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J Exp Biol., 2005; 208(Pt 5): 939-49, PMID: 15755892

Human hopping on very soft elastic surfaces: implications for muscle pre-stretch and elastic energy storage in locomotion

Year: 2005

Moritz CT, Farley CT
Locomotion Laboratory, Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0354, USA.


During hopping in place and running, humans maintain similar center of mass dynamics by precisely adjusting leg mechanics to compensate for moderate changes in surface stiffness. We investigated the limits of this precise control by asking humans to hop in place on extremely soft elastic surfaces. We found that hoppers drastically altered leg mechanics and maintained similar center of mass dynamics despite a sevenfold change in surface stiffness (11-81 kN m(-1)). On the stiffest surfaces, the legs compressed in early stance and then extended in late stance in the pattern that is typical for normal bouncing gaits. On the softest surfaces, however, subjects reversed this pattern so that the legs extended up to 8 cm in early stance and then compressed by a similar distance in late stance. Consequently, the center of mass moved downward during stance by 5-7 cm less than the surface compressed and by a similar distance as on the stiffest surfaces. This unique leg action probably reduced extensor muscle pre-stretch because the joints first extended and then flexed during stance. This interpretation is supported by the observation that hoppers increased muscle activation by 50% on the softest surface despite similar joint moments and mechanical leg work as on the stiffest surface. Thus, the extreme adjustment to leg mechanics for very soft surfaces helps maintain normal center of mass dynamics but requires high muscle activation levels due to the loss of the normal extensor muscle stretch-shorten cycle.

GID: 88; Last update: 16.12.2007