Date of Original Version




PubMed ID


Rights Management

© 2013 Collins, Kuo. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Abstract or Description

Human walking exhibits small variations in both step length and step width, some of which may be related to active balance control. Lateral balance is thought to require integrative sensorimotor control through adjustment of step width rather than length, contributing to greater variability in step width. Here we propose that step length variations are largely explained by the typical human preference for step length to increase with walking speed, which itself normally exhibits some slow and spontaneous fluctuation. In contrast, step width variations should have little relation to speed if they are produced more for lateral balance. As a test, we examined hundreds of overground walking steps by healthy young adults (N = 14, age < 40 yrs.). We found that slow fluctuations in self-selected walking speed (2.3% coefficient of variation) could explain most of the variance in step length (59%, P < 0.01). The residual variability not explained by speed was small (1.5% coefficient of variation), suggesting that step length is actually quite precise if not for the slow speed fluctuations. Step width varied over faster time scales and was independent of speed fluctuations, with variance 4.3 times greater than that for step length (P < 0.01) after accounting for the speed effect. That difference was further magnified by walking with eyes closed, which appears detrimental to control of lateral balance. Humans appear to modulate fore-aft foot placement in precise accordance with slow fluctuations in walking speed, whereas the variability of lateral foot placement appears more closely related to balance. Step variability is separable in both direction and time scale into balance- and speed-related components. The separation of factors not related to balance may reveal which aspects of walking are most critical for the nervous system to control.



Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



Published In

PLoS One, 8, 8, 73597-73597.