Muscle force production during bent-knee, bent-hip walking in humans

Adam D. Foster, David A. Raichlen, Herman Pontzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Researchers have long debated the locomotor posture used by the earliest bipeds. While many agree that by 3-4Ma (millions of years ago), hominins walked with an extended-limb human style of bipedalism, researchers are still divided over whether the earliest bipeds walked like modern humans, or walked with a more bent-knee, bent-hip (BKBH) ape-like form of locomotion. Since more flexed postures are associated with higher energy costs, reconstructing early bipedal mechanics has implications for the selection pressures that led to upright walking. The purpose of this study is to determine how modern human anatomy functions in BKBH walking to clarify the links between morphology and energy costs in different mechanical regimes. Using inverse dynamics, we calculated muscle force production at the major limb joints in humans walking in two modes, both with extended limbs and BKBH. We found that in BKBH walking, humans must produce large muscle forces at the knee to support body weight, leading to higher estimated energy costs. However, muscle forces at the hip remained similar in BKBH and extended limb walking, suggesting that anatomical adaptations for hip extension in humans do not necessarily diminish the effective mechanical advantage at the hip in more flexed postures. We conclude that the key adaptations for economical walking, regardless of joint posture, seem to center on maintaining low muscle forces at the hip, primarily by keeping low external moments at the hip. We explore the implications of these results for interpreting locomotor energetics in early hominins, including australopithecines and Ardipithecus ramidus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-302
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of human evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Chimpanzee
  • Energetics
  • Evolution of bipedalism
  • Locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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