Faculty of Biological Sciences

Dr Graham Askew

BSc, PhD 1995, Leeds
Associate Professsor in Muscle Function & Movement
School of Biomedical Sciences

Background: Associate Professor in Muscle Function and Movement (Leeds, 2011-), Lecturer (Leeds 2001-2011). I studied Biology at the University of Leeds and remained there to carry out a PhD on the effects of training and fatigue on the mechanical properties of skeletal muscle. I carried out postdoctoral research at Northeastern University in Boston and the University of Cambridge. I returned to the University of Leeds as a lecturer in 2011.

Contact:  Garstang 5.61a, +44(0) 113 34 32897, email address for  

Research Interests

The physiology and biomechanics of animal movement

Overview. My research focuses on the physiology and biomechanics of animal movement. The overall goal of the lab is to understand how muscle mechanical function and energetics determine the overall metabolic energy expenditure and physical performance of locomotion. We use an integrative and comparative approach to reveal the underlying cellular, physiological and biomechanical determinants of physical performance in order to understand the evolution of musculoskeletal design.

Mechanical function of muscles during locomotion. A large part of our work has investigated muscle function during flight because during flight the bulk of the active muscles have a simple mechanical function – to generate power. We have studied the explosive take-off flights performed by some birds to investigate the physiological adaptations that allow muscles to generate maximal short-term power output. One of the species that we studied – the blue-breasted quail – develops the highest power of any skeletal muscle yet measured (per gram of muscle; Askew and Marsh, 2001). Bird flight also proved to be a useful system in which to investigate power modulation strategies. The need to modulate power is relevant to many activities including acceleration, incline locomotion, and speed related variation in power requirements. We have been able to determine the importance of power modulation through changes in muscle recruitment and length trajectory as well as at the level of the organism by the use of intermittent flight behaviour (Askew and Ellerby, 2007; Morris and Askew, 2010).

In vivo zebra finch pectoralis fascicle strain and EMG activity at 10 m s-1. Fascicle length was measured by sonomicrometry. Muscle activity was measured using a bipolar EMG electrode.

Energetics of Locomotion. My laboratory also investigates metabolic energy use during locomotion with the primary aim of quantifying energy use of the locomotory muscles in order to gain a better understanding of the determinants of whole organismal energy use. We use whole organism metabolic rate is determined by measuring O2 consumption and CO2 production during locomotion (Fig. 2; Morris and Askew, 2010). In leaf-cutter ants this technique has been used to investigate the behavioural adaptations that occur during the negotiation of hilly terrain (Holt and Askew, 2012). We also investigated the effects that wearing armour would have had on the locomotion of Medieval knights (Askew et al., 2011), finding that when wearing the armour the energy expenditure was doubled when they walked or ran. This is much more than wearing a backpack of equivalent mass due to the increased cost of swinging the loaded limbs and impaired breathing when wearing armour. These findings can help historians interpret the feats of battle. At the level of the muscle, we quantify energy use by measuring the total enthalpy output (the sum of the mechanical work and heat production) and also, indirectly, by measuring regional blood flow. Our research has demonstrated that a muscle doing stretch-shorten work uses no more energy than when force is produced isometrically, challenging the view that elastic tendons reduce locomotor costs by replacing muscle work (Holt et al., 2014). We have also developed approaches that allow energy use can also be quantified at the level of the cross-bridges (Askew et al., 2010).

Using respirometry to measure metabolic energy expenditure during locomotion - while walking in Medieval armour and during flight in a cockatiel

Integrating the Mechanics and Energetics of Locomotion. During all modes of locomotion, muscles convert chemical energy into mechanical work that is ultimately transferred to the environment to produce movement. To achieve a full understanding of the system, we need to be able to trace the transfer of energy between all levels of organisation from the contractile proteins to the momentum transferred to the animal's wake and relate this to the animal's locomotor performance, morphology and ecology. In collaboration with Dr Richard Bomphrey (Royal Veterinary College) we are using an integrative, multidisciplinary approach to determine, in insect flight, the transfer of energy from biochemical potential energy, through the muscles, to the surrounding air.

Funding. Research in my laboratory is funded by the BBSRC, EPSRC, and NERC.

