Leg swing in human walking has historically been viewed as a passive motion with little metabolic cost. Recent estimates of leg swing costs are equivocal, covering a range from 10 to 33 per cent of the net cost of walking. There has also been a debate as to whether the periods of double-limb support during the stance phase dominate the cost of walking. Part of this uncertainty is because of our inability to measure metabolic energy consumption in individual muscles during locomotion. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the metabolic cost of walking using a modelling approach that allowed instantaneous energy consumption rates in individual muscles to be estimated over the full gait cycle. At a typical walking speed and stride rate, leg swing represented 29 per cent of the total muscular cost. During the stance phase, the double-limb and single-limb support periods accounted for 27 and 44 per cent of the total cost, respectively. Performing step-to-step transitions, which encompasses more than just the double-support periods, represented 37 per cent of the total cost of walking. Increasing stride rate at a constant speed led to greater double-limb support costs, lower swing phase costs and no change in single-limb support costs. Together, these results provide unique insight as to how metabolic energy is expended over the human gait cycle.
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