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J Biomech. 1999 Mar;32(3):267-73.

Leg stiffness primarily depends on ankle stiffness during human hopping.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720-3140, USA.


When humans hop in place or run forward, they adjust leg stiffness to accommodate changes in stride frequency or surface stiffness. The goal of the present study was to determine the mechanisms by which humans adjust leg stiffness during hopping in place. Five subjects hopped in place at 2.2 Hz while we collected force platform and kinematic data. Each subject completed trials in which they hopped to whatever height they chose ("preferred height hopping") and trials in which they hopped as high as possible ("maximum height hopping"). Leg stiffness was approximately twice as great for maximum height hopping as for preferred height hopping. Ankle torsional stiffness was 1.9-times greater while knee torsional stiffness was 1.7-times greater in maximum height hopping than in preferred height hopping. We used a computer simulation to examine the sensitivity of leg stiffness to the observed changes in ankle and knee stiffness. Our model consisted of four segments (foot, shank, thigh, head-arms-trunk) interconnected by three torsional springs (ankle, knee, hip). In the model, increasing ankle stiffness by 1.9-fold, as observed in the subjects, caused leg stiffness to increase by 2.0-fold. Increasing knee stiffness by 1.7-fold had virtually no effect on leg stiffness. Thus, we conclude that the primary mechanism for leg stiffness adjustment is the adjustment of ankle stiffness.

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