‘Haste makes waste’: The tradeoff between walking speed and target-stepping accuracy

Melvyn Roerdink*, Daphne J. Geerse, C. (Lieke) E. Peper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: When environmental conditions require accurate foot placement during walking (e.g., on a rough path), we typically walk slower to avoid tripping, slipping or stumbling. Likewise, hurrying too much is a common situational circumstance of walking-related falls. This suggests a tradeoff between walking speed and stepping accuracy in situations that demand precise foot placement. Research question: How can this expected tradeoff between walking speed and stepping accuracy best be parameterized? Methods: In Experiment 1, participants (n = 20) walked at five different speeds over an irregularly spaced sequence of projected stepping targets. Participants were instructed to place their feet accurately onto the targets, while following a constant-speed cue running alongside the walkway. Stepping accuracy was parameterized as overall (RMSE, root mean square error), variable (VE) and constant (CE) stepping errors, quantified over targets as well as per target. In Experiment 2, we determined preferred walking speed and stepping accuracy for regularly and irregularly spaced stepping targets. Results: Repeated-measures ANOVAs revealed that RMSE and VE grew linearly with increasing speeds, both over targets as well as per target. Per target CE varied in magnitude and sign with variations in inter-target spacing: for shorter inter-target spacing targets were overshot (CE > 0), while for longer inter-target spacing targets were undershot (CE < 0). This effect was stronger for faster speeds and for targets preceded by the shortest and longest inter-target spacing. Preferred walking speed and per-target VE did not differ between regularly and irregularly spaced targets. Significance: Participants stepped less precisely when walking faster. The linear increase in VE with faster speeds was consistent with Schmidt's law regarding the speed-accuracy tradeoff. The systematic comparison of stepping errors over regularly and irregularly spaced stepping-target conditions further provided important clues on how to best parameterize stepping accuracy: per stepping target using VE (i.e., stepping inconsistency), complemented with CE (i.e., stepping bias) in case of irregular inter-target spacing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-116
Number of pages7
JournalGait and Posture
Early online date9 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Precision stepping
  • Speed-accuracy tradeoff
  • Stepping errors
  • Walking speed


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