Platform , ... America have already installed IdentityX v4.0 and ... FIDO UAF certified server component as an ... FIDO features. These customers include some of the largest ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , October 29, 2015 ... biometric authentication company focused on the growing mobile ... wallet announces that StackCommerce, a leading marketplace to ... featuring the Wocket® smart wallet on StackSocial for ... ) ("NXT-ID" or the "Company"), a biometric authentication ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its Executive Council, has officially ... to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV racing has exploded in ... racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the community because of their ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... FRANCISCO , Nov. 24, 2015  Twist ... announced that Emily Leproust, Ph.D., Twist Bioscience chief ... Jaffray Healthcare Conference on December 1, 2015 at ... Hotel in New York City. --> ... . Twist Bioscience is on Twitter. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015 Capricor Therapeutics, Inc. ... the discovery, development and commercialization of first-in-class therapeutics, today ... Officer, is scheduled to present at the 2015 Piper ... a.m. EST, at The Lotte New York Palace Hotel ... . --> . ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 According to two new ... 2005. This is something that many doctors, scientists, and public ... questions remains: with fewer PSA tests being done, will there ... Dr. David Samadi, "Despite the efforts made ... remains the second leading cancer cause of death in men, ...
Breaking Biology Technology: