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We examined how the application of a forward horizontal force applied at the waist alters the metabolic cost, kinematics, and external work of gait. Horizontal assist forces of 4%, 8% and 12% of a subject’s body weight were applied via our testing apparatus while subjects walked at comfortable walking speed on a level treadmill. Kinematic and metabolic parameters were measured using motion capture and ergospirometry respectively on a group of 10 healthy male subjects. Changes in kinematic and metabolic parameters were quantified and found similar to walking downhill at varying grades. A horizontal assist force of 8% resulted in the greatest reduction of metabolic cost. Changes in recovery factor, external work, and center of mass (COM) movement did not correlate with changes in metabolic rate and therefore were not driving the observed reductions in cost. The assist force may have performed external work by providing propulsion as well as raising the COM as it pivots over the stance leg. Assist forces may decrease metabolic cost by reducing the concentric work required for propulsion while increasing the eccentric work of braking. These findings on the effects of assist forces suggest novel mobility aids for individuals with gait disorders and training strategies for athletes.
Christopher A. Zirker (Corresponding Author) is with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Bradford C. Bennett is with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and with the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Mark F. Abel is with the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.