The role of plantigrady and heel-strike in the mechanics and energetics of human walking with implications for the evolution of the human foot
Human bipedal locomotion is characterized by a habitual heel-strike (HS) plantigrade gait, yet the significance of walking foot-posture is not well understood. To date, researchers have not fully investigated the costs of non-heel-strike (NHS) walking. Therefore, we examined walking speed, walk-to-run transition speed, estimated locomotor costs (lower limb muscle volume activated during walking), impact transient (rapid increase in ground force at touchdown) and effective limb length (ELL) in subjects (n=14) who walked at self-selected speeds using HS and NHS gaits. HS walking increases ELL compared with NHS walking since the center of pressure translates anteriorly from heel touchdown to toe-off. NHS gaits led to decreased absolute walking speeds (P=0.012) and walk-to-run transition speeds (P=0.0025), and increased estimated locomotor energy costs (P<0.0001) compared with HS gaits. These differences lost significance after using the dynamic similarity hypothesis to account for the effects of foot landing posture on ELL. Thus, reduced locomotor costs and increased maximum walking speeds in HS gaits are linked to the increased ELL compared with NHS gaits. However, HS walking significantly increases impact transient values at all speeds (P<0.0001). These trade-offs may be key to understanding the functional benefits of HS walking. Given the current debate over the locomotor mechanics of early hominins and the range of foot landing postures used by nonhuman apes, we suggest the consistent use of HS gaits provides key locomotor advantages to striding bipeds and may have appeared early in hominin evolution.