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J Exp Biol. 2001 Nov;204(Pt 22):3927-34.

Influence of increased rotational inertia on the turning performance of humans.

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Department of Biology, 201 South Biology Building, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


The rotational inertia of an animal can be expected to influence directly its ability to execute rapid turning maneuvers. We hypothesized that a ninefold increase in rotational inertia would reduce maximum turning performance to one-ninth of control values. To test this prediction, we increased rotational inertia about the vertical axis of six human subjects and measured their ability to turn during maximum-effort jump turns. We measured the free moment about a vertical (i.e. yaw) axis as the subjects performed maximum-effort jump turns under three conditions: (i) unencumbered, (ii) wearing a backpack with a control weight and (iii) wearing a backpack of the same mass that increased the rotational inertia of the subject to 9.2 times that with the control weight. Rotational inertia measurements allowed us to estimate the angle turned during the take-off period (i.e. from jump initiation until the feet leave the ground) and the angular power and work of the maximum-effort turns. Surprisingly, the angle turned during take-off in the increased inertia trials was 44.7 % of that of the control trials, rather than the 10.9 % (9.2-fold reduction) expected on the basis of the increase in rotational inertia. When the subjects turned with increased rotational inertia, the maximum and mean torques exerted were, on average, 142 % and 190 %, respectively, of the values recorded during the control trials. Maximum torques during increased rotational inertia trials actually approached isometric maxima. In the increased rotational inertia trials, the angular impulse was 252 % of that of the control trials and the take-off period was 130 % of that of the control trials. By exerting larger torques over longer take-off periods, the subjects were able partially to compensate for the excess rotational inertia. In contrast to the observed changes in torque, maximum and mean angular power were highest in the unencumbered trials and lowest in the increased inertia trials. On the basis of a decreased ability to generate vertical force when turning and of our estimates of angular power, we speculate that the greater than expected turning performance was due (i) to adjustments in the pattern of muscle recruitment and (ii) to a reduction in the velocity of muscle shortening that resulted in increased muscle forces.

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