The trajectory of the heel and toe during the swing phase of human gait were analyzed on young adults. The magnitude and variability of minimum toe clearance and heel-contact velocity were documented on 10 repeat walking trials on 11 subjects. The energetics that controlled step length resulted from a separate study of 55 walking trials conducted on subjects walking at slow, natural, and fast cadences. A sensitivity analysis of the toe clearance and heel-contact velocity measures revealed the individual changes at each joint in the link-segment chain that could be responsible for changes in those measures. Toe clearance was very small (1.29 cm) and had low variability (about 4 mm). Heel-contact velocity was negligible vertically and small (0.87 m/s) horizontally. Six joints in the link-segment chain could, with very small changes (+/- 0.86 degrees – +/- 3.3 degrees), independently account for toe clearance variability. Only one muscle group in the chain (swing-phase hamstring muscles) could be responsible for altering the heel-contact velocity prior to heel contact. Four mechanical power phases in gait (ankle push-off, hip pull-off, knee extensor eccentric power at push-off, and knee flexor eccentric power prior to heel contact) could alter step length and cadence. These analyses demonstrate that the safe trajectory of the foot during swing is a precise endpoint control task that is under the multisegment motor control of both the stance and swing limbs.
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