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Humans using a running gait. Note the "suspended phase" in which neither foot touches the ground.

Human gait is the way locomotion is achieved using human limbs. Different gaits are characterized by differences in limb movement patterns, overall velocity, forces, kinetic and potential energy cycles, and changes in the contact with the surface (ground, floor, etc).



In common with other gaits, walking involves progression by alternating periods of loading and unloading. In walking, as distinct from running, at least one limb is always in contact with the ground. In bipedal locomotion, this results in periods of double support, in which both limbs make contact for some time in the gait cycle. In running, this double support phase is lost and replaced by a flight phase, in which no limb is in contact with the ground.

Walking is the most common human gait. It is characterized by alternating steps of left and right lower limbs. It generally provides useful speeds of progression for daily activities with near-optimal energy efficiency.



Backpedaling is a walk in the opposite direction without changing facing.


Similar to backpedaling, the moonwalk is a walk in an opposite direction, but the subject seems to be stepping forward instead. The term moonwalk as a dance form was popularized by the late Michael Jackson in the mid 1980s.

Bear walk

Also known as tick-tock, the bear walk is the only non-practical walk. It is essentially a walk or a march (bear march), where each arm is brought up with the leg on the same side rather than the opposite side. This twists the body, and is inefficient and less comfortable; however it has some rhythm and so does not automatically switch to phase with the opposite leg. This can also happen early in footdrill training, where the recruit may suddenly find themselves in an awkward gait.


Carry is a walk where the body is shifted forward so that the centre of mass remains either equidistant (carry-walk) or on the front foot (carry-march). This is used for carrying weight on the back.

Ghost walk

A ghost walk is designed for minimum sound. This is the quietest of all ways of moving on a surface. A regular walk has the heel landing first then the flat (with the body's weight), then a push off from the toes. Ghost walk has the heel landing first, followed by the outer ridge and then a push off from the toe. The weight is distributed during the entire movement, rather than suddenly.

See also: sneak and tiptoe

Fox walk

Similar to the ghost walk, but instead of landing on the heel and rolling to the outer ridge of the foot, the walker lands first on the outer edge of the ball of the foot, then places his weight fully on the ball, then sets the edge and heel down. This form of walking is very deliberate and quiet but also slower than most gaits. Often weight is kept on the standing leg until the walker is ready to place his forward foot rather than pitching his weight forward in anticipation of the next step. The forward leg is bent at the knee, not locked, allowing the foot to move straight up and down vis-a-vis the ground. It is a useful gait for people who are walking barefoot, particularly on rough or dangerous surfaces because the walker can quickly pull away from a dangerous step before committing to it. Also they can avoid stepping on an object that would make noise. This gait can be performed bent over or in a squat as in the stalk or prowl, described below.

Hand walking

An acro dancer handwalks across the stage.

Hand walking is when the walker moves primarily using their hands.

Knee walk

Also known as shikkō in Japanese martial arts (especially aikido), a 2-beat gait that starts with one foot and the other knee on the ground. The kneeling foot is brought forward and the standing foot rotates down to a kneel. This is used to keep the centre-of-mass as close to the ground as possible (by force or volition), while still being able to move and fight.


Marching is typically only used in the military or marching bands. It is a sub-gait because it is in essence walking. The main differences are that side-to-side motion is virtually removed and the weight is placed on the leading foot, rather than equidistant between the two, as in walk. This produces a highly efficient, high speed walk which is far more energy efficient than running and can produce 2x to 4x a typical walk's speed.[citation needed]

Speed walking

Speed (or race) walking is a modified walk where the leg must be straight as it passes below the hip, which is not a requirement for marching. This is mainly because a march will often cause a person to overstep, and that marching is but slightly off of running and would be extremely difficult to tell the difference in a race.


A sub-gait of walking where, if the feet are brought off the ground, it is done only so much as necessary. Useful for when one is in weakened state or lazy, especially for soft ground such as snow and sand. More energy-wasteful than walking on hard ground.

Stalk or prowl

A stalk or prowl is essentially a walk while in a full squat. This is designed to be a walk that maintains a low profile. A good soldier can keep the profile as low as a regular crawl.


A runner at a track


Running is nearly identical to walking or marching except that the person is actually airborne once each beat. This is the chief high-speed gait of humans. The beats happen faster and the distance traveled per-beat is also much higher. Running requires much more energy than walking. A well-trained human can run continuously for hours at a time (see marathon).


