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Browne MG and Franz JR, Does dynamic stability govern propulsive force generation in human walking? Royal Society Open Science (In Press).

Abstract. Before succumbing to slower speeds, older adults may walk with a diminished push-off to prioritize stability over mobility. However, direct evidence for tradeoffs between push-off intensity and balance control in human walking, independent of changes in speed, has remained elusive. As a critical first step, we conducted two experiments to investigate: (i) the independent effects of walking speed and propulsive force (FP) generation on dynamic stability in young adults, and (ii) the extent to which young adults prioritize dynamic stability in selecting their preferred combination of walking speed and FP generation. Subjects walked on a force-measuring treadmill across a range of speeds as well as at constant speeds while modulating their FP according to a visual biofeedback paradigm based on real-time force measurements.  In contrast to improvements when walking slower, walking with a diminished push-off worsened dynamic stability by up to 32%. Rather, we find that young adults adopt an FP at their preferred walking speed that maximizes dynamic stability. One implication of these findings is that the onset of a diminished push-off in old age may independently contribute to poorer balance control and precipitate slower walking speeds.

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