Development of pendulum mechanism and kinematic coordination from the first unsupported steps in toddlers

Yuri P. Ivanenko, Nadia Dominici, Germana Cappellini, Bernard Dan, Guy Cheron, Francesco Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The inverted pendulum model in which the centre of mass of the body vaults over the stance leg in an arc represents a basic mechanism of bipedal walking. Is the pendulum mechanism innate, or is it learnt through walking experience? We studied eight toddlers (about 1 year old) at their first unsupported steps, 18 older children (1.3-13 years old), and ten adults. Two infants were also tested repeatedly over a period of 4 months before the onset of independent walking. Pendulum mechanism was quantified from the kinematics of the greater trochanter, correlation between kinetic and gravitational potential energy of the centre of body mass obtained from the force plate recordings, and percentage of recovery of mechanical energy. In toddlers, these parameters deviated significantly (P-5) from those of older children and adults, indicating that the pendulum mechanism is not implemented at the onset of unsupported locomotion. Normalising the speed with the Froude number showed that the percentage of recovery of mechanical energy in children older than 2 years was roughly similar to that of the adults (less than 5% difference), in agreement with previous results. By contrast, the percentage of recovery in toddlers was much lower (by about 50%). Pendulum-like behaviour and fixed coupling of the angular motion of the lower limb segments rapidly co-evolved toward mature values within a few months of independent walking experience. Independent walking experience acts as a functional trigger of the developmental changes, as shown by the observation that gait parameters remained unchanged until the age of the first unsupported steps, and then rapidly matured after that age. The findings suggest that the pendulum mechanism is not an inevitable mechanical consequence of a system of linked segments, but requires active neural control and an appropriate pattern of inter-segmental coordination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3797-3810
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2004


  • Child
  • Gravity
  • Locomotion
  • Pendulum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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