In walking, humans prefer a moderate step width that minimizes energetic cost and vary step width from step-to-step to maintain lateral balance. Arm swing also reduces energetic cost and improves lateral balance. In running, humans prefer a narrow step width that may present a challenge for maintaining lateral balance. However, arm swing in running may improve lateral balance and help reduce energetic cost. To understand the roles of step width and arm swing, we hypothesized that net metabolic power would be greater at step widths greater or less than preferred and when running without arm swing. We further hypothesized that step width variability (indicator of lateral balance) would be greater at step widths greater or less than preferred and when running without arm swing. Ten subjects ran (3. m/s) at four target step widths (0%, 15%, 20%, and 25% leg length (LL)) with arm swing, at their preferred step width with arm swing, and at their preferred step width without arm swing. We measured metabolic power, step width, and step width variability. When subjects ran at target step widths less (0% LL) or greater (15%, 20%, and 25% LL) than preferred, both net metabolic power demand (by 3%, 9%, 12%, and 15%) and step width variability (by 7%, 33%, 46%, and 69%) increased. When running without arm swing, both net metabolic power demand (by 8%) and step width variability (by 9%) increased compared to running with arm swing. It appears that humans prefer to run with a narrow step width and swing their arms so as to minimize energetic cost and improve lateral balance. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
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