Effects of obesity on lower extremity muscle function during walking at two speeds

Zachary F. Lerner, Wayne J. Board, Raymond C. Browning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Walking is a recommended form of physical activity for obese adults, yet the effects of obesity and walking speed on the biomechanics of walking are not well understood. The purpose of this study was to examine joint kinematics, muscle force requirements and individual muscle contributions to the walking ground reaction forces (GRFs) at two speeds (1.25ms-1 and 1.50ms-1) in obese and nonobese adults. Vasti (VAS), gluteus medius (GMED), gastrocnemius (GAST), and soleus (SOL) forces and their contributions to the GRFs were estimated using three-dimensional musculoskeletal models scaled to the anthropometrics of nine obese (35.0 (3.78kgm-2)); body mass index mean (SD)) and 10 nonobese (22.1 (1.02kgm-2)) subjects. The obese individuals walked with a straighter knee in early stance at the faster speed and greater pelvic obliquity during single limb support at both speeds. Absolute force requirements were generally greater in obese vs. nonobese adults, the main exception being VAS, which was similar between groups. At both speeds, lean mass (LM) normalized force output for GMED was greater in the obese group. Obese individuals appear to adopt a gait pattern that reduces VAS force output, especially at speeds greater than their preferred walking velocity. Greater relative GMED force requirements in obese individuals may contribute to altered kinematics and increased risk of musculoskeletal injury/pathology. Our results suggest that obese individuals may have relative weakness of the VAS and hip abductor muscles, specifically GMED, which may act to increase their risk of musculoskeletal injury/pathology during walking, and therefore may benefit from targeted muscle strengthening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)978-984
Number of pages7
JournalGait and Posture
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Gait
  • Muscle function
  • Musculoskeletal modeling
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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