Jogging is a sub-gait of run where the pace is much less and the legs nearly never go out of the body's centreline.


Sprinting is to running what marching is to walking. It requires running as fast as one can for a defined length, resulting in the speed being much greater than the conventional "run" or "jog". The weight is put on top of or even beyond the front foot. This will quickly cause the person to become winded.

Airborne shuffle

Essentially half-way between marching and jogging, where the feet are pulled just off the ground. This is to provide a middle ground between marching and jogging.


Babies usually learn to crawl before they develop walking skills. Crawls can refer to the specific gait or to any gait involving the arms and legs. Crawling is used mainly:

  • When he/she cannot walk because of being an infant or due to disability or being wounded or sick.
  • In very low places (caves, under a table, in a mine, etc.). Sometimes underground miners need to crawl long distances during their work.
  • When searching for something on the ground.
  • To get down to the ground in gardening, for maintenance or other work-related purposes which require a good reach on the ground
  • For stealth (camouflage and quietness)
  • To lower the field of vision
  • For fun or comical purposes.


Crawling is a specific 4-beat gait involving the hands and knees. A typical crawl is left-hand, right-knee, right-hand, left-knee, or a hand, the diagonal knee, the other hand then its diagonal knee. This is the first gait most humans learn, and is really only practical during early childhood, or when looking for something on the floor or under low relief. It can be used to move with a lower silhouette, but there are better crawls for that purpose. This is the most natural of the crawls and is the one that requires the least effort.

Bear crawl

The bear crawl is almost identical to the regular crawl, but the feet are used instead of the knees, which creates an arched or squatted body posture. This works as a faster crawl but requires more effort to maintain.

See also: The Family That Walks On All Fours

Crab crawl

The crab crawl is an upside down bear crawl. This is the most unnatural of the crawls, requiring the most effort, and is used in crab soccer. The crab crawl starts by sitting down with the feet and hands flat on the ground, the hips are then raised off the ground and the chest faces the sky. Due to its inefficiency, it is more commonly used as a form of exercise than actual transportation. Crabwalking builds triceps endurance [1] and arm and leg strength, and is a recommended exercise of various school athletic departments and soccer organizations (such as USA Football. Because of its unusual appearance, crabwalking has been used in several horror films to suggest the demonic possession of a character. These have included The Exorcist and The Unborn.

The crab crawl is also useful for descending steep slopes with poor traction. Its feet-first orientation ensures a low center of mass to prevent tumbling, while the inverted posture allows one to see where he or she is going.

Leopard crawl/Low crawl

The leopard crawl is a military-specific crawl. There are two versions, the leopard crawl proper and a modified version for when carrying weapons in the hands. This is a two-beat gait like a trot: an arm/elbow is advanced with the diagonal knee. This is designed for the smallest silhouette possible, and the body is often nearly or actually touching the ground, and although the elbow and knee are the main focus, most of the respective limbs touch the ground.

Tiger crawl

The tiger crawl is essentially a highly accelerated combination between crawl and leopard crawl. It uses the hands and the knees/feet depending upon the situation, while maintaining a silhouette almost as small as that of the leopard crawl. This is relatively fast gait but can take large amounts of energy.



Hopping is a 1-beat gait on either one or two feet. 1-foot hops are practical when a limb is no longer usable.


A 3-beat, 4-beat, or 6-beat gait where a foot is repeated (i.e. LLR, RRL, etc. but there are many variations thereof: L,L,R,R, etc.) It is typically considered an expression of giddiness, but it can be used in the place of run when one limb is injured but can still be used (mild sprain).


Half-way between a run and a skip. A three-beat gait (i.e. R,R,L or L,L,R) in which between the second and the third beats there is basically a run. There are three types "The fast skun", "The slow skun", and "The fancy skun."


A two-beat gait similar to walk except that one of the paces is significantly shorter than the other. This is done to protect an injured limb. Often called a "limp."


A two-beat gait where one foot is moved to the side and the other is brought to meet (rather than pass) it. This is used for moving sideways.


Computer gaming jargon for a two-beat gait where one foot is moved to the side and the other is brought past it. This term is popularly used to describe sideways movement by the player in first-person shooters.


A movement from a seated position, where the person moves forward by pulling the feet in towards the body. This is typically performed by infants who are not yet able to crawl.

Foot strike

One variable in different gaits is foot strike – how the foot contacts the ground, specifically which part of the foot first contacts the ground.

