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The Effects of Adding Mass to the Legs on the Energetics and Biomechanics of Walking


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 3 - p 515-525
doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31802b3562

Purpose: The metabolic cost of walking increases when mass is added to the legs, but the effects of load magnitude and location on the energetics and biomechanics of walking are unclear. We hypothesized that with leg loading 1) net metabolic rate would be related to the moment of inertia of the leg (I leg), 2) kinematics would be conserved, except for heavy foot loads, and 3) swing-phase sagittal-plane net muscle moments and swing-phase leg-muscle electromyography (EMG) would increase.

Methods: Five adult males walked on a force-measuring treadmill at 1.25 m·s−1 with no load and with loads of 2 and 4 kg per foot and shank, 4 and 8 kg per thigh, and 4, 8, and 16 kg on the waist. We recorded metabolic rate and sagittal-plane kinematics and net muscle moments about the hip, knee, and ankle during the single-stance and swing phases, and EMG of key leg muscles.

Results: Net metabolic rate during walking increased with load mass and more distal location and was correlated with I leg (r 2 = 0.43). Thigh loading was relatively inexpensive, helping to explain why the metabolic rate during walking is not strongly affected by body mass distribution. Kinematics, single-stance and swing-phase muscle moments, and EMG were similar while walking with no load or with waist, thigh, or shank loads. The increase in net metabolic rate with foot loading was associated with greater EMG of muscles that initiate leg swing and greater swing-phase muscle moments.

Conclusions: Distal leg loads increase the metabolic rate required for swinging the leg. The increase in metabolic rate with more proximal loads may be attributable to a combination of supporting (via hip abduction muscles) and propagating the swing leg.

1Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO; and 2Honda Research Institute, Mountain View, CA

Address for correspondence: Raymond Browning, Ph.D., Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 4200 E. 9th Ave., C263, Denver, CO 80262; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2006.

Accepted for publication October 2006.

©2007The American College of Sports Medicine