How animals move: Comparative lessons on animal locomotion

Paul J. Schaeffer, Stan L. Lindstedt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Comparative physiology often provides unique insights in animal structure and function. It is specifically through this lens that we discuss the fundamental properties of skeletal muscle and animal locomotion, incorporating variation in body size and evolved difference among species. For example, muscle frequencies in vivo are highly constrained by body size, which apparently tunes muscle use to maximize recovery of elastic recoil potential energy. Secondary to this constraint, there is an expected linking of skeletal muscle structural and functional properties. Muscle is relatively simple structurally, but by changing proportions of the few muscle components, a diverse range of functional outputs is possible. Thus, there is a consistent and predictable relation between muscle function and myocyte composition that illuminates animal locomotion. When animals move, the mechanical properties of muscle diverge from the static textbook force-velocity relations described by A. V. Hill, as recovery of elastic potential energy together with force and power enhancement with activation during stretch combine to modulate performance. These relations are best understood through the tool of work loops. Also, when animals move, locomotion is often conveniently categorized energetically. Burst locomotion is typified by high-power outputs and short durations while sustained, cyclic, locomotion engages a smaller fraction of the muscle tissue, yielding lower force and power. However, closer examination reveals that rather than a dichotomy, energetics of locomotion is a continuum. There is a remarkably predictable relationship between duration of activity and peak sustainable performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-314
Number of pages26
JournalComprehensive Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'How animals move: Comparative lessons on animal locomotion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this