  • forefoot strike – toe-heel: ball of foot lands first
  • midfoot strike – heel and ball land simultaneously
  • heel strike – heel-toe: heel of foot lands, then pronates to ball

In sprinting, gait typically features a forefoot strike, but the heel does not contact the ground.

Some researchers classify foot strikes by the initial center of pressure; this is mostly applicable to shod running (running while wearing shoes).[1] In this classification:

  • a rearfoot strike (heel strike) has the initial center of pressure in the rear third of the shoe (0–33% of shoe length);
  • a midfoot strike is in the middle third (34–67% of shoe length);
  • a forefoot strike is in the front third (68–100% of shoe length).

Foot strike varies to some degree between strides, and between individuals. It varies significantly and notably between walking and running, and between wearing shoes (shod) and not wearing shoes (barefoot).

Typically, barefoot walking features heel or midfoot strike, while barefoot running features midfoot or forefoot strike. Barefoot running rarely features heel strike, because the impact is painful, the human heel pad not absorbing much of the force of impact.[2][3]

By contrast, 75% of runners wearing modern running shoes strike;[4][5] running shoes being characterized by a padded sole, stiff soles and arch support, and sloping down from a more padded heel to a less padded forefoot.

The cause of this change in gait in shod running is unknown, and may vary between individuals. In some individuals the gait is largely unchanged – the leg position and foot position are identical in barefoot and shod running – but the wedge shape of the padding moving the point of impact back from the forefoot to the midfoot.[6] In other cases it is conjectured that the padding of the heel softens the impact and resulting in runner modifying their gait to contact further back in the foot.[5]

Whether this change in gait has health effects is unknown, and as of 2010 no studies exist demonstrating whether forefoot striking or heel striking is associated with higher injury rate. It is hypothesized that the impact of heel strikes is a cause of the high rates of repetitive stress injuries in shod runners, but has not been studied.[5]


In a forefoot strike, the foot functions as a spring, flexing to absorb the impact, then releasing the energy as it bounces back.

In a heel strike, the foot pronates, with the center of weight rolling around the foot from the heel (where it impacts) around to the metatarsal.

Gender differences

There are many gender differences in human gait, females walk with lesser step width and more pelvic movement.[7] Gait analysis generally takes gender into consideration.[8] Females walking with hip sway, and males walking with swagger in shoulder generally have more physical attractiveness.[9] A study by Stuart Brody of the University of the West of Scotland says female gait reflects orgasmic ability.[10]

Military paces

In the military there are various standard paces:

  • Quick March: The basic mobility. 120-beats/min, 75 cm (30") pace.
  • Double March: The basic run. 240-beats/min.
  • Highland March: Regiment specific pace, 80-beats/min. Used when wearing kilts.
  • Rifle March: Regiment specific pace, 180-beats/min.
  • Slow March: Ceremonial pace, 40-60 beats/min.
  • Parade March: Usually seen combined with music, ~108 beats/min. in the UK, ~120 beats/min. in the USA
  • Paso legionario: Specific march used by the Spanish Legion, 144 beats/min, embodiment of their "espiritu de marcha".

There are various other requirements for marching (excluding 2x-time.) The British and her Commonwealth bring their arms chest-pocket high. Countries of the Eastern Bloc often have the leg kept straight on the forward pace. These actually aid in maintaining speed and increase efficiency for long range travel.

See also


  1. ^ Running Before the Modern Running Shoe
  2. ^ Ker et al., 1995
  3. ^ Chi and Schmitt, 2005, J Biomech. 2005 Jul;38(7):1387-95. Epub 2004 Nov 30., Mechanical energy and effective foot mass during impact loading of walking and running., Department of Biology, Duke University
  4. ^ Foot Strike Patterns of Runners At the 15-Km Point : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Hasegawa et al., 2007).
  5. ^ a b c Modern Running Shoes & Heel Striking, Daniel Lieberman, Harvard University
  6. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named before; see Help:Cite error.
  7. ^ Gender differences in three dimensional gait analysis data from 98 healthy Korean adults, Clinical Biomechanics. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2003.10.003
  8. ^ BMLWalker V1.8, The Biomotion Lab. Gait animation.
  9. ^ Clues To Mysteries Of Physical Attractiveness Revealed, Science Daily, May 24, 2007
  10. ^ Gait may be associated with orgasmic ability, Eureka! Science News, September 4, 2008

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