Walking (also known as ambulation) is one of the main gaits of locomotion among legged animals. Walking is typically slower than running and other gaits. Walking is defined by an 'inverted pendulum' gait in which the body vaults over the stiff limb or limbs with each step. This applies regardless of the unusable number of limbs—even arthropods, with six, eight or more limbs, walk.
The word walk is descended from the Old English wealcan "to roll". In humans and other bipeds, walking is generally distinguished from running in that only one foot at a time leaves contact with the ground and there is a period of double-support. In contrast, running begins when both feet are off the ground with each step. This distinction has the status of a formal requirement in competitive walking events. For quadrupedal species, there are numerous gaits which may be termed walking or running, and distinctions based upon the presence or absence of a suspended phase or the number of feet in contact any time do not yield mechanically correct classification. The most effective method to distinguish walking from running is to measure the height of a person's centre of mass using motion capture or a force plate at midstance. During walking, the centre of mass reaches a maximum height at midstance, while during running, it is then at a minimum. This distinction, however, only holds true for locomotion over level or approximately level ground. For walking up grades above 10%, this distinction no longer holds for some individuals. Definitions based on the percentage of the stride during which a foot is in contact with the ground (averaged across all feet) of greater than 50% contact corresponds well with identification of 'inverted pendulum' mechanics and are indicative of walking for animals with any number of limbs, although this definition is incomplete. Running humans and animals may have contact periods greater than 50% of a gait cycle when rounding corners, running uphill or carrying loads.
Human walking is accomplished with a strategy called the double pendulum. During forward motion, the leg that leaves the ground swings forward from the hip. This sweep is the first pendulum. Then the leg strikes the ground with the heel and rolls through to the toe in a motion described as an inverted pendulum. The motion of the two legs is coordinated so that one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground. The process of walking recovers approximately sixty per cent of the energy used due to pendulum dynamics and ground reaction force.