Latest: PhD Studentship available on "Integrating the mechanics and energetics of running" in collaboration with Professor Stuart Egginton. See findaphd.com. Application deadline 19th January 2015.

Research Highlights

Running energetics – in this paper we tested the idea that tendons save energy by reducing cyclic muscle work by comparing the cost of force generation during constant length muscle actions with active stretch-shorten cycles.

Holt, N.C, Roberts, T.J. and Askew, G.N. The energetic benefits of tendon springs in running: is the reduction of muscle work important? J. Exp. Biol. 217, 4365-4371. 2014. doi: 10.1242/ jeb.112813

Peacock’s train is not such a drag – here I measured the effect that the elaborate plumage of male peafowl has on their take-off performance.

Askew, G.N. The elaborate plumage in peacocks is not such a drag. J. Exp. Biol. 217, 3237-3241. 2014.

Paper highlighted in Inside JEB. J. Exp. Biol. 217, 3189; doi: 10.1242/ jeb.112342 and online (ScienceNow, Huffington Post, Times of India, Nature World News)




Photo by G. Askew

Energetics of locomotion in Medieval armour – here we measured how much effort is required to walk and run while wearing armour.

Askew, G.N., Formenti, F., Minetti, A.E. Limitations imposed by wearing armour on Medieval soldiers’ locomotor performance. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 279, 640-644. 2012.




Ant energetics – in this paper we measured the energetic cost of walking uphill and downhill in leaf cutter ants in order to understand the behavior of route selection.

Holt, N. and Askew, G.N. Locomotion on a slope: metabolic energy use, behavioural adaptations and the implications for route selection. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 2545-2550. 2012.


Photo by G. Askew

Power modulation in bird flight –this is a series of three papers on cockatiel flight in which we quantify muscle mechanical performance during flight using two methods and compared this to the metabolic cost of flight.

Morris, C.R. and Askew, G.N. Power modulation strategies and the mechanical power requirements of flight in the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). J. Exp. Biol., 213, 2770-2780. 2010.

Morris, C.R., Nelson, F.E. and Askew, G.N. The metabolic power requirements of flight and estimations of flight muscle efficiency in the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). J. Exp. Biol., 213, 2788-2796. 2010.

Morris, C.R. and Askew, G.N. Comparison between mechanical power requirements of flight estimated using an aerodynamic model and in vitro muscle performance in the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). J. Exp. Biol. 213, 2781-2787. 2010.

Papers highlighted in Inside JEB. Journal of Experimental Biology 213, I (2010). doi:10.1242/jeb.04911114



Faculty Research and Innovation

Studentship information

Undergraduate project topics:

  • Mechanics and energetics of locomotion
  • Thermography as an index of energy expenditure

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Muscle performance and energetics during locomotion. Bird and insect flight. Inveretbrate swimming. Scaling of muscle performance. Manoeuvrability.

See also:

Modules managed

SPSC3389 - Research Project

Modules taught

BIOC2201 - Exercise Biochemistry
BLGY2330 - Terrestrial Ecology and Behaviour Field Course
BLGY3340 - Biology Research Projects
BLGY3395 - Advanced Research Skills and Experience
BLGY3396 - Research Literature Review
SPSC1225 - Physical Activity Across the Lifespan
SPSC2302 - Exercise Physiology in Sport, Health and Disease
SPSC3061 - Research Project in Sport and Exercise Science II
SPSC3389 - Research Project
SPSC5382 - Extended Research Project


Member of Graduate School Committee (Admissions Tutor (SBMS))

Centre membership: The Earth and Biosphere Institute

Group Leader Dr Graham Askew  (Associate Professsor in Muscle Function & Movement)

The physiology and biomechanics of animal movement 

Dr Peter Tickle  (Research Fellow)


Alexander Evans (Primary supervisor) 90% FTE
Nicholas Gladman (Primary supervisor) 50% FTE
Matthew Chadwick (Co-supervisor) 10% FTE
Roger Kissane (Co-supervisor) 50% FTE
Zak Mitchell (Co-supervisor) 50% FTE
Mohd Hakam Nazir (Co-supervisor) 50% FTE
Katie Nicoll Baines (Co-supervisor) 25% FTE