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It is understandable why it is tiring to walk faster than one's normal pace in order to keep up with someone younger and/or fitter than oneself. Simple physics: one is exerting more energy per unit time than one can sustain.

But walking at a slower pace than is natural is also tiring. And resting doesn't help -- to the contrary. Does anyone have an explanation for why this is so?

  • I guess it's could related to, as an analogy, lifting weights slower to improve strength and faster to burn fat. – Desorder Apr 1 '16 at 0:42
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    Probably for the same reason your legs fatigue so fast following your wife through the mall... The ever so fatiguing window shopping slow shuffle... – ShemSeger Apr 1 '16 at 4:54
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    @ShemSeger might have a point. The slow shopping walk loses you the swinging momentum of striding. Walking at an unfamiliarly slow pace could do the same. Though you could probably train yourself for a slow steady walk. You might also take more shorter steps, with an associated energy cost. But I imagine frustration plays a big part. The same pace with the same load will be more tiring (for both of you) if you're anxious to get a move on than if you're in a more relaxed state - out on a group hike with some friends and lots of chatting. – Chris H Apr 1 '16 at 5:57
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    I'd assume that's because your muscles are fit to your usual speed - changing that changes the whole mechanics of your movement which leads to different muscle loads, i.e. not ones you're used to. And of course that's momentum thing @ChrisH mentions - I'd assume that walking slower you can't use 'spring' mechanics of your body effectively. – Usurer Apr 1 '16 at 15:25
  • "But walking at a slower pace than is natural is also tiring" -- I don't think this is a universal thing. My wife is slower than me and I've never gotten more tired by hiking her pace. – Russell Steen Apr 1 '16 at 19:14
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In general every individual has a natural walking cadence (steps per minute) and they vary their actual speed by increasing or decreasing stride length. Even amongst a very fit group the most comfortable natural pace will vary and some people will be built for speed on the flat while some stroll up brutal hills others will happily carry their own bodyweight in kit at a steady pace over any terrain.

However the degree to which you can vary pace is limited and there is a point where your strides are uncomfortably long or (as in this case) short to maintain an efficient gait.

The main reason for this is that natural walking is effectively a whole series of fallings forward ie you aren't pulling yourself forward with your feet you are swinging your centre of mass forward and moving your feet to maintain balance. So your natural gait is a lot like a pendulum and like a pendulum it has a natural frequency.

As this happens you are transferring energy around a bit like a slinky falling down some steps, although some energy is lost each step a natural walking pace will conserve quite a lot from one to the next.

If you have to move too slowly the your gait becomes a sequence of individual steps rather than a smooth flow from one stance to another and rather than a recycling the energy of each step you end up using energy to hold yourself back and check your stride.

This is exacerbated if you are carrying a pack as you end up accelerating and decelerating it with every step rather than keeping your centre of mass moving at a fairly constant velocity.

In practice if you are walking with someone who is struggling it is best for everybody for you to take some of their gear and/or for you to continue at your own pace for a while and then stop and wait for them.

Also if someone is having trouble have a group rest and find out if there is any underlying reason why they are struggling, if they are carrying too much weight, are dehydrated, hungry ete etc it is better for the group as a whole to solve that issue than let them struggle even if you have to push them to admit it. Most people will need to have this explained to them and will not admit a problem unless pressed.

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Simply - it's not. Rather it is not universal. I have hiked for years with my wife who has much shorter legs and a much shorter pace. I have never experienced greater exhaustion due to hiking her pace.

It is possible that you are getting more tired because you are taking very slow and deliberate steps. The extra focus on your step may mean you are tensing your muscles more in order to walk a pace you are not used to. If that is the case try shortening your stride instead of walking slower.

  • I think this close but not 100% different strides use different muscle sets. You have developed two muscles sets, one for walking with your wife, one for walking alone. I suspect you would have the same difficulties described in the question if you walked at third pace, that is different the two you have now. – James Jenkins Apr 4 '16 at 14:20
  • @JamesJenkins -- We also hike with groups. The pace can vary per hike. The only thing that I've found makes me more tired is covering more distance in less time. I don't think your statement about "two muscle sets" is accurate. The legs have a finite set of muscles so clearly I can't be using a different set of muscles of every possible pace. – Russell Steen Apr 4 '16 at 14:22

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