Human locomotion on ice: the evolution of ice-skating energetics through history

Federico Formenti, Alberto E. Minetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


More than 3000 years ago, peoples living in the cold North European regions started developing tools such as ice skates that allowed them to travel on frozen lakes. We show here which technical and technological changes determined the main steps in the evolution of ice-skating performance over its long history. An in-depth historical research helped identify the skates displaying significantly different features from previous models and that could consequently determine a better performance in terms of speed and energy demand. Five pairs of ice skates were tested, from the bone-skates, dated about 1800 BC, to modern ones. This paper provides evidence for the fact that the metabolic cost of locomotion on ice decreased dramatically through history, the metabolic cost of modern ice-skating being only 25% of that associated with the use of bone-skates. Moreover, for the same metabolic power, nowadays skaters can achieve speeds four times higher than their ancestors could. In the range of speeds considered, the cost of travelling on ice was speed independent for each skate model, as for running. This latter finding, combined with the accepted relationship between time of exhaustion and the sustainable fraction of metabolic power, gives the opportunity to estimate the maximum skating speed according to the distance travelled. Ice skates were probably the first human powered locomotion tools to take the maximum advantage from the biomechanical properties of the muscular system: even when travelling at relatively high speeds, the skating movement pattern required muscles to shorten slowly so that they could also develop a considerable amount of force.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1825-1833
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Friction
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Skating


Dive into the research topics of 'Human locomotion on ice: the evolution of ice-skating energetics through history'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this