If you have ever struggled to keep pace alongside a person with long legs, it may not surprise you that there is a relationship between leg length and walking speed. In fact, your shorter limb length is a crucial factor in determining your maximum possible walking speed, explains anthropologist Dr. David Webb in the "American Journal of Physical Anthropology."
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Though leg length determines your maximum possible walking speed, it is important to note that limb segment proportions also play a crucial role. If maximum possible walking speed was based solely on lower limb length, it follows that if you were to wear stilts, your walking speed would increase dramatically. However, researcher Dr. Françoise Leurs in the "Journal of Experimental Biology" published that having disproportionately long lower limbs, such as when wearing stilts, resulted in no significant change in optimal walking speed. This indicates that walking speed is not dependent solely on leg length; balanced leg proportions, including well-proportioned leg muscles, also play a role, explains Leurs.
On average, the longer your legs, the greater the length of each stride you take when walking, Webb explains. Walking speed is mathematically defined as the distance you have walked over a given period of time, such as one hour. Therefore, if you take the same number of strides as a person with shorter legs in one hour, it is likely that you will have walked faster than him. This is because your stride length is on average longer, and thus you have covered a greater distance over the course of the hour. However, people with shorter legs can still improve stride length by thoroughly stretching their leg muscles, including their hamstrings, quadriceps and hip muscles before walking. This can alleviate tightness in the legs, allowing for increased stride length.
Interestingly, if you take longer strides because you have long legs, then you may experience a lower stride frequency compared to someone with shorter legs. This is because with longer legs, it takes longer on average to make contact with the ground each time you put one leg in front of the other. Therefore, though having long legs may mean greater stride length, it does not necessarily translate to significantly faster walking speed. This is because if you take fewer strides than a person with shorter legs, you may both cover about the same distance over a given time period. If you wish to improve your stride frequency, an easy exercise to do is to have a partner push lightly on your back while you are walking, explains Olympic coach Dr. Nicholas Romanov. This will force you to fall forward slightly, causing you to instinctively put one foot in front of the other more rapidly when walking and effectively increasing your stride frequency.
It is worth mentioning that though longer limb length is linked to maximum possible walking speed, it does not seem to play a significant role in maximum comfortable walking speed, according to Webb. Maximum comfortable walking speed is not determined solely by how fast you can walk, but rather how fast you can walk without exerting an excessive amount of energy. Simply put, this suggests that although people with longer legs can walk faster, there is no evidence showing that they necessarily do walk faster on a daily basis, when they do not wish to expend too much energy.