The energy cost of walking could be attributed to energy related to the walking movement and energy related to balance control. In order to differentiate between both components we investigated the energy cost of walking an enforced step pattern, thereby perturbing balance while the walking movement is preserved.Nine healthy subjects walked three times at comfortable walking speed on an instrumented treadmill. The first trial consisted of unconstrained walking. In the next two trials, subject walked while following a step pattern projected on the treadmill. The steps projected were either composed of the averaged step characteristics (periodic trial), or were an exact copy including the variability of the steps taken while walking unconstrained (variable trial).Metabolic energy cost was assessed and center of pressure profiles were analyzed to determine task performance, and to gain insight into the balance control strategies applied.Results showed that the metabolic energy cost was significantly higher in both the periodic and variable trial (8% and 13%, respectively) compared to unconstrained walking. The variation in center of pressure trajectories during single limb support was higher when a gait pattern was enforced, indicating a more active ankle strategy. The increased metabolic energy cost could originate from increased preparatory muscle activation to ensure proper foot placement and a more active ankle strategy to control for lateral balance. These results entail that metabolic energy cost of walking can be influenced significantly by control strategies that do not necessary alter global gait characteristics. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
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