European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 90, Issue 5–6, pp 554–561 | Cite as

Variability of gait patterns during unconstrained walking assessed by satellite positioning (GPS)

Original Article


It is established that the ratio between step length (SL) and step frequency (SF) is constant over a large range of walking speed. However, few data are available about the spontaneous variability of this ratio during unconstrained outdoor walking, in particular over a sufficient number of steps. The purpose of the present study was to assess the inter- and intra-subject variability of spatio-temporal gait characteristics [SL, SF and walk ratio (WR=SL/SF)] while walking at different freely selected speeds. Twelve healthy subjects walked three times along a 100-m athletic track at: (1) a slower than preferred speed, (2) preferred speed and (3) a faster than preferred speed. Two professional GPS receivers providing 3D positions assessed the walking speed and SF with high precision (less than 0.5% error). Intra-subject variability was calculated as the variation among eight consecutive 5-s samples. WR was found to be constant at preferred and fast speeds [0.41 (0.04) m·s and 0.41 (0.05) m·s respectively] but was higher at slow speeds [0.44 (0.05) m·s]. In other words, between slow and preferred speed, the speed increase was mediated more by a change in SF than SL. The intra-subject variability of WR was low under preferred [CV, coefficient of variation = 1.9 (0.6)%] and fast [CV=1.8 (0.5)%] speed conditions, but higher under low speed condition [CV=4.1 (1.5)%]. On the other hand, the inter-subject variability of WR was 11%, 10% and 12% at slow, preferred and fast walking speeds respectively. It is concluded that the GPS method is able to capture basic gait parameters over a short period of time (5 s). A specific gait pattern for slow walking was observed. Furthermore, it seems that the walking patterns in free-living conditions exhibit low intra-individual variability, but that there is substantial variability between subjects.


Gait Human locomotion Step frequency Step length Walk ratio 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhysiologyUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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